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Florida Cabinet to Take Up USF Request to Dig at Dozier

Jul 31, 2013

9:00 p.m. Update w/quotes from USF & other FL government officials

Metal crosses mark graves at the cemetery of the former Arthur Dozier School for Boys in Marianna. Investigators using ground-penetrating radar and soil samples say there are nearly 100 unmarked graves on the grounds.
Credit Credit Michael Spooneybarger / Reuters/Landov

Florida Gov. Rick Scott and other top state officials are being asked to grant a request from researchers to exhume human remains at the former Dozier School for Boys.

At their August 6th meeting, Gov. Scott and the members of the Florida Cabinet will consider the request for "a joint land-use agreement with the Department of Environmental Protection." If approved, a team of USF researchers led by Erin Kimmerle will be allowed to excavate human remains believed to be located in the Boot Hill cemetery on the former reform school's property.

According to the agenda for the meeting, the Cabinet has recommended approving the land-use agreement. University officials indicate that if the agreement is approved, excavation could begin as early as August.

Secretary of State Ken Detzner has told the USF researchers that his department doesn't have the legal authority to grant the request. While the researchers disagreed with Detzner's assessment, U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson took his dissension one step further, calling out Gov. Scott for what he termed a "lack of leadership."

One member of Scott's cabinet who has received near universal praise for her efforts on behalf of the researchers is Attorney General Pam Bondi, who was lauded Wednesday by both USF and other state officials.

In an email, USF Media/Public Affairs Manager Lara Wade-Martinez said,  "The commitment demonstrated by the Attorney General’s office and her team is enabling USF to continue working on behalf of the children who were buried in unmarked graves and their families fundamental right to have their relatives’ remains identified and buried in a proper and respectful manner."

Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater and Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam also released emails commending Bondi and the researchers.

Atwater spokesman Chris Cate:

"CFO Atwater wants the relatives of those buried at the Dozier School for Boys to have the answers and closure they deserve, and he believes USF can help ensure that happens in a way that is responsible and respectful to all of the families involved."

Putnam said that he's "disappointed that this process continues to be delayed and stonewalled."

"The state should be facilitating the search for the truth, not serve as the biggest impediment to that truth. These families deserve better than how they've been treated."

USF researchers want to see if they can identify who is buried at the now-closed reform school.  They also want to try to figure out how they died.