CHANDLER - A judge said Thursday he returned Kelsey Smith-Briggs to her mother in June because state law gave him no other choice. Commission Report Associate District Judge Craig Key spoke out after a new report revealed he went against a recommendation from the state Department of Human Services. His decision is controversial because Kelsey, 2, died four months later from alleged abuse at the Meeker home of her stepfather and mother. The stepfather, Michael Lee Porter, 25, is charged with first-degree murder. The mother, Raye Dawn Porter, 26, is under investigation. Each denies ever abusing Kelsey. The case has prompted calls for judicial and Department of Human Services reforms. The judge said, "When there is no evidence to show the child is in imminent danger and a parent completes all their obligations under DHS's treatment plan, I'm required by law to return the child to the parents. "That's exactly what I did - followed the letter of the law. The judge also said: "I know every child on my caseload by name. There is nothing more important to me in my job than the juvenile docket. Anyone that knows me, knows that. The judge said Thursday earlier allegations the mother abused Kelsey were not substantiated. Kelsey had a broken collarbone and bruising in January and broken legs in April. She was moved from her mother to her paternal grandparents to her maternal grandmother while child welfare workers investigated whether Kelsey suffered the injuries from abuse. Her father was away in the military. The new five-page report summarizes what happened at the June 15-16 hearing where Kelsey was returned to her mother. The Oklahoma Commission on Children and Youth, a state agency, released the report Thursday. The commission released a 13-page report earlier. At a June hearing, the judge agreed Kelsey had been abused but ruled the perpetrator was unknown. The judge heard from a dozen witnesses. In the end, he let Kelsey go back to her mother immediately. The witnesses included a Department of Human Services child welfare treatment worker who recommended Kelsey remain with her maternal grandmother, Gayla Smith, according to the new report. The child welfare worker said Kelsey's placement back with her mother should be "phased in following services from a private group. However, the worker also testified the mother would not have to complete any additional requirements. The judge also heard from a court-appointed special advocate, a trained community volunteer. She recommended Kelsey go "back with her mother. Complicating the decision were conflicting medical opinions on the child's fractured legs. One doctor suggested Kelsey could have been hurt accidentally from a fall at the zoo while another called it abuse. Also complicating the decision was that Kelsey was living with the paternal grandparents in April but had visited her mother and new stepfather. The paternal grandmother, Kathie Briggs, has been among the most vocal in calling for changes in the child welfare system. At the hearing in June, she testified she would like to see Kelsey and her mother eventually reunited but "not at this time. She said Kelsey should not go back until the mother or stepfather took further classes "or until we get to the bottom of what actually happened to her. Briggs said Thursday she would have preferred the judge place Kelsey back in her home or a foster home until more investigation into Kelsey's injuries could have been done. "It was our intention all along that Kelsey be returned to her mother, Briggs said. "We know that reunification is the goal of DHS and we were never against that happening at the right time. She said she suggested Raye Dawn Porter be ordered to receive psychiatric counseling. The judge continued to oversee Kelsey's care after his June ruling, and there were at least two other court hearings, records show.
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