Testimony: Toddler's mom removed evidence before police arrival

Dylan Tate

ANDERSON — Police took Jennifer Harris to the police station for questioning before they took her to the Anderson hospital where her 18-month-old son, Harlan Haines, had been placed on life support.

What police didn’t know was that Harris had returned to the home, where she and her son lived with boyfriend Dylan Tate, after being questioned. She removed several items of evidence and put them into the trunk of a car for two days.

On Monday, jurors in Dylan Tate’s murder and molestation trial learned Harlan’s mother went back to the home before going to Riley Hospital for Children in Indianapolis where her son was transported.

She took the items before police went back to the residence with Tate to photograph the home and collect any evidence.

Tate is on trial for murder, charged with Level 1 felony neglect of a dependent resulting in death, Level 1 felony child molesting and Level 6 felony operating a vehicle while intoxicated.

Authorities say Tate brutally beat, tortured and molested Harlan before his death and tried to cover the murder and the injuries inflicted on Harlan with a fake car accident on Feb. 23, 2018.

According to court documents, Tate told authorities he woke up that morning and found Harlan struggling to breathe. He picked the child up without waking Harris and rushed him to the hospital, but crashed into a pole on his way to Community Hospital Anderson.

Flagging down help, Tate and Harlan were taken to the hospital. Harlan was wearing only a diaper and Tate only had jeans on when they arrived just after 4 a.m.

Anderson Police Department Detective Clifford Cole testified Monday he wasn’t sure the other investigators knew Harris had returned to the home after being questioned and prior to their arrival with Tate. He said he told Harris he needed the items she took, but she did not bring them back to the police station for two days.

Cole also confirmed in court that Harris was the other suspect in the case and could have caused Harlan’s death. Harris, however, has only been charged with Level 1 felony neglect of a dependent resulting in death.

Cole testified that when Harris was brought to APD she had Tate’s cellphone and gave it to the officers on Feb. 23. Her cellphone was taken into evidence in April when she was arrested on the neglect charge.

He said Harris did not give him her cellphone on Feb. 23, because she needed the contacts in her phone to reach family members.

Tate gave officers his pass code to unlock his phone upon request, gave officers permission to search and collect evidence at his home without a warrant and granted three interviews with police regarding the events that led up to Harlan’s death.

Other testimony on Monday included the amount of alcohol Tate had consumed and the Oxycodone in his system when he crashed his car on the way to the hospital. There were more details provided about Harlan’s injuries prior to his death.

Dr. Nathanael Swinger was one of the intensive care unit pediatricians at Riley Hospital who treated Harlan. He testified that the first thing he noticed about the toddler was the bruises “all over his body.”

Swinger said it looked like “someone had beaten this kid to hell.”

“I thought he was already brain dead,” Swinger said.

He also testified to the injuries to Harlan’s anus.

“The only time I have ever seen that is when someone forcefully puts something in their rectum,” Swinger said.

He said Harlan’s injuries were not consistent with a car accident.

Swinger testified that Harlan was declared medically dead on Feb. 25, but “technically — he died before he got to Community.”

In addition to injuries seen when children are shaken violently, Harlan also had two bite marks that appeared to be from an adult and multiple burns that are consistent with cigarette burns, said Dr. Shannon Thompson, a pediatrician who specializes in child abuse.

Unlike normal bruising on toddlers’ elbows and shins, Harlan’s injuries were on his abdomen, the inside of his legs and on the inside soles of his feet. He also had lacerations and linear bruising in his groin area.

Thompson said Harlan’s injuries were consistent with child abuse, not a car accident.

Tate rested his head on his clasped hands and never looked at the child’s images as they were projected onto a large screen for jurors on Monday.

The trial is scheduled to resume at 9 a.m. Tuesday in Madison Circuit Court 1 before Judge Angela Warner Sims.

Follow Traci L. Miller @_TraciMiller on Twitter, email her at traci.miller@heraldbulletin.com, or call her at 765-640-4805.