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FDLE: ‘Concluded all tasks’ in Groveland Four investigation for exoneration, ‘judicial circuit’ will now review

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Dibya Sarkar

Managing Editor

Wednesday, July 21, 2021


Monument dedicated to the Groveland Four at the Lake County Historic Courthouse

In 2019, the Florida Board of Executive Clemency and Gov. Ron DeSantis pardoned four young African American men who were falsely accused of raping a white woman in Lake County in 1949. While the posthumous pardons forgave the Groveland Four, as they became known, of the crime, families of the men sought their exoneration, which would have declared them innocent of the crime. At the time, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement began the process with an investigation into the case.

On Tuesday, State Rep. Geraldine F. Thompson (D-Windermere), who has been pushing to exonerate the Groveland Four for seven years and is close with several family members of the Groveland Four, issued a scathing press release, saying that the law enforcement department had been ignoring her inquiries into the investigation.

Today, the department said it has “concluded all tasks” with the review — about two and half years after it began — and is “in the process of forwarding the information to the appropriate judicial circuit for review. This should be complete in the next couple of weeks,” the department wrote Wednesday in an email to VoxPopuli.

In its email, FDLE said it “cannot initiate exoneration” because it’s “a judicial process.” The department said it reviewed “available information thoroughly and carefully … such as interviews, review of documents and other evidence.” The FDLE did not indicate which court would review the case or how long that process would take.

Thompson told us Wednesday that she he hadn’t heard that the FDLE had “concluded all tasks” with the investigation and was unaware of the judicial component. “I understood that [the FDLE] would make a recommendation or provide a report to Attorney General Ashely Moody,” said Thompson.

The law enforcement agency wrote in the email that it was “important that we obtain accurate and complete historical information to present our findings. To date, FDLE agents and analysts have conducted multiple interviews, retrieved and reviewed hundreds of documents and worked more than 850 hours on the review. It should be noted that out of state travel was delayed most of last year because of Covid-19, which delayed completion of some tasks.”

Thompson said it’s “plausible” that the pandemic may have delayed the investigation. But she said that Gilbert King, who wrote Devil in the Grove: Thurgood Marshall, the Groveland Boys and the Dawn of a New America — which won the 2013 Pulitzer Prize for General Nonfiction — had offered to share his voluminous research with the FDLE.

“I just could not imagine why it was taking so long, but maybe Covid is a plausible excuse,” she said, adding that perhaps greater “scrutiny” on this issue by media and others will give state officials “more of a sense of urgency.”

Thompson said the entire exoneration process has been “discouraging” and “frustrating” for herself and the families of the Groveland Four — Charles Greenlee, Walter Irvin, Samuel Shepherd and Ernest Thomas. She said she’s been in constant touch with several family members including Charles Greenlee’s daughter, Carol, and Shepherd’s cousin, Beverly Robinson, who’ve waited more than 70 years for “some kind of resolution.”

“When I have no information for them ... it’s upsetting,” said Thompson. “I just want the families to be made whole and have a clear decision coming from the state of Florida."

In 2017, 68 years after the Groveland Four’s arrest, the Florida House and Senate issued a concurrent resolution, offering “a formal and heartfelt apology to these victims of racial hatred and to their families.” The Legislature urged then Gov. Rick Scott and his cabinet to issue a pardon. That didn’t happen until DeSantis came into office.

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