Â© Copyright 2008, The Oklahoman Tulsa athlete Micheal Thomas swears he never met Lawton drug user Tiffany Dickson. Dickson says she never met him. That didn't stop the Oklahoma Department of Human Services from getting Thomas declared the father of Dickson's baby daughter and badgering him until he dropped out of college, forfeiting a football scholarship. It also didn't stop DHS from taking a portion of his biweekly paychecks and seizing his $290 state and federal tax refunds. "This is unbelievable. This is crazy,” said Thomas, 21, a former running back at Tulsa's Victory Christian School. It gets worse. Thomas took DNA tests that proved he wasn't the father, DHS records show. However, DHS continued to take money from his paychecks and refused to tell him the results, Thomas said. He said it wasn't until he got a lawyer that DHS stopped seizing money from his checks. Thomas still hasn't gotten his money back. Tulsa Attorney Billy Wiland III, who agreed to take Thomas' case without pay, said he has uncovered evidence that DHS filed untruthful reports with a Comanche County judge, who could have ended the bureaucratic mix-up. One report falsely claimed Thomas had "not responded to OKDHS letters, phone calls, or diligent search efforts” and had "not made any attempt to make contact with OKDHS.” The report was made at a time when Thomas had already taken two paternity tests and was having money withheld from his paycheck by the agency, Wiland said.
"I just thought they got the wrong
person. I mean, there's a lot of
Michael Thomases in Oklahoma and across the world.”
Legal claim filedWiland has filed a legal claim with the state asking for $167,000 to compensate Thomas for the "intentional or reckless infliction of severe emotional distress.” Taxpayers ultimately could pay the tab. Richard Freeman, a DHS attorney, said the matter is under investigation. DHS spokesman George Johnson said the agency "is hopeful that this matter may be resolved short of litigation.” Wiland said the inexplicable naming of his client as the father and "blatant bureaucratic bullying” to which Thomas was subjected make him wonder whether Thomas was the victim of profiling. "Were these actions by DHS due to a prejudicial discrimination against Mr. Thomas ... due to the fact that Mr. Thomas is a young black male who might fit the role which they hope he will play?” Wiland asked attorneys for DHS. Thomas said an older friend told him the same thing happened to him 20 years ago. Thomas wonders how many other men have been falsely accused of being fathers by DHS and had money taken from their paychecks. Freeman said he doesn't believe it happens often or DHS' legal division would have received more complaints.
‘The wrong guy'Thomas' problems began March 31, 2005, when Dickson gave birth to a baby girl in Comanche County, records show. The baby was taken away by the state the next day after DHS reported both mother and daughter tested positive for cocaine and marijuana. DHS filed a report with a Comanche County judge in June 2005 that said Dickson did not know the father's last name. "Tiffany said that she knows his first name is Michael, but she is not sure of his last name,” the report said. "Tiffany believes that Michael is running from the law.” Reached by telephone at her mother's house in Hollis, Dickson told The Oklahoman that she told her DHS worker she thought the last name of the father was Thomas and that he lived in Lawton. "When I met him, see, I was on drugs really bad, so he might have gave me a fake last name,” Dickson, 27, said. "I know for a fact he has never lived in Tulsa. They have the wrong guy.” Even back in 2005, DHS had plenty of reasons to know they had the wrong man. A DHS report filed with a Comanche County judge in December 2005 stated that one of Dickson's relatives had said the purported father was in the Jackson County jail. The DHS worker reported she checked with the jail and was advised "Mr. Thomas was released Oct. 17, 2004.” The Oklahoman checked with a Jackson County jail spokeswoman and was told the jail did release a Michael Thomas on that date. The inmate's date of birth was May 21, 1967, which would have made him 37 when Dickson's daughter was born. The Micheal Thomas DHS falsely accused of being the father was only 18 when Dickson gave birth. He spelled his first name differently and lived 200 miles away.
Shock; a bad car; a missed testThomas said he was "pretty much shocked” in the summer of 2005 when he and his mother got letters from DHS claiming he was the father of a baby he knew nothing about. "I just thought they got the wrong person,” he said. "I mean, there's a lot of Michael Thomases in Oklahoma and across the world.” Thomas said he had a phone conversation with a DHS official and agreed to take a DNA test. The worker said Thomas would receive details by mail. When the letter arrived, however, it said Thomas would have to travel to Lawton — 200 miles away — to take the DNA test. "I had a car, but the car wasn't in shape for me to be driving down to Lawton,” Thomas said. "Let alone, I had school that I was trying to take care of and I also was working a part-time job.” Thomas didn't go. He said the next thing he knew, DHS was telling him he was the "father by default” because he hadn't shown up to take the DNA test. "That's when they started sending me child support letters,” he said. Thomas said he called DHS back and begged for a chance to take the DNA test in Tulsa. Thomas said he took the test and was told the test results would be sent to DHS and DHS would send a copy of the results to him. "I never got any results from DHS,” he said.
College boundWiland said the first Tulsa test took place in the spring of 2006 and Thomas then went on to Tabor College in Hillsboro, Kan. Thomas said the letters and calls to him stopped while he was at Tabor, but the agency escalated contacts with his mother. Faced with pressures from DHS, a breakup with a girl-friend and other issues, Thomas said he dropped out of Tabor and headed home in the spring of 2007. Thomas said DHS demanded that he take another paternity test, which he did around March 2007. Once again, he said DHS never sent him the results. "The second time, when I called back, I was really upset by then,” Thomas said. He said DHS officials refused to give him the results and refused to let him talk with his caseworker. "They just said, ‘Well, Mike, you need to get an attorney.'” Thomas said he couldn't afford an attorney so he went to work as a security guard at Walmart. He soon discovered DHS was taking child support payments from his wages and had seized his income tax refund. Thomas said he was counting on the refund to buy a car. "The neighborhood I work in is kind of rough,” he said. "I don't want to be walking back and forth. Me being a ... security guard, I get threats at Walmart enough as it is.” Thomas said he demanded to talk to Dickson and see the baby at one point, and was told DHS couldn't arrange that because of confidentiality. Thomas sarcastically said that he even inquired about custody, since this was supposedly his child. He said he was told he would have to visit with his attorney about that.
‘Crazy' situationThomas said he finally caught a break when a church official put him in touch with his attorney, who agreed to take on the case for free if Thomas would sign an agreement to pay $2,500 if he was found to be lying about not being the father. "He signed the agreement and never even blinked,” his attorney said. Thomas said he hopes the mess is close to being straightened out and he wants people to know that if he got a woman pregnant, DHS wouldn't have to hunt him down. "I understand there are a lot of guys out there who are not taking responsibility as far as being a father and a parent,” he said. "But if I was to get any woman pregnant and have a baby by anybody, I'm going to be there. I'm going to take care of my daughter or my son.” "It's crazy,” Thomas said.
Tulsa athlete Micheal Thomas says DHS turned his life upside down by falsely accusing him of being the father of a baby girl born to a Lawton woman he never met. by Brandi Simons for the Oklahoman