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Posted: April 1, 2009 12:00 a.m.

Local man charged with child cruelty

Stepdaughter reportedly beat after family meeting about communication

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Donnie Harris

A 14-year-old female was beaten outside of a gas station late Monday night after a family meeting at a local eatery ended badly.

Officers from the Covington Police Department were called to a gas station on the corner of Brown Bridge and Turner Lake Road by witnesses who reportedly told them they saw a man and a woman physically assaulting a juvenile female. According to witnesses, the man left the area on foot and the woman left in a grey vehicle heading toward Washington Street.

As officers approached the intersection of Brown Bridge and Turner Lake they allegedly saw both the man and the vehicle exactly where witnesses said they would be. The vehicle was pulled over and the man was asked to stop so officers could investigate the complaint.

The woman driving was identified as the mother of the juvenile victim and the man was identified as 54-year-old Donnie Ray Harris, the girl's stepfather.

According to the juvenile, the family had gone to Applebee's for dinner and discussed how to communicate better and how to make their relationships around the house better as well. They also discussed, according to the girl, the family's disapproval of her relationship with another female. The victim allegedly told officers that Harris continued to talk about the conditions at the house while driving home from the restaurant and she reportedly admitted that she began to ignore him by wearing her headphones. Harris reportedly told his stepdaughter to remove her headphones, and she allegedly told officers that she did so briefly and then put them back on, which made her stepfather angry.

Harris, who lists his last employer as Grady Health System, then allegedly began to strike his stepdaughter in the face with an open hand, and also took his belt off and began hitting her on the arms, legs and chest with it. The girl reportedly told officers that she got out of the vehicle and began running away toward a friend's house, but that her stepfather chased after her. When he caught up to her he allegedly grabbed the girl by the neck and pushed her against the vehicle to prevent her from running away again.

Both the girl's mother and her stepfather reportedly told officers that the girl's version of events was correct. The juvenile victim sustained scratches, bruises and welts to her face, neck, arms, chest and legs. The Department of Family and Child Services was notified and the girl was temporarily removed from the home pending an investigation. Two other children in the home, a 19-year-old and an 8-year-old, were permitted to stay as there were no signs of abuse to either of them. Also, according to the 14-year-old, her mother was not involved in the beating.

Harris was arrested and transported to the Newton County Detention Center where he was charged with battery, family violence and cruelty to children.

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