Many parents with children in day cares take comfort in knowing that day care workers and adults who live in home day cares are required to undergo state criminal background checks. What many parents don't know is that even people who fail the checks often get clearance to be in day cares, anyway. A number of people who committed domestic abuse, crimes of violence, drug offenses or sex crimes have been granted special waivers by the state Department of Human Services so they can be around day care children, an investigation by The Oklahoman reveals. In some cases, the crimes were years ago and the offenders submitted explanations and reference letters from preachers and friends who wrote they had turned their lives around. In other cases, the rationale for DHS decisions is less clear. Here is a brief look at some of the cases.
"Since then, Shemeka hasn't been in any trouble,” Hunter told DHS.
Brown, 22, was charged in August with vandalizing another woman's vehicle. "”I don't know anything about that,” Hunter said. "If she can't work for me, she just can't work for me ... because I'm trying to do it right. ... I'm not going to get myself in trouble.”
Soliciting prostitutionDHS let a day care open in Bartlesville even though the owner's husband pleaded guilty in 2002 to soliciting prostitution. A Tulsa undercover police officer reported Peter J. Young offered $20 for sex. Young, 46, told DHS this year: "The children of today should not be punished for my supposedly action or mistake that occurred almost five years ago.” His wife, Peggy Young, told The Oklahoman the two have separated, she has moved and he is no longer in the day care.
Domestic abuseBrenda K. Burke, 44, got a waiver last year so she could continue to work as a toddler class teacher at a Bartlesville day care. DHS discovered she had been arrested in 2003 for domestic abuse after a fight with her younger sister. She was not charged but did have to take anger management classes. "I just lost it,” she wrote DHS, explaining that the confrontation came after their mother and father died.
AssaultArmed with a hatchet, Theodis Miller broke all the windows of a woman's residence and damaged the back door with hatchet blows, police reported. Coming in through a window, he chased the woman down, choking her and punching her in the eye, police wrote. He had a lengthy fight with officers when they arrived. That was 1994 in Florida. Last year, DHS decided it was OK for the ex-criminal to be in a day care operated by his wife in Lawton. His wife, Edith Miller, told DHS Theodis Miller, 47, actually was in an altercation with a young man he caught with his then-wife. She wrote he also fought with police. She told The Oklahoman, "That's his past life and he has changed from then.”
Armed robberyLeroy Richmond, 71, first went to prison for a 1957 armed robbery. He next went to prison in 1960 for stealing a purse. The third time, he was sentenced to prison for 45 years for robbing an elderly Oklahoma City man in 1964 and for trying to rob another man in 1965. He was sentenced to prison a fourth time for 25 years for attempting to rob a woman in 1975 of a bag of cash as she sat inside her car outside an Oklahoma City grocery store. He had been paroled the year before. The victim testified Richmond hit her repeatedly, calling her a name each time and telling her to "give it up.” In a report to the judge, a Corrections Department parole officer called Richmond "a violent, deceiving criminal.” DHS gave him a waiver last year to be in his wife's day care in Muskogee. His wife, Liz Richmond, told The Oklahoman, "That's his past. It's not him today. ... He's moved on. He's in the ministry, doing just fine. ... He drives the bus and no one has a problem with that.”
Child abuseAllen Hawk, 30, was arrested in 2001 in Oklahoma for abusing his ex-wife and in 2002 in Kansas for abusing his 2-month-old son. Police reported the baby's leg was broken and that he admitted grabbing the baby too hard. He told DHS he was fined and put on probation both times. He wrote he didn't intentionally hurt them. His wife, Chandee L. Hawk, has a day care in Nowata and asked for the waiver. DHS agreed in November but ruled he could not be alone with day care children. "It was just a waiver for him to live here, but we no longer live where my day care is at,” she told The Oklahoman. "He's not a violent person, so I don't know how it all happened.”
Cop shootingThe children at Faith's Haven Home Day Care in Oklahoma City call their cook, Cecil M. Durham, "Pa Pa,” his wife said. DHS gave Durham, 60, permission in June to work at his wife's day care. He shot a female police officer in the arm in Tulsa during a 1979 standoff that ended when police fired tear gas into his apartment and disarmed him. He was sentenced to prison for five years after pleading guilty to assault and battery with a deadly weapon. He told DHS he was drunk and had argued with his girlfriend and the police were called. He wrote, "All I remember is my gun went off. The bullet went through the wall and struck an officer. It was accidental.” His wife, Linda Cooks, said she told parents about his past and also posted his Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation report inside the day care. "It's nothing that he's proud of,” she told The Oklahoman. "It's no secret. Everybody's got a past. If we dig in everybody's, dig up in their closets ... a bunch of skeletons will fall out. ... I've nothing to hide. It's just something that happened long, long time ago. ...God forgave him.”
Child abuseDHS agreed in March an admitted child beater, Philip D. Hurte, 36, could be in a day care run by his wife in Oklahoma City. He pleaded guilty in 1990 to child beating. Police reported he struck his 3-month-old daughter hard enough in the face to leave a bruise shaped like a hand. Police reported a doctor said the blow had to be full force to cause such a bruise. He told DHS he was angry because she was crying loudly. He told DHS: "From that day on I haven't been in any more trouble with the law ... or my children.” His wife, Jeri Hurte, told The Oklahoman: "It was very minor ... I resent what you guys are doing.”
Prostitution, forgeryA former prostitute, Mary L. Shephard, got permission last year to work in her sister's day care in Oklahoma City. She pleaded guilty in 1986 to prostitution and in 1993 to forging two checks. Police reported a witness in the forgery case said she "had called him and told him she was going to burn his house down for having the law come to her house.” There are two warrants out for her arrest for failure to pay court costs, according to the Oklahoma County sheriff's office. Shephard, 47, told DHS: "I know that my past is all behind me and I have moved forward to a better life.” Her sister, day care owner Tammy Wrice, told The Oklahoman: "You've got to help people that they really mean to change their life. ... God give you the chance, the opportunity, you got to do the same if people really meant it.”
Child abuseDHS in 2001 revoked Josephine Venturella's license to operate her Grandma's Day Care in Oklahoma City after she allegedly abused her 2-year-old foster son. She later pleaded no contest to child abuse and was put on probation for three years. Despite that, DHS in December gave her permission to work in a day care. Venturella, 61, told DHS she is innocent and the boy was injured when another foster child pulled him off a rocking horse. She wrote: "It would be a great injustice to keep me from a job I love.” She told The Oklahoman she is now retired but declined comment.
Drug abuse, dealingMary A. Thompson, 48, was granted an exemption last year to work at an Oklahoma City child care center after she told DHS she'd turned her life around. She wrote, "I stay out of trouble.” She pleaded guilty in 1988 to cocaine possession with intent to distribute. Police reported an armed murder suspect from Texas was in her home when it was raided.
DHS fraudDHS last year gave a waiver to an Oklahoma City woman who once cheated DHS out of $3,362 in welfare assistance and food stamps. A DHS investigator reported she lied, claiming no income when she was working two jobs. Quondonia Denese Reed pleaded guilty in 1994 to the fraud and to a crack cocaine dealing offense. Police seized cocaine, three loaded handguns and "gang-related pictures” when they raided her home. Reed, 39, told DHS, "All I need is a chance. I have vowed to save as many young people as I can, not to have to go through what I did.”
Domestic abuse, assaultDHS gave an Oklahoma City child care provider a waiver to have Shon Christopher Lane, 35, in her day care even though he assaulted his wife in 2001 and shot up a bedroom door in 1995 during a confrontation with another man. Lane was fined and put on probation for the 2001 domestic abuse. Police reported he admitted grabbing his wife by the neck and pushing her over a car trunk. He was not charged for the 1995 fight. He told DHS, "At no time would I bring any harm or danger to any child.” The day care provider, Erica Robinson, told The Oklahoman she posted the waiver letter but parents never ask about Lane's past. "Basically, I guess they figure if DHS approved him, then it must be all right,” she said.
RobberyConvicted robber Mark Garrett, 37, and his wife Kristie sought an exemption so they could open a day care in their Oklahoma City home. He wrote, "My strikes against me were over 10 years ago. I was young and making stupid mistakes.” DHS consented in January 2006. It turned out to be a poor decision. Since then, Kristie Garrett has twice filed for protective orders against her husband. She told a judge the last time, "He continues to call and say all of the horrible things he is going to do to me. He stated that the police will find me ‘sleeping.' He stated he was ready to go to war.” Neither could be reached for comment.
Prescription forgeryKimberly K. Johnson, 38, was given an exemption a year ago to work at the Advanced Children's Learning Center in Oklahoma City even though she had been convicted six times of forged prescription crimes and had been to prison. In one case, police reported, she allegedly was selling prescriptions from a doctor's stolen pad for $50 each. Johnson told DHS she forged prescriptions because she was addicted to pain killers after surgeries. "Since my release, my life has been different,” she wrote. She worked at the center only a couple of months but was a good employee, Director Linda Ellis said.
Assaulting a police officerDHS gave James Richard Johnston, 27, of Pryor an exemption last year so his wife could run a day care even though he assaulted a police officer in 2004. The day care has since closed. He told DHS he pulled a man off a friend during a fight outside a Wal-Mart. He wrote he did not realize the man, who was in a T-shirt and jeans, was a police officer trying to arrest his friend for shoplifting. He told DHS he is a lot more careful now in choosing friends. The officer said Johnston "hit him in the head and then started choking” him, according to a police report.
Domestic abuseRick L. Gregg, 46, pleaded no contest in 1998 to a misdemeanor abuse charge that accused him of repeatedly striking his then-wife about the face and head. She filed for a protective order, alleging he had abused her, held her hostage and threatened her with a shotgun. "They were lies,” he told DHS, which allowed him a waiver in April so his current wife, Pennie Gregg, can operate a day care in Shawnee. Pennie Gregg told The Oklahoman, "He's not violent. My day care kids love him. They call him, ‘Daddy,' as a matter of fact. ... And he loves kids. ... If he was violent, I wouldn't be with him.”
Inciting a riotLaSaundra Kay Wilson got permission in February to care for children even though she once was charged with inciting a riot in Tulsa. Police officers testified she called them names and tried to get a crowd to stop them from making a drug arrest in 1988. One officer said she told the rioters, "Let's get them.” She eventually pleaded guilty to a reduced charge — interfering with a police officer. She also was charged in 1992 with crack cocaine possession and pleaded no contest to a reduced charge of obstructing an officer. Wilson, 42, told DHS she learned from her mistake. "GOD! WORK! LOVE!” she wrote.
Assault, vandalismDay care owner Tana Hunter got a waiver last year for her daughter, Shemeka Brown, to work in her Tulsa home day care despite her daughter's 2002 assault charge.