© Copyright 2007, The Oklahoman The state is gambling that a cop shooter, admitted child abusers, prostitutes and dozens of other former criminals are reformed enough to be around day care children, an investigation by The Oklahoman has found. And parents are kept largely in the dark. The Department of Human Services has a policy barring certain former criminals from ever operating, working in or being in day cares. But they can ask for exemptions from the ban and, more often than not, DHS consents, The Oklahoman found. Exemptions have gone to former dope dealers and guys who beat their ex-wives or girlfriends, records show. Many were guilty of violent crimes. One exemption went to a former robber who went to prison four times and was described as “a violent, deceiving criminal certainly prone to continued crime.” DHS Director Howard Hendrick said he thought his agency gave exemptions — called waivers — mostly to rehabilitated drug offenders and people convicted of property crimes. “We can look into that,” he said of The Oklahoman’s findings. “Persons shouldn’t be getting waivers that ... we have any reason to believe would create risks for kids. ...That’s the way it should be. “I don’t think the policy’s necessarily a bad policy. The problem ... may be ... it may be inappropriately applied in a particular case.” The official who granted the waivers was Janice Matthews, licensing coordinator for the DHS child care division. She declined comment. Hendrick said: “The belief is that people can change. ... People can improve and so I think we want to try to get recommendations and references to know what the current state of their character is as opposed to what may have been their character at some prior time.” In almost half of the waivers examined by The Oklahoman, the crimes were more than a decade ago. Most applicants sent in letters from friends, bosses or preachers about the positive changes made in their lives. Some pointed out they wouldn’t be around the children and needed waivers only so their wives could run day cares out of their homes. The Oklahoman this year launched an investigation of DHS because of continuous complaints from the public that the agency too often fails in one of its chief missions — protecting children. As part of the inquiry, the newspaper looked at the practice of giving exemptions to former criminals so they could be in day cares. Reporters examined hundreds of pages of records. The Oklahoman found: DHS gave exemptions to more than 90 former criminals between Jan. 1, 2006, and July 19, 2007. About 50 were denied in that same time, officials said. The only official notice parents are given that a criminal will be in their child’s day care is the DHS waiver letter. Owners are required to post the letters in their businesses. The letters do not reveal the types of crimes committed. Some day care owners said they told parents about the crimes. Others said they haven’t and that parents never ask for details. Some owners complained to DHS about the requirement. “We are good people,” wrote one owner, a former drug user, who got a waiver 10 years ago. “Please don’t make the community think less of child care workers.” Many of the exemptions were for serious or repeat offenses. Almost half involved some kind of violence, including three in which children were hurt. One of the child abusers struck his 3-month-old daughter in the face because she wouldn’t stop crying. “I lost my temper and hit her very hard,” PhilipÖ Hurte of Oklahoma City told DHS. Another child abuser broke his baby boy’s leg. One man admitted to police that he shot up a bedroom door and kicked it to get to another man. A repeat drug offender got an exemption to work at a Sulphur day care even though she killed someone in a 2000 car collision while high on marijuana. A three-time felon got a waiver so his wife could run a day care even though he once admitted stabbing another man with a knife. “I was trying to hurt him,” the man told a judge. Another man, who pleaded guilty to assaulting a girlfriend with a baseball bat, told The Oklahoman he deserved the exemption so his wife could have a day care. He now insists he used only his fists and not the bat. “If you had done something wrong in your life, wouldn’t you want someone to give you a second chance?” said Corrie L. Johnson, 38, of Oklahoma City. “Isn’t everyone entitled to one? Now, if I had a crime against, let’s say a kid, then I could see your point. It was not against a kid. It was against a woman who was cheating on me and broke my heart. It wasn’t against some little kid.” Johnson pointed out he is now a church deacon, that the assault was 15 years ago and that he works elsewhere so he isn’t around the day care children. Many of the exemptions went to those who wanted to work in or open day cares despite criminal pasts. Others went to men who had run-ins with the law and their wives or girlfriends wanted to operate day cares in their homes. Some of those given exemptions from the ban served only probation but others spent years in prison. DHS states in the waiver letters that the exemption was granted after “careful consideration” but DHS workers apparently do not examine court records themselves very often. DHS also has given exemptions even when the applicant has not turned in a required explanation. Some given exemptions outright lied to DHS. One Chouteau home day care owner and her husband told DHS officials his guilty plea for contributing to the delinquency of a minor involved him taking home a younger brother who had been drinking. He actually bought alcohol at a convenience store for an underage girl and went driving around with her, court records show. Applicants for exemptions are supposed to include the opinions of reliable community members. Some references are dubious. One applicant relied on the assistant manager of a 7-Eleven convenience store where he shopped. “That’s not adequate,” Hendrick said.
The decision to give an exemption has sometimes turned out poorly.
In one case, DHS last year gave an exemption to a felon, Doris J. Potts, to run an Oklahoma City day care even though she had been convicted eight times and been to prison. Her crimes included cocaine distribution, theft, escape and illegal possession of a gun. The day care was closed this year after DHS found Potts, 40, had gotten in trouble with the law again, allegedly for drugs, in January.