DeSantis OKs $20 million to go to victims at Dozier, Okeechobee boys schools

Gov. Ron DeSantis Friday OK'd a process for hundreds of elderly men known as the White House Boys to apply for reparations for beatings and rapes they endured as children while in state custody.  

The governor signed the Dozier School for Boys and Okeechobee School Victim Compensation bill (HB 21), according to state Sen. Darryl Rouson, D-St. Petersburg, one of the bill's backers.

The measure provides $20 million to distribute among an estimated 400 survivors for "physical, mental, or sexual abuse" that occurred between 1940 and 1975 at the two facilities that have since been closed.

"I want to thank the governor and the Senate and House leadership for (bringing) closure in a small way to these men who've been coming to Tallahassee for decades, telling their stories," Rouson said in a phone interview on Friday.

"Money will never compensate them for the actual harm that they suffered and witnessed, but it'll go a long way towards closure and I'm finally glad that we have a law in place to create the process of them being able to (make a) claim for their damages," added Rouson, who had worked on the bill for years.

As men, White House Boys told their story

Investigators had concluded that nearly 100 boys died at Dozier, located in Marianna, between 1900 and 1973. University of South Florida archaeologists spent four years exhuming remains from 55 unmarked graves in overgrown woods on the abandoned campus. 

The Florida Legislature formally apologized to survivors of the abuse seven years ago, but attempts to provide compensation repeatedly failed until this year. “They kept putting stumbling blocks in front of us, but we didn’t give up,” said retired Army Ranger Capt. Bryan Middleton, just after the measure passed the Senate in March. “They beat our asses but, in the end, we beat them. That’s all. This (is) one of the greatest feelings.”  

Middleton was held at Dozier 1959-61. He became a Vietnam War Purple Heart recipient and in retirement teamed up with fellow victim Jerry Cooper and others to form the White House Boys Survivors Organization, named after the building where the abuse occurred. They organized in 2005 to seek recognition and justice for the abuse.  

“What they did to us would make you sick to the stomach,” Cooper, who died in 2022, told the USA TODAY Network-Florida in a 2020 interview.

Showing 1 comment

SNAP Network is a GuideStar Gold Participant