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Man accused of severely shaking son; Grand jury indicts father on assault, child abuse counts; Infant partially paralyzed; Case is 2nd incident involving criminal charges in past year


A 34-year-old North Laurel man has been charged with severely shaking his 3-month-old son, leaving the child partially paralyzed with brain damage, the second such incident resulting in criminal charges in the past year in Howard County.

The child's father was indicted last week on child abuse and second-degree assault charges. The indictment was unsealed yesterday when the man, Manuel Johnson Jr. of North Laurel, surrendered to authorities.

Law enforcement sources say Howard County officials are investigating another possible case of shaken-baby syndrome, which would be the county's third, and are awaiting lab tests. That 1-week-old girl died in mid-April, said sources who declined to release further details.

The abuse and shaking cases alarm Howard County officials, although they don't believe they are part of a broader trend.

"We've just not seen deaths resulting from shaken-baby [syndrome] before," said State's Attorney Marna L. McLendon. "Your heart just goes out on these cases. They are traumatic all the way around."

Shaken-baby syndrome is violent shaking of young children that causes brain and other injuries.

The most publicized case involves a North Laurel day care provider who is accused of shaking a 15-month-old girl to death. Kathleen A. Butcher, 36, is scheduled for trial next month.

In the most recent incident, authorities say that Johnson's then-3-month-old son, Spencer, was shaken March 17 at their apartment in the 9200 block of Livery Lane.

The boy's mother had left her son alone with Johnson when she went to work, officials said. Johnson called 911 and reported that his son was having difficulty breathing, authorities said.

After the incident, officials said, the boy was treated at several hospitals before recently being sent home to his mother. Johnson is being held at the Howard County Detention Center on $100,000 bond. Authorities declined to release further details.

Nationwide, incidents of child abuse and deaths have held steady. About 1,100 children die every year at the hands of adults, according to statistics. In 1998, the last year for which statistics are available, 24 children died in Maryland in cases of abuse or neglect. But experts said they expect the number of deaths from abuse, especially shaking, to rise in the next few years because mothers are entrusting their babies' care to outsiders.

Abusers seem to be boyfriends, fathers or child care providers, the experts said.

"The boyfriend or other poorly conceived child care provider doesn't have the child rearing instincts," said Dr. John Tilelli, a child abuse expert and associate director of pediatric intensive care at Arnold Palmer Hospital for Women and Children in Orlando, Fla. "It's easy for them to become frustrated."

Experts also said doctors and medical tests are getting better at detecting such abuse.

Medical experts said they uncover about 10 percent of all shaken-baby cases, and 25 percent of those victims die. The rest usually suffer from serious brain damage.

Experts also said that they are finding older children suffering from brain defects who might have been victims of abuse.

"There are long-term affects we haven't picked up on," said Kristen Deye, a clinical social worker who evaluates child abuse cases at Johns Hopkins Hospital.

Infants and children suffer more from shaking than adults because their necks are weaker and heads larger, making it difficult for the child to control its movements, experts said. That results in more damage to the brain, which is thrown repeatedly against the skull.

Another Howard County case involves a boyfriend, authorities said, though it is unclear how 8-month-old Victoria Dobbin died.

In a statement to police, William P. English, 23, said he didn't know how Victoria was injured June 2. She died 16 days later.

He told police that Victoria's mother put the baby on the floor and left to run errands with English's mother.

"They put some toys out in the middle of the floor and set her down," English wrote in the statement, disclosed at a recent hearing. "They then left. [Victoria] began to cry extremely hard. I was picking up a bowl of soup and turned to go to the kitchen and noticed she stop [sic] crying. So I went to pick up her up and she was limp."

Police said the girl suffered serious brain injuries that could not have been caused by falling over in a sitting position. English's trial on a second-degree murder charge has been indefinitely postponed, said his defense lawyer, Louis P. Willemin, who yesterday asserted his client's innocence.

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