Hart parents denied using belt to discipline child in '08, claimed she fell down stairs

This March 20, 2016 photo shows Hart family of Woodland, Wash., at a Bernie Sanders rally in Vancouver, Wash. Authorities in Northern California say they believe all six children from a family were in a vehicle that plunged off a coastal cliff. Mendocino County Sheriff Tom Allmon told reporters Wednesday, March 28, 2018, that only three bodies of the children have been recovered. Their parents also died Monday. (Tristan Fortsch/KATU News via AP)

Court documents obtained by KATU News say one of the adopted daughters of Sarah and Jennifer Hart told authorities her mother hit her using a belt back in 2008, while the family was living in Minnesota. When confronted, Sarah and Jennifer told authorities the girl fell down the stairs.

According to the police report, the child told investigators that her "mother had struck (her) with a belt in the arm."

The child also told investigators "Jennifer was the parent who struck (her) with the belt."

When confronted by an officer, Jennifer and Sarah said the little girl "has been going through food issues, where she'll steal other people's food at school or eat out of garbage cans or off the floor."

They also added they "didn't know how the bruise would have gotten on [the girl's] arm, but [they say] a few days prior to our interview, [she] had fallen down eight stairs in their house."

RELATED: Criminal complaint: 6-year-old told teacher 'Mom hit me,' had bruises on front and back

Jennifer and Sarah Hart, along with three of their adopted children, were found dead from a crash in Mendocino County last week. Three of their other kids, Devonte, Hannah and Sierra, are missing, but investigators believe they were in the car at the time of the crash.

Authorities believe Jennifer and Sarah drove off the cliff intentionally. The family most recently lived in Woodland, Wash. but has also spent time in West Linn, Ore. and Minnesota.

A criminal complaint was filed in Minnesota in 2010 against Sarah. Authorities say she spanked her then-6-year-old daughter so hard, she had bruises on her front side from her sternum to her bellybutton, and on her back from midway down her back to the waistband of her pants. Sarah admitted to police she "let her anger get out of control" and bent the little girl over the bathtub, hitting her over the backside. Sarah was charged with malicious punishment of child and domestic assault. She eventually pleaded guilty to domestic assault, and the malicious punishment of child charge was dropped.

RELATED: CPS visited home 3 times, identified children as 'potential victims of abuse or neglect'

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