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After girl's death, Virginia officials won't say whether they knew she was living with a child abuser

Virginian-Pilot - 5/7/2018

May 07--NORFOLK -- How did a man forbidden from being alone with children because of his conviction for maiming his own son live with a 2-year-old girl without authorities knowing about it?

Or maybe John Tucker Hardee Sr.'s probation officers did know and approved because he was also living with the toddler's mother, who was his girlfriend of four months.

But now that the girl is dead -- and Hardee and his girlfriend are in jail charged in her death -- state officials won't say what they knew about Hardee's living arrangements. They also won't say what measures, like unannounced home visits, they took to make sure he wasn't alone with kids.

State law allows the Department of Corrections to release records of Hardee's supervised probation. But it leaves the decision up to the department, which chose to keep them secret after inquiries from The Virginian-Pilot.

Hardee had been living with Shelby Love and her 2-year-old daughter, Harley Williams, in an apartment in the in the 9600 block of 20th Bay Ave. in Ocean View.

Hardee, after serving a three-year prison sentence from March 2013 to October 2015 for giving his 14-month old son a skull fracture and choking his then-girlfriend, had been ordered not to be alone with children.

But on April 23, Hardee was alone with Harley at the apartment when he scalded her so badly she was burned on 30 to 50 percent of her body, prosecutor Jill Harris has said. He texted Love, telling her he was going to prison and to hurry home.

The burns were so severe Harley's skin began to fall off. Still, she probably would have lived if someone had taken her to the hospital right away, but Hardee and Love tried to treat the burns themselves by applying vinegar-soaked rags to them, Harris said.

On top of the burns, someone had hit the 26-pound toddler in the head, causing bruises and abrasions that weren't accidental, Harris said. They included multiple seven-inch bruises and and a bleeding scalp.

At 3:38 the next morning -- 11 hours after prosecutors think Harley was burned -- paramedics got the first call to to help a 2-year-old who was unresponsive, Harris said. They took her to Children's Hospital of The King's Daughters, where she died.

Harris and Love were both arrested on charges of felony child abuse.

Lawyers familiar with child abuse cases said Hardee should have been closely watched because of his history.

"The question is why wasn't the probation officer monitoring his living arrangement?" Tom Reed said. "Given his conviction, you would think probation would be on high alert.

"If I was his probation officer, I'd be concerned."

In 2014, Hardee pleaded guilty to felony child abuse and admitted choking his then-girlfriend. Hardee fractured his son's skull, and doctors found bruises covering his body and three fractures in his spinal vertebrate, according to court records.

In October 2015, Hardee was released and started probation, corrections spokesman Greg Carter said. Sometime in 2017, his case was transferred from Virginia Beach to Norfolk because he'd moved, said Lancelot James, chief probation officer in the Virginia Beach office.

At the time of the transfer, Hardee was under medium level of supervision, the second lowest level on a scale that ranges from low, medium, elevated and high, James said. Medium supervision typically requires monthly face-to-face meetings to see if an offender is staying out of trouble and accomplishing the goals they agreed to, like applying for a job or signing up for GED classes.

But did probation officers know where he was living? Did they know Love and her daughter also lived there? Had they interviewed Love and any other roommates who might've been living there?

Did the probation officers make any unannounced home visits? If so, was Harley at the apartment?

Norfolk's chief probation officer, Katherine Hall, said she wouldn't answer any questions about Hardee. Officials from the Virginia Department of Corrections, which oversees probation offices throughout the state, won't say.

Their boss, Department of Corrections Director Harold Clarke, declined to talk with The Pilot for this story.

Gov. Ralph Northam, who ultimately oversees the department, declined to say whether he agrees with corrections officials' decision not to release information about Hardee's supervision, according to spokeswoman Ofirah Yheskel.

Defense lawyer Emily Munn said that if she represented Hardee on the child abuse case involving his son, she would've told him to expect probation officers to drop by his home unannounced and for them to interview anyone he was living with to make sure he was behaving.

"I was surprised...he lived with a child," Munn said. "That seems like it would be in violation."

But lawyer James Broccoletti said blame shouldn't fall on probation officers.

Hardee might have only told them about a different address, he said. His probation officer might have eased up on supervision because he'd been doing well. Maybe the officer hadn't made an unannounced home visit in the brief time Hardee was living with Love.

"It's not the probation officer's fault," Broccoletti said.

Another lawyer, Robert Morecock, said being on probation isn't a guarantee someone will behave.

"It's not like he has a 24/7 video monitor drone following him around," Morecock said.

"People do all kinds of stuff on probation," he added. "There's plenty of opportunity for you to do what's wrong and not what's right."


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