Florida Couple Handcuffed, Locked Child In Closet 16 Hours Per Day, Deputies Say

County sheriff praises investigators who noticed something was wrong: “Their actions may have saved this young boy's life.”

January 26, 2021

John Hernandez and Natasha Dabbs [Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office]

John Hernandez and Natasha Dabbs [Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office]

By: Aaron Rasmussen

A Florida couple has admitted to punishing a child by handcuffing him and forcing him to stand in a locked closet for around 16 hours every day since Christmas, deputies say.

According to a Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office news release, deputies were first tipped off to the alleged abuse after they received a call shortly before 6 a.m. on January 24 about a missing child. They were able to locate the boy at his Tampa home, where he had been hiding.

Detectives later returned to the address after launching an investigation into possible child abuse, and the boy allegedly revealed he had been receiving the extreme “punishment” every day over the course of weeks, the news release states.

John Hernandez, 41, allegedly admitted to deputies he would discipline the child for behavioral issues by putting him into the closet handcuffed from 5 a.m. to 9 p.m.

Hernandez is charged with aggravated child abuse, malicious punishment, Tampa’s WFTS-TV reported.

Natasha Dabbs, 37, allegedly told investigators she was aware of the punishments, which had started on December 25, but never attempted to intervene.

Dabbs faces charges of child neglect and failure to report child abuse, according to WFTS-TV.

“The actions of this couple are reprehensible,” Sheriff Chad Chronister said in a statement. “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.”

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