POLK COUNTY, Fla. – A man who beat his girlfriend's 2-year-old son on multiple occasions, eventually leading to his death, was encouraged by the boy's mother to continue the abuse, according to the Polk County Sheriff's Office.
Deputies said the investigation began when they were called to a home on Memorial Park Avenue at about 3 a.m. on Tuesday and found Harley Don Hiatt Jr., 2, unresponsive. He was taken to Heart of Florida Hospital where doctors determined he had a brain bleed, according to a news release. He was pronounced dead at 6:55 a.m.
Harley had bruising on his face and marks on his arms and legs, deputies said. Authorities said they asked his mother, 26-year-old Shannon Short, about the injuries and she said her live-in boyfriend, 26-year-old Christian Thompson, was caring for her son a few days earlier and he caused the injuries.
She also told deputies that during the past two months, Thompson would watch her son while she worked in Kissimmee and he abused the boy on multiple occasions, the report said.
The investigation revealed that Thompson would often text Short with descriptions or pictures after he injured the toddler. Deputies said those injuries included bruising, an injury to his penis, a wound completely through his bottom lip. In some instances, Thompson would claim Harley injured himself by falling or pulling things, such as a hot plate, down on to himself, the new release said.
In June, Thompson texted Short, "Um ya son tryna kill hisself," apparently in an attempt to blame the boy for his injuries, officials said.
Harley was taken to Heart of Florida Hospital on July 23 after he hadn't opened his eyes for two days, records show. It's unclear what his diagnosis was at that point but deputies said Short texted Thompson that, "I think they calling (Child Protective Services) on me I think they bout to try to take Harley."
Days later, on July 27, Thompson texted Short a picture of Harley's face and said he scratched himself but the wounds looked more like welt marks, as if he had been hit in the face with a belt, a news release said.
In one instance, Short texted Thompson and told him to, "(expletive) him up," followed by an angry face emoji, referring to abusing Harley, according to deputies.
In another instance, she texted her boyfriend, "omg what did u do to my baby?" records show.
On Saturday and Sunday, the boy was not acting like himself and was clinging to his mother, according to the report.
The day before he died, Harley was vomiting, doubled over holding his stomach, moaning and dry heaving, but his mother did not seek medical attention because she was afraid that authorities would get involved, deputies said. Instead, she gave the boy antibiotics and went to smoke marijuana with her boyfriend, the report said.
An autopsy revealed that Harley suffered numerous bruises on his face that appeared to be caused by a belt, various scars and scratches, a lacerated bowel that led to an infection called peritonitis and areas of hemorrhage in his brain and skull.
Officials said the latter injuries, which ultimately led to his death, were caused by blunt force trauma and he would have survived if medical attention had been sought.
Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd called the abuse accusations "sickening."
"When you hear what this precious baby boy was put through, it's sickening. His mother knew about the abuse, allowed it, and continued to leave him in the care of his abuser. She and her boyfriend even joked about it. The whole thing is heartbreaking, and I don't think it's possible for me to be more disgusted by their actions," Judd said.
Thompson was charged with first-degree murder, aggravated manslaughter of a child, aggravated child abuse, negligent abuse with great bodily harm, possession of marijuana and possession of paraphernalia.
Short was arrested on charges of aggravated manslaughter of a child, negligent child abuse with great bodily harm, child abuse, failure to report child abuse, possession of marijuana, possession of paraphernalia and petit theft.