University scientist who kept young kids in ‘makeshift cage’ for hours gets slap on the wrist


Dustin Huff (Gainesville Police Dept.)

Dustin Huff (Gainesville Police Dept.)

A 35-year-old former scientist at the University of Florida will avoid prison despite pleading to allegations that he kept his 6-year-old and 2-year-old children in makeshift cages while he and his wife went to work and slept.

Dustin Michael Gerard Huff, who was previously employed as a biological scientist for the university’s Horticultural Sciences Department, on Monday pleaded no contest to one count of felony child neglect without causing great bodily harm over the alleged treatment of his children, court records reviewed by Law&Crime show.

In exchange for his plea, prosecutors dropped two counts of cruelty toward a child: aggravated child abuse and recommended that the judge withhold adjudication of Huff’s guilty plea. That means that if Huff completes a five-year term of probation, the conviction will not appear on his record.

Huff’s wife, 31-year-old Yurui Xie, the children’s mother, was also arrested and faces one count of child neglect without great bodily harm. She is scheduled to appear in court for her arraignment on March 18. A citizen of the People’s Republic of China, Xie had previously been employed by the University of Florida as a safety manager and research biologist in the Plant Pathology Department.

Yurui Xie (Gainesville Police Dept.)

Yurui Xie (Gainesville Police Dept.)

Huff and Xie were trespassed from all of the university’s properties on Dec. 11, 2023, less than a week after being arrested.

According to a report from the Alachua Chronicle, officers with the Gainesville Police Department responded to the family’s home to assist agents with the Florida Department of Children and Families in investigating allegations of child abuse.

The couple’s 6-year-old child reportedly told an investigator with DCF that he did not want to go home because he was afraid of being caged.

“[The 6-year-old] stated, ‘I didn’t want anyone to get in trouble. I just didn’t want to be in the cage,’” police wrote, according to documents obtained by Pensacola ABC affiliate WEAR.

The boy reportedly told police that his mom put him in his cage and left him alone when he got home from school. He said he would also be locked up at night until he left for school in the morning at about 7, according to the report.

After police arrived at the home, the parents let them into the 6-year-old’s room.

“Upon entering [the children’s] room, I observed a large unsanded, wooden enclosure made of pressure-treated 2x4s that appeared to be a makeshift cage,” an officer on the scene reportedly wrote in a probable cause affidavit. “I observed two stainless steel sliding latches (aka barrel bolts) on the outside of the enclosure’s door.”

The parents reportedly said they needed the cage to keep the boy from “waking up in the middle of the night and disturbing the house.” In the affidavit, police emphasized that the boy could not communicate with his parents if he were in trouble.

The boy also told police that his 2-year-old sibling was similarly kept in a makeshift cage and led officers to his parents’ bedroom. Inside their closet, police found a wooden crib that had been turned upside down, the Chronicle reported.

Xie reportedly told police they needed to put the toddler in the upside-down crib because the child would climb out.

Before their arrests, neither parent had a criminal record.

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