Florida Democratic Party




Court Documents: Southerland Failed To Properly Bury a Veteran, Left Body Exposed to Elements for Days


TALLAHASSEE, FL — As Congressman Southerland prepares to hold a Town Hall with veterans in Panama City this evening, the Florida Democratic today released court documents showing that Southerland's company failed to properly bury a veteran: leaving the fallen service member exposed to the elements for over three days because Southerland's company refused to remove a tree stump which was obstructing the burial site. The court documents show that Southerland's company was aware of the complications created by the tree stump before the burial, but refused to remove it before the service.  

"Congressman Southerland's failure to properly bury a Florida veteran — leaving the fallen service-member exposed to the elements for over three days — shows a shocking lack of judgment and a level of blatant disrespect for our brave American heroes that is frankly appalling," said Florida Democratic Party spokesman David Bergstein. "Before Congressman Southerland addresses veterans tonight, he should take responsibility and apologize to the Gaff family and those who served alongside him for the egregious indignity Southerland inflicted upon Mr. Gaffe and his family."

The court documents are available on line here (and attached) and show

  • In 2004, Southerland's funeral home failed to properly bury Thomas S. Gaff, a veteran of the U.S. Army, because Southerland's company refused to remove a tree stump from the grave site.  
  • Immediately following the funeral service Southerland's company informed the Gaff family that it would be impossible to bury Thomas Gaff due to a tree stump that was located in the grave.
  • Southerland's company had known about the stump prior to the funeral. 
  • The Gaff family returned for three consecutive days and attempted to bury the fallen veteran — and even attempted to remove the stump themselves --  but each time was informed by Southerland's company that the burial could not proceed
  • Thomas Gaff's casket was left exposed to the elements, and at one point Mr. Gaff's grandson asked Congressman Southerland's company to not leave his “pa pa” in the hot sun.

Recent polling shows that the race between Congressman Southerland and Al Lawson is tied, with the embattled incumbent looking increasingly vulnerable.