Officials Saw Signs of 'Abuse,' 'Neglect' in Black Children Killed in SUV Crash But Did Not Intervene

Officials were aware of signs of abuse and neglect but said there was “no identified safety threat” in the home of the six Black children who were adopted by Jennifer and Sarah Hart, according to records from the Oregon Department of Human Services. They also knew that Jennifer Hart had been accused of abuse when the family was living in Minnesota.

The Hart family’s SUV was driven off a cliff in California in March. The bodies of Jennifer and Sarah Hart and four of their six adopted children (Markis, 19; Jeremiah and Abigail, both 14; and Cierra, 12), who are all Black, have since been found. Fifteen-year-old Devonte and 16-year-old Hannah are still missing and feared to be dead.

“Unable to determine, which means there are some indications of child abuse or neglect, but there is insufficient data to conclude that there is reasonable cause to believe that child abuse or neglect occurred,” the report reads.

Many of the names on the report are redacted, including the worker assigned to the case and the person in charge of the screening.

Witnesses reported that the Harts withheld food from their children as punishment and would discipline them further if they tried to sneak food. According to the report, the family was staying at a friend’s house and the group ordered pizza. The Harts only let their children eat a small piece each. The next morning the pizza was gone. None of the children would admit to eating it, so as punishment they were all forced to lie on a bed for several hours wearing sleeping masks. They were not given breakfast.

The report even highlights the abuse allegations the Harts faced in Minnesota, most of which were described as “ruled out” or unable to be determined. Abigail Hart, who was six at the time but was the size of a two-year-old, would rummage through garbage in school and take food from her classmates.

According to the document, teachers in Minnesota eventually stopped calling the Harts about incidents involving food because they didn’t want the children to be punished.

In one incident that was deemed “Determined,” one of the Harts spanked Abigail after they found a penny in her pocket. Abigail said the women held her head under cold water and that Jen Hart grabbed her neck. Minnesota’s solution was “in-home therapy, parenting and counseling, and a variety of skill building activities.”

In the newly released documents, a woman reported to officials that Jen Hart “viewed the children as animals before they came to her, and she as their savior. [Jen Hart] discussed how Hannah used to be morbidly obese when she came to them and now she is much better.”

Photos the family posted to social media around the time of Hannah’s adoption suggest she was by no means obese.

The family appeared happy on social media, but one witness firmly believed this was a faade:

“Ms. [redacted] believes [Sarah Hart] goes along with whatever [Jen Hart] says, but added [Sarah Hart] is “cold” to the children. She indicated [Sarah Hart] also likes to parade the children around and stage them for photographs, but does not provide affection or attention beyond this.”

Previous reports indicated that the mothers may have not only been abusive but racist. A neighbor told authorities that Hannah, who was missing her two front teeth, jumped out of her second-floor window in the middle of the night and came to her house. She was dirty and covered in weeds and told the neighbor that her mothers were racist and abusive.

The next day the whole Hart family went to the neighbor’s house. Jen Hart said Hannah lost her teeth by falling down and that she didn’t want new ones. Hannah was 16 at the time but looked like a seven-year-old, the neighbors said.

According to reports, the Harts may have received more than $270,000 in subsidiaries from state of Texas in order to take care of their children.

Devonte Hart made headlines in 2014, when he was the subject of a viral photo. The picture was snapped at a Ferguson protest that took place in Portland. Devonte, who was 12 at the time, appears to be crying and is embracing a white police officer.

The Harts had previously fostered a 15-year-old girl. In an interview with the Seattle Times the girl, who is now in her 20s, said that she had a generally positive experience with the Harts. She admitted that they kept her home a lot, but she had a history of sneaking out of her mother’s house to hang out with older kids, so she assumed this was the reason. However, she recalled that she was almost never allowed to see friends; she always had chores or homework to do. Jen and Sarah Hart also made her get a job, so she was allowed to leave to work at Subway. But that was all.

She didn’t report abuse, neglect or being starved.

However, the end of her relationship with the Harts was sad. The Harts were preparing to adopt three of their future children, and their foster daughter was under the impression she would be staying with the family as well. The Harts were preparing her to be a big sister, she recalled. But one day, the Harts dropped her off for a therapy session, and her therapist said that the Harts were not coming back and that she would be placed with a new family.

The young woman had no contact with the Harts after that.

Sarah and Jen Hart were living in Minnesota when they adopted their six children, who were all from Texas. According to MN ADOPT, interstate adoptions are handled through the state the child being adopted is from.

In Texas, the requirements to adopt a child are the same as they are to foster. Per Adopt US Kids:

  • Must be at least 21 years of age, financially stable and responsible, and a mature adult.
  • Complete an application (staff will assist you, if you prefer).
  • Share information regarding their background and lifestyle.
  • Provide relative and non-relative references.
  • Be single, married, widowed, or divorced. Please show proof of marriage if you are married and/or proof of divorce if you are/were divorced and proof of spouse’s death if widowed.
  • Agree to a home study which includes visits with all household members and inspection of all parts of the home, grounds, and outbuildings.
  • Allow staff to complete a criminal history background check and an abuse/neglect check on all adults in the household. (Adults are people age 14 and older who live in or visit your household regularly.)
  • Attend free training to learn about issues of abused and neglected children.

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