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Josephine VenturellaWhat 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.
Who fails checks?
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.
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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.
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