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Minn. mother's live-in boyfriend charged with fatally abusing 3-year-old boy

The Ramsey County attorney's office charged Devioun Keith Johnson, 34, of St. Paul, with second-degree unintentional murder on Thursday, July 6, 2017, in the death of his girlfriend's 3-year-old son, Tyrell Wooten. Courtesy photo / Ramsey County Sheriff's Office

ST. PAUL — A St. Paul mom said her two sons were fine when she left for work one day last month and her live-in boyfriend put the boys to bed that night.

But the 3-year-old didn't wake up the next morning and an autopsy found he suffered a severe skull fracture, according to murder charges filed against the boyfriend Thursday, July 6.

Police found out in their investigation that Devioun Keith Johnson, 34, was the focus of a Dakota County child protection investigation in 2013. He was not charged in that case.

About 8 a.m. June 25, St. Paul officers responded to a residence on Herbert Street for a report of a child who was not breathing. Tyrell Wooten was found unresponsive on a bed in his family's apartment.

The assistant Ramsey County medical examiner told police that Tyrell likely would not have survived his injuries for more than 24 to 48 hours and that his symptoms would have been obvious. His death was ruled a homicide.

Johnson was Tawanna Chizelle's live-in boyfriend of four months. On June 24, she went to work about 5 p.m., leaving Tyrell and her 7-year-old son in Johnson's care. She returned about 12:30 a.m. June 25. She cried as she later told police that her sons were fine when she left.

Johnson told police that Tyrell ate dinner and watched movies. He said he put the boys to bed between 7:30 p.m. and 8 p.m. and that when he checked on them later in the evening, Tyrell was "sleeping and breathing just fine," according to the complaint.

The next morning, Tyrell's 7-year-old brother went to Johnson and reported the little boy was not breathing.

Chizelle told police that Tyrell had fallen twice on playground equipment in recent weeks; "both incidents reportedly occurred" while Tyrell was in Johnson's care, according to the complaint.

Johnson also reported to police that Tyrell fell off the monkey bars at the apartment complex's playground about two weeks earlier and said the boy had hit his head on one of the bed rails about a month ago, according to the complaint.

Chizelle told police she took her son to the doctor after the first fall; medical records showed Tyrell was brought to the Children's Hospital emergency room with two sore bumps on each side of his head. The boy was alert "but could not provide an explanation for the bumps," the complaint said.

Police conducted a follow-up interview with Johnson and "confronted him with the severity and timing of (Tyrell's) injuries, and the fact that many witnesses stated that (Tyrell) was fine prior to being placed in his care on June 24," the complaint said. "(Johnson) repeated that (Tyrell) was 'alright' when left in his care. He provided no explanation for the severe injuries that took the child's life. He showed little emotion during the interview."

An autopsy showed Tyrell died of a closed-head injury, with internal bleeding in multiple layers of the head and bleeding in the spinal cord, according to the complaint. His symptoms would have included pain, lethargy, loss of consciousness, nausea and vomiting, the assistant medical examiner told police.

Several witnesses who saw Tyrell after the accidental falls that Johnson had described, including his daycare providers on June 23, said he was acting normally.

Tyrell's mother declined to comment Thursday. She previously described her son as "the biggest teddy bear," with a huge smile, who loved Thomas the Tank Engine.

Police investigating Tyrell's death found out about the 2013 Dakota County child protection case involving Johnson. In that case he got into an altercation with his girlfriend, who said Johnson threw her against a wall while she was holding her 1-year-old child, according to the complaint filed Thursday. She said Johnson choked her and "ended up punching the baby in the face and inflicting a black eye," the complaint continued.

A child protection investigation found maltreatment and Burnsville police investigated, but Johnson's then-girlfriend did not want to pursue a criminal case and charges were not filed.

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