Current Cases Show Apparent Failings of Oklahoma DHS


Since the death of 2-year-old Kelsey Smith-Briggs in 2005, Oklahoma has been under fire for its apparent failings in protecting children from child abuse. Little Kelsey was taken into state custody in April 2005 after both of her legs were broken; however, just two months later, a judge--against the recommendation of the Oklahoma Department of Human Services--returned Kelsey to her mother's custody, saying the girl's abuser was "unknown."

Four months later, Kelsey was dead. Her stepfather, Michael Lee Porter, was charged with sexual abuse and first degree murder. However, he denied being Kelsey's abuser and instead pleaded guilty to enabling child abuse. He was sentenced to 30 years in prison. Kelsey's mother, Raye Dawn Smith, was convicted of enabling child abuse and sentenced to 27 years in prison.

In a similar case, 5-year-old Serenity Deal was beaten to death by her father, whom had been given custody of the girl a month earlier, despite signs of abuse during her prior visits with him. Serenity was taken from her mother after the woman was charged with molesting a 10-year-old boy, and when the girl's grandparents allowed visits with the mother, DHS removed her from their custody. Sean David Brooks, who apparently had no interest in taking custody of his daughter, was required to take a paternity test and then given custody of the girl, even though she had come home from visits with visible injuries to her face. After Serenity died of head injuries sustained at the hands of her father, two DHS workers were criminally charged, and two others were suspended but later cleared. One of those cleared of wrongdoing committed suicide during the investigation and didn't live to see his name vindicated.

Now, to be fair, the Oklahoma Department of Human Services is staffed by numerous individuals, and I know from dealing with the agency on behalf of my clients that some of the employees there are compassionate and loving people doing a hard job. However, I believe that is the exception instead of the rule. Every time it seems like the agency starts to get back on track, another tragic story comes up that thrusts any failings back in the limelight. For whatever reason, DHS can't help itself from failing to intervene when necessary and attempting to reunify children with parents who just don't give a damn.

Sadly, it looks as though two such stories are currently underway.

In late August, a 3-year-old boy in foster care died of head injuries that his foster mother could not satisfactorily explain. Mallory Krajian, 25, said she was not in the room when Andrew Prior jumped from a couch and hit his head on a table. However, doctors found the explanation inconsistent with the toddler's injuries, and police said evidence at the scene didn't match the description of the incident. 

Mallory and her husband, 44-year-old Peter Krajian, have since been charged with first degree murder in the boy's death. It has since come to light, though, that Andrew should have been removed from the foster home months before his death. Two months after he was placed in the home, a DHS caseworker reported smelling marijuana in the home. Because DHS has a zero-tolerance policy for drugs and drug paraphernalia, the foster children should have been removed from the home at that time. DHS spokeswoman Sheree Powell was unable to give a reason why the children were not removed after the caseworker smelled marijuana.

And while it appears that DHS policies were not followed in the Krajian case, it seems as though a DHS worker in Yukon felt that the policies did not apply to his family either. DHS employee Lamerle Robinson, 41, and his wife Jenifer Robinson, 39, were arrested last week by the Canadian County Sheriff's Department on five complaints each of child neglect. DHS workers called sheriff's deputies after making a child welfare check at the home. They allegedly found filthy living conditions, including mold growing in the bathroom and refrigerator, and insufficient food for the five children living there. 

Robinson is not a caseworker with DHS; rather, his job is to make phone calls for collection of delinquent child support payments.

Under Oklahoma law, conviction of child neglect or enabling child neglect carries the possibility of a life sentence.

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