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Department of Human Services moves to fire two employees in Oklahoma

by Randy Ellis Modified: February 10, 2014 at 8:57 pm •  Published: February 10, 2014

The Oklahoma Department of Human Services has initiated steps to terminate two employees after an internal investigation into the January 2013 death of Quinten Wood, a 15-year-old special-needs youth who died after state officials allegedly failed to respond appropriately to complaints of neglect.

“Unfortunately, a thorough and comprehensive review of the facts and circumstances of Quinten's death led us to the difficult and sad conclusion that the individual actions of two employees associated with this case clearly violated agency policies and reasonable child protection practices,” DHS Director Ed Lake said Monday in a prepared statement. “Based upon the information that has been obtained, the decision has been made to initiate steps to terminate those employees.”

Lake described their actions as failure to do something very basic.

“When people just don't do the basics, I can't defend it,” he said. “If someone decides they are going to shirk a responsibility — it happens in every occupation — that's impossible to bulletproof with policy and training and supervision.”

Sheree Powell, DHS spokeswoman, said her agency will not name the employees involved or reveal details about what they allegedly did wrong until disciplinary proceedings become final. Both were served termination notices Friday.

A criminal investigation by the Oklahoma City Police Department is continuing, she said.

Lake credited Quinten's sister, Valerie Wood-Harber, of Arkansas, with pushing to make sure people would be held accountable after Wood-Harber failed in her repeated efforts to get assistance for her brother while he was alive.

Wood-Harber says she made 22 desperate telephone calls to DHS, but the calls failed to persuade anyone to come to the aid of her brother, whom she believes was suffering from neglect.

Wood-Harber later gathered more than 460,000 electronic signatures on a petition demanding an investigation and action after her brother's death. She submitted the results of the petition drive to Gov. Mary Fallin's office Jan. 7.

“Ms. Wood-Harber refused to let her brother's death be accepted as something unpreventable that occurred as a result of his disability,” Lake said. “Had it not been for her advocacy and persistence, the truth about what Quinten and his brother endured might never have been fully investigated. We hope that through discovery of the facts and the actions we are taking, they will have some peace going forward.”

Wood-Harber said Monday that she was pleased action was finally being taken.

“Nothing can bring Quinten back, but that said, I'm extremely happy that his life has inspired people to wake up and change the way the system works, because it's broken. It doesn't work at all,” she said. “They may not have been able to save him, but other children will be saved and be protected because of what he went through.”

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by Randy Ellis
Investigative Reporter
For the past 30 years, staff writer Randy Ellis has exposed public corruption and government mismanagement in news articles. Ellis has investigated problems in Oklahoma's higher education institutions and wrote stories that ultimately led to two...
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