Oklahoma DHS workers on Serenity Deal case deny wrongdoing, say they are being singled out for firing

The child-welfare workers' attorney, Pete Serrata, said Oklahoma Department of Human Services' policy failures are to blame for Serenity Deal's death, and the proposed firings are “a politically expedient way of disposing of” DHS' failure.
BY NOLAN CLAY nclay@opubco.com Published: September 12, 2011

Two DHS child-welfare workers deny wrongdoing in the Serenity Deal case, and they say the agency is targeting them for termination in an effort to make the controversy disappear.

Their attorney, Pete Serrata, alleges policy failures at the Department of Human Services actually led to Serenity's death “and the deaths of numerous other children across the state.”

DHS is seeking to fire Pottawatomie County worker Randy J. Lack and supervisor Jennifer R. Shawn on grounds of misconduct and dishonesty, records show. Final decisions on their jobs are expected later this month.

The agency alleges in notices to the workers that both failed to follow DHS policies and were involved in making false statements to court officials that jeopardized Serenity's safety. Among the accusations is that they failed to fully check her father's background.

Serenity, 5, died in June from a beating while with her father. The girl, who had a pacemaker for her heart, began living with her father full time in Oklahoma City in May on DHS' recommendation.

The girl was placed with her father, Sean Devon Brooks, even though she was injured twice in January during overnight visits with him. DHS was involved because Serenity's mother had been accused of molesting a boy.

Brooks is charged with first-degree murder. Records show he did not know he was the girl's father until she was 3.

Administrative leave

DHS put Lack, Shawn and two Lincoln County workers on administrative leave after Serenity's death. One suspended worker, Donald Wheeler, then committed suicide. His supervisor, Wes Priest, resigned.

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AT A GLANCE

Accusations against DHS workers

These are some of the accusations against two Department of Human Services workers in the Serenity Deal case. The accusations are in their notices of proposed discharge. The workers say the accusations are based on inaccurate information.

• No investigation on who would provide child care while father was at work.

• Did not question father's ex-girlfriend, who claims he “sold drugs the entire six years she was with him.” The ex-girlfriend did not let him see their three children.

• No attempt to verify father's claims of relatives in Oklahoma City who could help him. No check of employment patterns and income.

• No check of father's court records. Father had extensive court-related background in four counties that would have raised safety concerns.

• Failed to inform court that father did not take girl to get medical care after she suffered injuries in early January.

• Failed to provide court photos of child's subsequent injuries on Jan. 21. Failed to tell court those injuries were described as two black eyes and a bruised and swollen face on the left side. Failed to make sure court got medical report from hospital that indicated Serenity was seen there for possible abuse.

• Failed to provide district attorney with complete information that could have led to criminal charges against father over Serenity's injuries in January.

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