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Marianna, FL - Over 300 Victims Seek Restitution After Decades of Abuse at Dozier School for Boys

Compensation Bill Worth $20M Approaches Approval After Survivor's Harrowing Experience at Dozier School For Boys
Published: March 6, 2024
By: Darla Medina
Last Updated on March 6, 2024

Decades of Physical & Sexual Abuse Uncovered at Florida Reform School for Boys

Victims of the brutal abuse endured at the Dozier School for Boys, located in Marianna, Florida, are finally seeking restitution for the unspeakable wrongs they suffered while under state custody, according to WFSU. Men who were subjected to wrenching abuse as boys have been coming to the Florida Capitol for the past 16 years, tirelessly advocating for justice.

The Dozier School for Boys, originally known as the Florida School for Boys, opened its doors in Marianna, Florida, in 1900 and operated for over a century until its closure in 2011. Additionally, a second campus of the school was established in Okeechobee, Florida, in 1955, expanding the reach of the Dozier School system. The Dozier School has undergone various name changes during its 111-year history, including the Florida State Reform School. Originally intended as a facility to provide training and education to troubled children and teens, it devolved into a house of horrors where even minor offenses like truancy landed children in the hands of abusers.

One survivor, Charles Fudge, recounted his harrowing experience at the Florida School for Boys, now known as the Dozier School, where he was sent at the tender age of 12 in 1960. Fudge vividly described being struck 31 times with a leather strap on his third day at the institution. He emphasized that the lasting trauma inflicted upon him has lingered for the past 65 years, serving as a constant reminder of the horrors he endured.

A group of 300 victims known as the White House Boys, former students of Dozier, witnessed a significant development as the Florida House passed HB 21 on Thursday, Feb. 29. Representative Michelle Salzman, R-Cantonment, acknowledged the victims' long wait for justice, highlighting the hundreds of documented cases of physical assault, torture, rape, and even death that occurred within the school's walls throughout its 100-year existence.

The victims' attorney, Troy Rafferty, addressed the Senate Fiscal Policy Committee, shedding light on the horrors that unfolded within the Dozier School. Rafferty revealed the existence of two rape rooms and two beating rooms, where children lived in constant fear of being subjected to unspeakable acts of violence. He described the weapon used for beatings—a 20-inch mallet with a leather strap attached, designed to inflict maximum pain and rip the flesh of the defenseless children.

Rafferty further informed the committee that over 180 students registered at Dozier remain unaccounted for, in addition to the discovery of more than 50 unmarked graves and unidentified human remains at the school sites. The magnitude of the atrocities committed at Dozier is deeply disturbing, as Ralph Freeman, one of the survivors seeking justice, expressed. Freeman, the youngest of the survivors at 67 years old, stated that the suffering he endured at Dozier surpasses any nightmares he experienced during his time as a United States Marine.

Cecil Gardiner, a disabled Marine Corps veteran and survivor of Dozier, bravely shared his ordeal with the Senate panel. Gardiner still bears the physical scars from the beatings he endured, which serve as a constant reminder of the abuse. He questioned how grown men entrusted with the care and rehabilitation of young children could end up subjecting them to such unspeakable mistreatment.

Although the state issued an official apology in 2017 and allocated funds for burials and memorials for Dozier victims, lawmakers are only now making strides toward providing restitution. Proposed legislation aims to set aside $20 million to compensate surviving victims who suffered at the Okeechobee and Marianna sites of the school decades after the abuse occurred.

If the legislation is approved, it will join a series of claims bills passed in Florida, allowing individuals harmed by the government to seek compensation. Under this bill, the Department of Legal Affairs would review applications and determine the validity of claims. At the same time, the Commissioner of Education would have the authority to award a standard high school diploma to those who receive compensation through the program.

The survivors of the Dozier School abuse are finally on the path to restitution after enduring decades of suffering. The proposed legislation represents a significant step toward acknowledging the immense pain and trauma inflicted upon these individuals and providing them with the justice they deserve.

Read more: Claim of Horrific Abuse and Killings at Florida School for Boys Okeechobee

Read more: Unanimous Approval: Florida Senate Allocates $20M for Dozier School Abuse Survivors, Governor's Approval Pending

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Hello, I’m attorney Michael Haggard. I am licensed to practice law in Florida. If you or a loved one needs legal assistance, I’d be happy to speak with you. Call me on the number below. It costs nothing, and it would be my honor to help you.
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Exploring Legal Options for Survivors of Abuse at a Reform School

In a recent interview, we sat down with Florida sexual abuse attorney Michael Haggard, Esq., who represents survivors of reform school abuse. With regard to the harrowing abuse at the Dozier School for Boys, we discussed the available legal options available for survivors of reform school abuse. Discover the paths survivors can take to seek justice and compensation, as well as the unique challenges they may encounter along the way. Join us as we gain valuable insights into the legal landscape for survivors seeking redress.

Editor Darla Medina (DM): Welcome, Mr. Haggard. Thank you for joining us today.

Michael Haggard, Esq. (MH): Thank you, Darla. It's a pleasure to be here.

DM: As we discuss the victims of sexual abuse at the Dozier School for Boys seeking restitution, could you shed some light on what options survivors of such atrocities might have for pursuing justice and closure?

MH: Absolutely, Darla. For survivors of sexual abuse at reform schools like Dozier, pursuing a civil case can be an avenue to seek both justice and compensation for the harm they endured. It's important to note that every case is unique, but there are generally two potential avenues for pursuing legal action.

DM: Could you elaborate on those avenues, Mr. Haggard?

MH: Certainly. The first option is to file a civil lawsuit against the individuals or institutions responsible for the abuse. Potential defendants could include staff members, administrators, or even the state of Florida itself. Survivors can seek damages for the physical and emotional trauma they suffered, as well as any long-term consequences they may have experienced.

DM: And what about the second option?

MH: The second option is to join or initiate a class-action lawsuit. In cases where multiple survivors have endured similar abuse at the same institution, a class-action lawsuit can provide a collective legal approach. By consolidating their claims, survivors can pool their resources, share evidence, and present a stronger case against the liable parties. This can be an effective way to seek justice and hold the responsible parties accountable on a larger scale.

DM: That's fascinating, Mr. Haggard. In your experience, what challenges do survivors typically face when pursuing civil cases against institutions like reform schools?

MH: Survivors of sexual abuse face several challenges when pursuing civil cases against institutions. First, there may be statutes of limitations that limit the timeframe within which a lawsuit can be filed. However, it's worth noting that some states have extended or eliminated these limitations for cases involving child sexual abuse. Second, gathering evidence and proving liability can be complex, especially when decades have passed since the abuse occurred. However, with advancements in forensic technology and the dedicated efforts of legal professionals, justice can still be pursued.

DM: Thank you for highlighting those challenges, Mr. Haggard. Finally, what advice would you give to survivors of sexual abuse at reform schools who are considering taking legal action?

MH: I would stress the importance of reaching out to an experienced attorney who specializes in child sexual abuse cases. They can provide guidance, support, and legal expertise throughout the process. It's important for survivors to know that they are not alone and that there are dedicated professionals who will fight for their rights and help them seek the justice they deserve.

DM: Thank you, Mr. Haggard, for sharing your valuable insights and expertise on this important topic. We appreciate your time and commitment to helping survivors of sexual abuse.

MH: It was my pleasure, Darla. Thank you for having me, and I hope this information can assist those seeking justice in their journey towards healing and closure.



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Darla Medina
About Darla Medina
Editor: Darla is a content writer with a focus on the legal field. She covers cases of sexual abuse, drunk driving, and preventable violent crime for the Legal Herald. Contact Darla: This article was fact checked prior to publishing by this author to ensure compliance with our rigorous editorial standards. We will only use authoritative sources. Our values compel us to provide only trustworthy information. If you find an error, please contact us.
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