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Parents charged with neglect in child's death

A Plymouth couple is charged with child neglect in connection with the 2015 death of their 7-year-old adopted son.

(File Photo)

MINNEAPOLIS- A Plymouth couple is charged with child neglect in connection with the 2015 death of their 7-year-old adopted son.

Timothy David Johnson, 39, and his wife Sarah Nicole Johnson, 38, were charged with neglect of a child-likely to result in substantial harm, the most serious option Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman said he could pursue. The criminal complaint filed against them asserts that the couple's adopted son Seth died a drawn-out, painful death after the couple failed to seek medical attention for a number of obvious physical and mental problems.

In a press release Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman detailed the case, and explained why it took nearly two years to file charges. "Our office did not receive the case, or even hear about it, until almost nine months later in December 2015. When we read the case reports, we approached it as a homicide case," Freemann said. "After all, he had bruising all over his body. He had two large lesions on the back of his heels. The parents admitted to police that his behavior had changed, that he wasn’t sleeping, was throwing himself down stairs and was taking hours to eat. Yet, they refused to do what most parents would have done and take him to a doctor."

Plymouth Police officers were called to the Johnson home at 7:41 a.m. on March 30, 2015 on reports of a child not breathing. Once on the scene they located Seth on the floor of a bathroom with his father attempting CPR. Seth was pronounced dead on the scene shortly after 8 a.m. Evidence photos taken on the scene showed multiple bruises on the boy, and breaks in the skin on most of his body. There were two huge ulcers on the backs of his heels, which are consistent with someone who is not mobile.

An autopsy revealed Seth Johnson's death was caused by acute pancreatitis and possible sepsis. In addition to contusions and abrasions, the pathologist noted multiple blisters on the child's legs that were consistent with bullous impetigo. Seth was in the 5th percentile for age, and his Body Mass Index was in the 6th percentile for his age, reflecting a lack of physical development.

Medical records from age 3 to age 5 reflect a thriving, healthy child, but the Johnsons told investigators that they noticed substantial changes in Seth's health in the weeks before his death, like not being able to sleep, shaking, blisters and lesions on his legs, and other problems. The couple said he would hurt himself, throwing himself down the stairs and hitting his head. The boy started to slow his eating, and meals would sometimes take hours, they explained.

The criminal complaint says Tim and Sarah Johnson told detectives they didn't seek medical help because they had "issues with going to doctors." The parents said after researching Seth's past they self-diagnosed him with post-traumatic stress and traumatic brain injury, and told investigators he had previously been diagnosed at a clinic with fetal alcohol syndrome and reactive attachment disorder. Authorities were not able to recover documentation of those diagnoses.

Instead of taking Seth to a doctor, the Johnsons increased his vitamin intake, and treated the boy's wounds with "medical honey" and Neosporin.

On the weekend of Seth's death, despite his declining medical condition, authorities say Tim and Sarah Johnson traveled to an out-of-town wedding, leaving the child in the care of his 16-year-old brother. Investigators say the teen called his parents the morning before Seth's death telling them he was refusing to eat, was not talking and would not get out of bed. Despite the concerning developments the Johnsons did not return home to seek help for their son.

"We cannot comprehend how a parent would leave a very sick seven-year-old to the care of a 16-year-old so they can go away for a weekend," asserted Freeman. "Nor can we comprehend how the parents refused to come home Sunday morning to care for their sick child when they were notified of his serious condition. Nor can we comprehend why the parents did not call an ambulance Sunday night to immediately obtain medical help when they finally got home."

When the Johnsons arrived home that Sunday night Seth was laying on the floor, and did not react when his parents entered the home and prayed over him.

The criminal complaint says the couple placed Seth on a mattress in their room and discussed whether they should seek medical attention, but decided to wait until the morning. Investigators say Tim Johnson awoke to a noise and found Seth covered in vomit and unresponsive. Only then did the couple call 9-1-1.

Neither Tim or Sarah Johnson is currently in custody.

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