NOBLE — "It wasn't a butcher knife ... It was a little paring knife," said Tammy O'Dell, a former Noble home child care operator.
O'Dell claims state Department of Human Services officials mischaracterized the type of knife and other conditions in her home that were listed in an emergency closure order issued Friday.
DHS ordered O'Dell to immediately shut down the Tammy O'Dell Family Child Care Home after a 2-year-old boy in her care was reported to be wandering in her front yard without supervision.
The closure order states that police who entered the home "observed a butcher knife and an unlocked gun cabinet accessible to children."
O'Dell said they were not accessible to children.
She said the knife had been pushed back beside the television on her entertainment center and was several inches above the eye level of the oldest child she was being paid to watch.
As for the gun cabinet, she said it was latched at the top and kept in a bedroom. The bedroom door was held closed by another latch, she said.
Noble Police Chief Keith Springstead said his officer described the knife as being like a steak knife.
Springstead said he views O'Dell's complaints as an attempt to deflect attention away from the main issue.
"She needs to respond to why these children were left alone and unsupervised," he said.
O'Dell said she had taken her 17-year-old child to the doctor. O'Dell said she knocked on her 18-year-old daughter's door and told her she was being left in charge, but her daughter apparently fell back to sleep.
The 2-year-old's mother was "totally understanding," O'Dell said.
O'Dell claims she wasn't operating a home child care business, even though she was being paid to provide care for the two children.
"I didn't have a day care. I had shut mine down previously from harassment from DHS," she said. "The only children I kept were family members, which is not against the law."
O'Dell contends the children are related to her somehow, but says she doesn't know her family tree well enough to know the exact relationship.
Lauri Monetti, spokeswoman for DHS, acknowledged that the definition of family members who are exempt from child care licensing regulations is vague.
"We define family as somebody who is related by blood, marriage or adoption," she said. "That would include cousins and second cousins ... It includes extended family."
O'Dell contends Noble police and DHS officials behaved improperly by searching her home and questioning her children in her absence.
Springstead defended his officer's actions.
He said the officer went to the home because of a report that a 2-year-old boy had been seen playing outside in the street.
By the time the officer arrived, the child had already gone back inside, but the front door was left unlocked and opened.
Springstead said the officer yelled and yelled, but nobody came to the door. He said the father of the other child being kept at the home was at the scene and concerned about his child's safety, so the officer went inside to check on their welfare.
"Everyone in the residence was asleep except the child who had gone outside," he said.
Springstead said his department is investigating whether there was child neglect.
O'Dell said she is getting completely out of the child care business and going back to school.