A 5-year-old girl returned from visits with her father with black eyes and a bruised body, but child welfare workers pushed for the man to have permanent custody of his daughter, according to a report by the Oklahoma Commission on Children and Youth.
Serenity Anne Deal died of a severe head injury less than a month after she moved in with her father, Sean Devon Brooks, 31. He is charged with first-degree murder in Oklahoma County District Court in connection with her death. He does not have an attorney yet.
Girl called well-behaved
Brooks told authorities she fell in the bathroom of their Oklahoma City apartment, but police are finding holes in his story. They've collected blood evidence in the hotel where Brooks worked that weekend, indicating she may have been beaten there and carried out concealed in sheets, court records show.
How the girl ended up living with her father is in a nine-page report released late Wednesday outlining her case with the state Department of Human Services before her June 4 death. In it, she's described as a sensitive, well-
She turned 5 in May.
Brooks hadn't known his daughter before a paternity test in April 2010.
Mother is in jail
The child welfare case was opened June 2009 in Lincoln County when Serenity's mother, Samantha Ann Deal, 36, was accused of molesting a 10-year-old boy. Serenity and her 10-month-old half-sibling were sent to live with their maternal grandparents, who tried to adopt Serenity. She remained there until Pottawatomie County child welfare workers got involved in August 2010.
The report from the Oklahoma Commission on Children and Youth shows DHS workers knew of at least two instances when Serenity returned injured from visits with Brooks, and strongly implies workers from the two counties disagreed on the case.
The report states:
Serenity was moved from her grandparents' house into a foster home after child welfare workers discovered her grandmother was allowing her to stay the night with Samantha Deal and her boyfriend, a convicted sex offender.
On Jan. 4, DHS received a report that Serenity had suffered black eye, a cut on her forehead and bruise on her chest after a visit with Brooks.
Brooks claimed Serenity's injuries were from her running into a door.
Girl lost her hair
On Jan. 24, there was a second report that Serenity returned from a visit with Brooks and had two black eyes. A hospital emergency room visit showed bruising on both sides of her face, inside an ear, behind her left ear and on her right shoulder. She had lost almost half her hair due to a condition caused by poor hygiene.
Brooks claims he accidentally dropped Serenity while carrying her into his apartment from the car.
Serenity cried before her visits with Brooks, saying she didn't like him and didn't want to go to his house. Serenity said Brooks screamed at her, spanked her and did not wash her hair. Brooks denied those claims.
Interviews with relatives and witnesses noted Brooks told them he wanted to sign over his birth
Child welfare workers were told Brooks has three other children he had not visited in four years.
Two counties clash
Pottawatomie County child welfare workers in March reported Brooks could provide Serenity with a safe environment and recommended she live full time with her father.
The report indicates it was Lincoln County social workers who investigated the complaints about Serenity's injuries, her attitude toward her father, and found that Brooks didn't have a valid driver's license in December and was wanted by authorities for unpaid traffic fines.
That information was supposedly passed on to child welfare workers in Pottawatomie County.
There also was concern about a potential conflict because a relative of Serenity's works in the Lincoln County DHS office.
“There were extreme disagreements between workers in the two offices about what to do,” a source close to the case told The Oklahoman. “Some people thought the reunification was moving too fast, and no one foresaw this.”
Shawnee Attorney Joe Vorndran represented Chuck and Annette Deal, Serenity's maternal grandparents, in their attempt to adopt Serenity.
“We are deeply saddened by this tragedy and hope that the investigation into this matter will result in changes at the Oklahoma Department of Human Services that will prevent a similar incident in the future,” the Deals said in a written statement.
Vorndran said Serenity lived with her grandparents for three years. He said while she was under DHS supervision, his clients were never given a copy of the DHS plan that prohibited them from allowing Samantha Deal from visiting her children.
He said at no point did Chuck and Annette Deal allow Serenity to live with their mother as alleged by DHS officials.
Officials from DHS have little to say about the
Powell said they are surprised the Oklahoma Commission on Children and Youth completed their report so soon, and question whether they had all of the information to do a thorough review.
“We are deeply saddened anytime there is the death of a child,” Powell said. “I say that to reinforce the most important thing about this story should be the child.”