Couple arrested for handcuffing boy, locking him in a closet for 16 hours a day

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TAMPA, FL – A couple in Tampa are facing some serious charges, after they allegedly told detectives that they had been handcuffing and locking up a young child inside of a closet for around 16 hours a day as a punishment since Christmas of 2020.

On January 24th, Hillsborough County Sheriff’s deputies responded to the residence of 41-year-old John Hernandez and 37-year-old Natasha Dabbs after they received a report of a missing child.

When deputies arrived at the residence, they had located the child who had reportedly been hiding from within the home and simply cleared the call.

Sometime after that call on January 24th, deputies from the HCSO decided to return to the home in order to conduct an investigation into possible child abuse.

John Hernandez mugshot
John Hernandez – Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office

While deputies were speaking to the young boy, the child had alleged that he had been handcuffed and forced to stand inside of a closet as a punishment for usually about 16 hours a day for the past few weeks.

According to HCSO officials, Hernandez had admitted to utilizing the aforementioned as a punishment for the child due to alleged behavioral issues – saying that he would lock the child in the closet from about 5:00 a.m. until 9:00 p.m. in the evening.

When investigators interviewed Dabbs, she allegedly admitted to knowing that this sort of punishment was ongoing but didn’t make any efforts to prevent or stop it.

She had also allegedly told detectives that this particular form of punishment has been getting utilized since December 25th of 2020.

Natasha Dabbs mugshot
Natasha Dabbs – Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office

Both Hernandez and Dabbs were arrested on January 24th, with Hernandez facing charges of aggravated child abuse in the course of a malicious punishment and Dabbs facing charges of child neglect and also failure to report child abuse.

Hillsborough County Sheriff Chad Chronister commended his deputies on their hunch to take a second look at the residence they responded to earlier in the day:

“The actions of this couple are reprehensible. I am so proud of our deputies for noticing something was not right while they were at the initial call and following through. Their actions may have saved this young boy’s life.”

Due to Marsy’s Law, officials are not able to release the name, age, or the victim’s relationship to the suspects in this case.

Bond has been set for both defendants, with Hernandez’s being set at $25,000 and Dabbs’ being set at $10,000. Records indicate that both of the suspects still remain within the Orient Road Jail.

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Back in early December of 2020 in St. Petersburg, Florida, a police officer was during an armed confrontation with a child abuse suspect. 

Here’s our previous reporting on the incident that took place on December 2nd, 2020. 

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ST PETERSBURG, FL – One officer was shot and another was injured during a gunfight involving a child abuse suspect in the south side of St Petersburg on Wednesday, December 2nd. 

The harrowing confrontation unfolded outside a grocery store that has already been the scene of two other fatal shootings this year.

The two St Petersburg police officers were involved in a confrontation with a suspect in the 1400 block of 18th Avenue South at 4:17 p.m., the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office told Fox News.  

One officer was shot by the suspect, and another suffered minor injuries during the affray.  The wounded (shot) officer is expected to survive, and is listed in stable condition after surgery.

The suspect, identified as 20-year-old Dominique Harris, was pronounced dead at a hospital, Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri told reporters.  Officers with the department’s Special Investigation Unit were trying to locate Harris, who was wanted on a child abuse charge.

He was found sitting in a parked car outside a store.

The suspect’s brother was inside the store when plainclothes officers called for uniformed officers to respond. A uniformed officer arrived and asked Harris for his ID, which he handed over.

Sheriff Gualtieri stated:

“They confirmed that he was the person they were looking for.  He rolled the window up on the car and refused their commands to get out.”

According to further statements by Sheriff Gualteri, the on-scene officers tried opening the car door and attempted to break a window.  Harris attempted to flee, backing his vehicle into a police patrol vehicle, and then pulling forward and hitting a pole. 

He hit several other vehicles, both police and civilian, and then stuck a handgun out the window and fired several shots from the semi-automatic pistol at officers only a few feet away from him.

A St Petersburg detective was hit by the gunfire and transported to a hospital.  Officers at the scene returned fire on Harris, and he was hit several times.  Paramedics treated Harris at the scene and then transported him to a hospital, where he later died.

Sheriff Gualteri commented on the shooting:

“I would almost call it point-blank range.  He is very fortunate and we’re all very fortunate that it wasn’t worse, that he wasn’t shot in a more vulnerable location.”

Sheriff Gualteri said that the wounded officer was pulled to safety by another officer. He underwent surgery at Bayfront Health St. Petersburg hospital and was in stable condition.  The officer asked that his name not be released until all of his family members had been told of his injury.

Another officer injured her knee and may have suffered a concussion. She was treated at the hospital and later released.

The investigating officers recovered a handgun used by Harris and spent shell casings.

Sheriff Gualteri said the child abuse charge stemmed from an altercation between Harris and a 15-year-old boy at a playground. He allegedly slammed the teenager to the ground.

The Pinellas County Use of Deadly Force Investigative Task Force is investigating the shooting.

St Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman commented via Twitter:

“One of our @StPeteFL officers was shot late this afternoon. I spent a moment with the officer at the hospital and will continue to pray for his full recovery.  The County’s Use of Deadly Force Investigative Task Force is conducting the investigation.”

Rob Wing, a local St Petersburg personality, also commented:

“Suspect shot cop in the groin first before any cop fired back according to the news reports. He was the only one shot. One other was injured but not shot. Suspect continued shooting.”

From the Tampa Bay Times:

“Wednesday’s shootout was the latest incident of gun violence that has marred the city in recent weeks. In November there were seven shooting incidents that left three people dead and injured seven.

City Council member Deborah Figgs-Sanders, who visited the scene soon after the shooting, noted that the violence comes as the community is already dealing with the loss of jobs and income in the wake of the deadly coronavirus pandemic.”

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