Florida denies Dozier exhumation - WFLA News Channel 8

Florida denies Dozier exhumation...for now

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TAMPA, FL (WFLA) -

There's been another setback for those who believe there could be unidentified bodies on the grounds of an old Florida boys school.

Monday afternoon University of South Florida researchers learned Florida's Department of State will not give them permits to exhume remains at the Dozier School for Boys in Marianna, an old reform school where past inmates have made claims of abuse and possibly even murder.

7/10/2013 Related Story: USF professor submits more evidence for Dozier exhumation

"I understand the importance of telling the story of the Dozier School and recognize that the significance is all the more poignant for those whose loved ones may be laid to rest on the school grounds," said Florida Secretary of State Ken Detzner in a letter to Dr. Erin Kimmerle of the USF Anthropology department."If there is reason to believe that crimes were committed at Dozier School, I share the deep concern that the truth be discovered."

But Detzner said he's unable to give the green light to exhume the remains.

3/12/2013 Related Story: Pam Bondi filed petition for Dozier School cemetery exhumation

"The Department of State does not have the statutory authority to fulfill your request," Detzner wrote. "The [Bureau of Archeological Research]'s existing statutory authority to grant archaeological research permits is restricted to the recovery of objects of historical or archeological value, not human remains, absent a danger to the grave site that actually threatens the loss or damage of those remains. To the contrary, the law presumes that buried human remains will rest undisturbed, and allows their intentional disinterment only in narrowly defined circumstances for which specific procedures are provided in law."

5/2/2013 Related Story: Bay area man wants bodies at Dozier identified

USF researchers believe there could be as many as 50 unmarked graves on the school campus; maybe more. But the head researcher on the case, Dr. Kimmerle, asked the Bureau of Archeological Research for permits to excavate human remains. They had initially granted her access around the Boot Hill Cemetery to "facilitate efforts to identify and protect human burials." That included surface-level research to determine the location of grave sites in order to preserve the cemetery "as a valuable historical resource for Florida and surviving family members."

A spokesperson for USF points out the newest development isn't an out-right denial, just the state saying the Bureau of Archeological Research doesn't have jurisdiction to give the green-light for exhumations. USF staff will meet with their counsel Tuesday to figure out what their next step should be.

The state's current action makes some family members suspicious.

"I think there's a lot of stuff going on that they don't want know,"said Bobby Stephens, whose uncle died at the school in 1937. "If I don't have anything to hide, I don't have any problem showing you my phone, my books, my records...my computer. I don't have anything on it so go ahead - go through it. They should feel the same way."

Stephens was one of three who gave DNA samples at USF in June, hoping Kimmerle could match their DNA with the remains her team eventually exhumed.

"People want to know about their loved ones," Stephens said. "I think whatever you do in the dark will come into the light. It may not happen this year...next year ... But I think we have a bunch of quality people working and it's out in the public now and the fight's going to continue."

The Dozier School for Boys closed in 2011.

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