Dad takes 8-year-old son on crime spree to “toughen him up”

Florida man accused of contributing to his son’s delinquency after taking the boy on a series of burglaries to build his resilience.


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

Nepotism may undermine a meritocracy, but that didn’t stop one Florida criminal from making his young son his arch-accomplice.

And the reason for dispensing with a transparent, impartial selection process? To “toughen” the kid up.

Ernest McKnight III has been accused of contributing to the delinquency of his 8-year-old son after he took him along on a recent crime spree to build the boy’s resilience.

When investigators asked the 36-year-old dad why he’d allowed his son to tag along, McKnight replied, “I was trying to toughen him up … I don’t want him to be soft,” Brian Bruchey, a spokesman for the Polk County Sheriff’s Office, said.

According to Bruchey, the young boy accompanied McKnight, of Winter Haven, last week on a seriously heavy crime shift, which included burglarizing three unoccupied dwellings, stealing a car, and making off with a package stolen from someone’s porch.

The alleged crimes all occurred in the City of Lake Wales, according to a press release from the sheriff’s office.

“Taking a child out with you while you’re committing felonies is not the proper way to create a positive influence,” Sheriff Grady Judd said. “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.”

McKnight was arrested Thursday after deputies spotted him in the stolen vehicle, a red Hyundai taken from a road surveyor.

In the high-speed car chase that followed, deputies clocked McKnight doing 120 mph, according to an arrest affidavit. Only after they caught up with him did they discover he was with a child.

The boy has since been reunited with family, Bruchey said.

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