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Polk toddler weighed 9 pounds, 5 ounces at death. Couple charged with felony child neglect

Polk Sheriff Grady Judd said it was immediately clear the nearly 3-year-old girl “suffered long-term starvation.”
Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd uses toy blocks to compare the weight of a nearly 3-year-old toddler who died in Davenport, at left, to the weight of a typical child her age, at right. A Davenport couple were arrested and charged with child neglect in the death of the toddler, who weighed 9.5 pounds. An average child her age would weigh 32 pounds.
Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd uses toy blocks to compare the weight of a nearly 3-year-old toddler who died in Davenport, at left, to the weight of a typical child her age, at right. A Davenport couple were arrested and charged with child neglect in the death of the toddler, who weighed 9.5 pounds. An average child her age would weigh 32 pounds. [ Sara-Megan Walsh / The Ledger ]
Published May 12|Updated May 12

DAVENPORT — A Davenport couple were arrested Wednesday and charged with felony child neglect after law enforcement responding to a 911 call found their nearly 3-year-old toddler dead.

Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd said deputies responded to the home of Regis Johnson, 57, and Arhonda Tillman, 35, located off U.S. 17/92 on Tuesday, after receiving a call about a toddler who wasn’t breathing. The 34-month-old girl was found dead in an inflatable pool being used as a makeshift playpen.

Later Thursday afternoon, Davenport resident Frank Robinson, 64, was arrested and charged with one felony count of negligent child abuse causing great harm and one felony count of failure to report child abuse. Robinson, Johnson’s brother, lived in the home with the couple, was aware of and did not report the toddler’s condition, according to the Sheriff’s Office.

Judd said it was immediately clear the child “suffered long-term starvation.”

“If you can imagine looking at such a heartbreaking sight, it was basically just bones and skin,” he said.

Johnson told deputies he had placed the child in the inflatable pool at about 5:15 a.m. Tuesday and she played with her toys. He said the toddler had not wanted to eat much for the past two days and would only take a few bites, according to the Sheriff’s Office.

Tillman, the child’s mother, told detectives that she attempted to feed the child a turkey sandwich on Monday before bed, but the child did not want to eat, the Sheriff’s Office said. She didn’t know when her child had last seen a doctor, but stated her daughter could crawl but not walk.

Judd said there was food in the family’s home at the time of the child’s death.

Medical records documented the child weighed 6 pounds, 10 ounces at birth, Judd said. An autopsy performed by the District 10 Medical Examiner’s Office found the toddler had no food in her stomach and only slight traces of any fecal matter. The toddler weighed 9 pounds, 5 ounces at her time of death. An average child of the same age should weigh approximately 32 pounds.

“This child didn’t just get sick and pass,” Judd said. “There aren’t adequate words to express our frustration.”

There were warning signs prior to the child’s death of potential neglect, Judd said.

Detectives contacted the toddler’s pediatrician to find out her last visit was in January 2020, the girl’s 6-month-old check up. The medical office reported it had attempted to follow up with the parents numerous times because there was concern the child could have cystic fibrosis, Judd said.

On Dec. 10. 2019, the state’s Department of Children and Families began a medical neglect investigation into the family, as the child was reportedly consistently losing weight and her parents were not following up with doctors’ appointments.

The state agency’s report found the couple complied with all DCF instructions and noted several positive weight checks, Judd said. Johnson was instructed to follow up with the child’s primary care doctor, and the DCF investigation was closed.

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It’s not clear who reported the couple to DCF, Judd said, as reports are kept confidential. There are no other children living in the home.

When detectives followed up with Johnson after the child’s autopsy, the father admitted he knew his daughter “was not gaining weight and not developing as normal,” according to the arrest affidavit. Johnson admitted he did not seek further medical attention.

The Sheriff’s Office’s investigation is ongoing at this time. Judd said he intends to charge Johnson and Tillman with the appropriate-level murder charges and any other crimes allowable under the law once the investigation is complete.

“We have the same question you do, ‘Did no one else see this child in this condition?’” Judd said.

The couple’s home is also registered as the business address of First Class Car Getters, a business operated by Johnson’s brother.

Tillman said she is currently four months pregnant, according to deputies. Judd said there are no medical records to confirm this, but Tillman will receive prenatal care while in jail.

The couple were scheduled to be arraigned at 1 p.m. Thursday. The Sheriff’s Office is pushing for a high bond or none at all, despite neither Johnson or Tillman having any prior criminal history.

Sara-Megan Walsh can be reached at swalsh@theledger.com or 863-802-7545. Follow on Twitter @SaraWalshFl.

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