SHAWNEE — DHS is being blamed for another girl's death.
This time, the state agency is being criticized for leaving 6-year-old Alexis Morris and her younger brother in the care of a stepmother who previously had two of her own young children die under tragic circumstances.
DHS chose to leave Alexis and her younger brother, Jordan Morris, there despite receiving 27 complaints of possible child abuse to those two children. The complaints came from multiple sources, including a doctor, teacher, neighbor, school counselor, child care provider and the children's natural mother, a lawsuit states.
The stepmother, Jennifer Jimenez, 29, of Shawnee, was charged with child abuse in November 2010 in Pottawatomie County — more than a year after Alexis' Sept. 25, 2009, death.
The felony criminal charge alleges that from Nov. 19, 2007, through the date of Alexis' death, Jimenez willfully and maliciously inflicted physical injuries to the two children.
Christina Potter, the children's natural mother, filed a lawsuit in August accusing the Oklahoma Department of Human Services and 11 of its current and former workers of failing to take action to protect her children.
“This has nothing to do with the money,” Potter said of the lawsuit. “That's dirty money.”
The lawsuit was filed to hold DHS officials accountable, she said.
“There are other kids out there being hurt and they're still not doing anything,” said Potter, who recalled her daughter loved playing princess and ballerina and was buried wearing a glittering tiara.
“I couldn't save her and they didn't even try,” Potter said, tears rolling down her cheeks.
DHS spokeswoman Sheree Powell said it would be premature to comment on specifics of the case. The spokeswoman also said, “The events as alleged in lawsuits are not always the same as the facts as they occurred.”
Potter, 27, lives in Edmond. She said Alexis and Jordan had been in the custody of their father and his wife, Jimenez. Potter said she made a poor choice and was with an abusive boyfriend at that time and his family had drug issues. She said she has a new boyfriend and was given back custody of Jordan.
The lawsuit alleges DHS workers failed to inform the district attorney or judge about abuse allegations and says that after Alexis' death, a court-appointed special advocate for the children determined DHS was “guilty of turning a deaf ear on this case for many, many years.”
“DHS dropped the ball completely on this case,” said Darla Ash, Alexis' grandmother.
“DHS just needs to be reformed completely. That is all there is to it,” Ash said.
Death cause uncertain
The exact cause of Alexis' death is uncertain.
The stepmother claims she wasn't in the room at the time, but Alexis was injured when she fell from a bunk bed, said the stepmother's attorney, Allan Grubb of Shawnee.
Potter alleges in her lawsuit that the stepmother killed the girl.
The Oklahoma medical examiner officially ruled the probable cause of death as “undetermined” and the manner of death as “unknown.”
Alexis' medical history included an irregular heartbeat that could have caused her death, the autopsy report indicated. However, the pathologist noted an examination of the girl's body revealed “multiple contusions and abrasions on the scalp, back, buttocks, right flank, lower extremities, and on the face.”
“Due to the presence of trauma, it is felt that this death is better classified as undetermined with the manner unknown,” the autopsy states.
Potter told The Oklahoman there was another child in the home who reported witnessing Jimenez repeatedly slamming Alexis against the floor.