3 arrested after 2-year-old starved to death in Polk County, sheriff says

Regis Johnson, Arhonda Tillman, Frank Robinson face charges

Polk sheriff holds news conference Thursday May 12, 2022, on parents’ arrest in child’s death. (Polk County Sheriff's Office)

WINTER HAVEN, Fla. – Two Davenport parents and the uncle of a 2-year-old girl were arrested Wednesday after she was starved to death, according to the Polk County Sheriff’s Office.

Regis Johnson, 57, and Arhonda Tillman, 35, were booked Wednesday at the Polk County jail and each face one count of negligent child abuse causing great harm. Frank Robinson, 64, was also arrested and charged with negligent child abuse causing great harm.

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Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd said in a news conference Thursday the toddler suffered long-term starvation and was found dead in an inflatable pool turned makeshift playpen in Johnson’s home after the suspect placed an unresponsive child call Tuesday.

Judd said the girl was “bones and skin,” which he described as heartbreaking to see.


Regis Johnson, 57, and Arhonda Tillman, 35, who face charges in the death of their child. (Polk County Sheriff's Office)

According to deputies, Johnson told them doctors believed the toddler may have shared a muscular dystrophy gene with her mother but after getting her tested, found the diagnosis to be inconclusive.

The suspect also said the toddler’s most recent doctor’s appointment was in August 2021, but the toddler’s pediatrician said her last visit was in January 2020, during her 6-month check-up, despite multiple attempts made by the medical office after that to contact the parents, according to investigators. Deputies said the toddler’s doctor also was concerned she might have cystic fibrosis.

“You looked at this child and you gasp. You gasp at the horror you saw, and the pain this child went through,” Judd said. “Well I can tell you, as a Christian, the only solace I get out of this whole thing, is this child is no longer starving, or sick, that she is in the arms of Jesus.”

Judd said the girl — born on July 25, 2019 — should have weighed 32 pounds at her age, but was found to be 9.5 pounds at her death. The parents both said they attempted to feed the toddler in the two days leading up to her death, but she did not want to eat and would “only take a few bites.”

“The baby should have been talking, putting sentences together, asking questions, telling (them), ‘My diaper needs to be changed,’ running, jumping and playing,” Judd said. “When this baby died ... she couldn’t stand, she couldn’t talk, she couldn’t walk.”

According to Judd, Polk County detectives found that the Department of Children and Families had opened a medical neglect investigation of the girl’s situation in Dec. 2019, closing it after several positive weight checks.

The sheriff’s office said Robinson, who is Johnson’s brother, lived at the house and was aware of the abuse but never reported it.

Frank Robinson. (Polk County Sheriff's Office)

Additional charges are pending against Johnson and Tillman, including murder charges which Judd called “appropriate.”

Judd said that more medical work has to be done, however — as well as a thorough investigation by the sheriff’s office and a re-examination of the case by DCF — before those additional charges can be pursued.

“So we’re charging (them with) aggravated child abuse today and asking for a high bond until we can finish our investigation. The official cause of death will not be ruled upon by the medical examiner until the completion of all the investigation, but it’s evident to us that it’s long-term starvation,” Judd said.

Watch the news conference in the video player below.

Child Neglect Death May 12, 2022.

Sheriff Judd is briefing the media about the negligent child abuse of a 34-month-old (2 years 10 months) that lead to the toddler’s death. Both parents (from Davenport) have been arrested. Read the news release here: https://tinyurl.com/3dat7md6

Posted by Polk County Sheriff's Office on Thursday, May 12, 2022

About the Author:

Brandon, a UCF grad, joined the ClickOrlando team in November 2021. Before joining News 6, Brandon worked at WDBO.