Florida man brings child with him during crimes to ‘toughen him up,’ deputies say

Suspect accused of contributing to the delinquency of a minor

Ernest McKnight III
Ernest McKnight III (Polk County Sheriff's Office)

POLK COUNTY, Fla. – A Florida man brought an 8-year-old boy with him as he committed a series of crimes because he wanted to “toughen him up” so the child wouldn’t become “soft,” according to the Polk County Sheriff’s Office.

Deputies said the first crime occurred on Nov. 7 when 36-year-old Ernest McKnight III stole an idling red Hyundai that was parked alongside State Road 60 and Central Avenue in Lake Wales as the driver was outside the car doing surveying for construction.

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On Thursday, McKnight was caught rummaging through a Chevrolet HHR alongside County Road 653 as the owner was walking his dog, records show. Deputies said McKnight fled the scene in the stolen Hyundai.

About five hours later, McKnight is accused of stealing a package on a front porch. When the victim told him to return it, McKnight reportedly yelled back, “It’s mine now,” before once again taking off in the stolen car.

Deputies said they arrested McKnight that same day. He refused to pull over for a traffic stop in Lake Wales but a law enforcement helicopter unit was able to locate him behind a residence in the area, records show.

A detective asked McKnight why he brought the 8-year-old boy with him while he committed the crimes and he replied, “I was trying to toughen him up…I don’t want him to be soft,” according to a news release.

The boy has since been reunited with his family. His relationship to McKnight is unknown.

“Taking a child out with you while (you’re) committing felonies is not the proper way to create a positive influence. I’m quite confident that there is not a child psychologist out there who would agree with this guy’s idea of proper activity for a child,” Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd said.

McKnight, of Lake Wales, is facing charges of burglary of an occupied dwelling, burglary of an unoccupied dwelling, burglary of an unoccupied conveyance, grand theft motor vehicle, tampering with evidence, petit theft and three counts of contributing to the delinquency of a minor.

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