Couple arrested in child abuse allegations
A Camden County couple was arrested Sunday after deputies came to their home for a possible domestic disturbance and the father showed deputies a video of the mother allegedly dousing their baby with water and holding him up by a noose.
Jonathan Xavier Harrell, 24, and Latoya Denise Harrell, 23, of St. Marys were both arrested for first-degree cruelty to children, which is a felony.
Camden deputies responded to the Harrells’ apartment on base at about 8:15 a.m. Sunday after base police officers had already arrived and separated Jonathan Harrell and Latoya Harrell, according to the CCSO incident report. One of the officers told deputies that the possible domestic was only verbal between the Harrells but Jonathan Harrell had told them that he had a video on his phone of his wife allegedly abusing their baby, who is now 7 months old. There were three children in the apartment when police arrived.
Deputy James Thames went into the apartment to speak with the Harrells, finding the living conditions to be “substandard and unhealthy,” according to his report. Thames noticed large holes in the walls throughout the house, almost every door knocked off the hinges as if they had been kicked down, flies and roaches in the kitchen and the smell of decomposing food.
“There was also dirty diapers strung throughout the house on the floor as well as busted glass on the floor of the home,” Thames wrote.
Thames and a second deputy spoke with Jonathan Harrell first. He reiterated that the argument with his wife was just verbal.
“I then asked Mr. Harrell about any sort of video he had on his phone regarding child abuse to which his facial expression and demeanor noticeably changed,” Thames wrote in his report. “Mr. Harrell was extremely reluctant initially but was advised of the severity of the situation and the well being of the children in the home.”
Jonathan Harrell played the video for them. The video showed Jonathan Harrell laying on a bed with the baby laying next to him. The Harrells were arguing and Latoya Harrell allegedly poured a full bottle of water over the baby, including his face and open mouth.
“The baby can be heard coughing, crying and gagging from the intake of water in his mouth,” the report reads. “This appeared to be done by Mrs. Harrell in (an) attempt to provoke Mr. Harrell. On this video, Mr. Harrell does not appear to be alarmed or worried of the child’s wellbeing and continues to film.”
Latoya Harrell then allegedly grabbed something like a belt or scarf, tied it around the baby’s neck like a noose and picked him up by the noose.
“The juvenile infant is fully suspended off the bed by Mrs. Harrell. On the video, the object is so tight that the infant’s eyes can be visible as bulging and watering. Again, Mr. Harrell does not stop the act nor does he attempt to render aid, yet continues to record,” according to the report.
Latoya Harrell allegedly dropped the baby on the bed and left, followed by Jonathan Harrell who was still recording.
“It should be noticed that the infant was left in the bedroom after these life-threatening events unattended and unaided,” Thames wrote.
After seeing the video, the deputies asked Jonathan Harrell to explain his actions and why he had made the video. He said that he wanted to get Latoya Harrell in trouble and not lose his family and the Georgia Division of Family and Children Services had investigated them before. He initially said the video was taken six months earlier, then said it was two months old.
“Mr. Harrell stated that he knows his wife has mental health issues and is not (taking) her medication. I asked him if that is justification for not reporting the crime to which he stated no,” Thames wrote.
Deputies then spoke with Latoya Harrell, who initially said that she didn’t know about the video.
“After asking her a second time, she seemed confused and appeared to not grasp the severity of the situation. She stated that she was only trying to pick up her son and not choke him. She had no comment about the water incident,” according to the report.
The Harrells were arrested and Jonathan Harrell’s phone was taken into evidence. Medical personnel responded to check the three children, who were then turned over to DFCS.