SHAWNEE — Two fired DHS child welfare workers pleaded no contest Friday to a misdemeanor charge of suppressing evidence in the Serenity Deal case.
Jennifer Shawn, 33, and Randy J. Lack, 59, were accused of maliciously keeping evidence from the judge when they recommended that the girl be placed with her father.
Serenity, 5, was murdered by her father in June 2011 less than a month after she began living with him full time at his Oklahoma City apartment. She had been in a foster home.
The suppressed evidence included a chilling hospital photo of Serenity's swollen and bruised face and two black eyes, Pottawatomie County District Attorney Richard Smothermon said. The photo was taken after an overnight visit with her father in January 2011.
The prosecutor said the judge never would have placed Serenity with her father if the judge had seen that evidence.
As part of a plea deal, Shawn and Lack agreed never to work at the Department of Human Services again. Both had been trying to get their jobs back.
“The thought that these two people would ever be in a position to make decisions that placed children at harm was appalling to me, and that's the reason that we filed these charges today,” Smothermon said.
Under the plea deal, both also will be on probation for a year. Each must pay a $250 fine, $100 to a victims' compensation fund and court courts.
Serenity's death sparked public outrage against DHS. The agency's longtime director, Howard Hendrick, retired this year after public confidence in his leadership fell because of child deaths.
Both Shawn, who was a child welfare supervisor, and Lack, who was a child welfare specialist, have repeatedly denied any wrongdoing.
Shawn, of Shawnee, wept in court Friday as she stood before a judge. Her attorney, Joe White, said, “She's a fine person, a fine employee of DHS and she's moving on with her life.”
Lack, of Tecumseh, did not appear in court and the judge accepted his no contest plea after talking to him over the phone.
Lack's attorney declined to comment.
The girl was placed with her father, Sean Devon Brooks, in May 2011 even though she was injured twice in January 2011 during overnight visits with him.
The second time, she came back to the foster home with the black eyes, swollen and bruised face and other injuries, records show. Both she and her father said he dropped her accidentally. DHS workers accepted that explanation.
Holding up hospital photos of Serenity's injuries, Smothermon on Friday told reporters, “There is no way that this child fell out of a car seat. And anybody, without any bit of education, can tell that his story was just not true. This child was beaten. They never provided that to the court.”
Brooks, 32, is serving a life term in prison for first-degree murder. He admitted in his guilty plea that he beat Serenity in the head when he killed her.
Smothermon last year asked the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation to investigate the handling of Serenity's placement. The OSBI this year sent the prosecutor a 1,046-page report.
The OSBI investigation revealed Brooks' own father, Roy Brooks, had warned DHS workers in emails about his son. The workers did not share Roy Brooks' concerns with either the court or the district attorney's office, an OSBI agent reported.
The agent reported that after Serenity died, Roy Brooks told Shawn in an email, “I once advised you against granting Sean custody of Serenity. But, my counsel was ignored. Now she's dead!”
The OSBI agent also reported that DHS workers never told the judge or district attorney's office about Sean Brooks' criminal history.
The agent reported the history included a child abuse arrest in Oklahoma County in October 2000.
DHS released a statement Friday night about the decision to charge the two former workers.
“We share the district attorney's belief that the child welfare workers handling Deal's case, Jennifer Shawn and Randy Lack, were negligent in their duties which is why they were terminated last year,” the agency stated. “We continue to regret the heart-wrenching outcome of this child's case.”