Baltimore teen with autism charged in grandmother's death

Posted at 10:32 AM, Feb 06, 2018
and last updated 2018-02-07 12:54:33-05

A Baltimore teenager with autism has been charged with death of his grandmother, who died following an incident at his family's home in October.

Joel Johnson-Liphart, 19, has been charged with involuntary manslaughter, assault and reckless endangerment, according to the Anne Arundel County Police Department.

Officials say the incident began when Johnson-Liphart's mother asked him to clean up a mess inside the house.

"He was upset,” said Lt. Ryan Frashure of the Anne Arundel County Police Department, “His family members tried to calm him down, and during that process, he assaulted his mother, his sister and his grandmother."

Johnson-Liphart's grandmother, 72-year old Dorothea Hoagland, was already in poor health and suffered an injury to her face.

"Several days later, the grandmother was still at Shock Trauma,” said Frashure, “She ended up dying.  The medical examiner did an investigation and the medical examiner ruled that she did, indeed ... her death was caused by the fall of the assault of her grandson."

"That was definitely a shock,” said Marga Tucker, a longtime neighbor of the family. “I was not aware of any conflict between he and his grandmother. I was aware he had autism and had been diagnosed as a very young boy."

A young boy that grew into a challenged 19-year-old that now faces the greatest challenge of his life.

"You sometimes do hear about aggression as part of an autism spectrum disorder. That typically is in response to a situation," said Rebecca Rienzi, the executive Director of Pathfinders for Autism.

Rienzi adds she hopes Johnson-Liphart's case doesn’t give people the wrong idea about those diagnosed with autism, who are 10 times more likely to be victims of crimes. 

"There are no risk factors at all with a diagnosis of autism for someone to be violent towards another person. Absolutely, no connection. There's no research that indicates that. No evidence at all that shows any propensity for violence," she said.

It is a point not lost upon Tucker who knew of Dorothea Hoagland's love for her grandson and doubts she would have wanted to see him punished.

"No, she would not want any legal repercussions against him,” said Tucker, “She would definitely want him to have help and would not feel that he was responsible for her death."

A judge's order sent Johnson-Liphart to a local psychiatric hospital shortly after the incident and he remains there today.