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Girl placed with Oklahoma City father despite reports of black eyes and bruised body

Oklahoma child welfare workers twice investigated allegations that Serenity Deal, 5, was abused by her father before her death.
BY ANN KELLEY akelley@opubco.com Published: June 16, 2011
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Brooks claims he accidentally dropped Serenity while carrying her into his apartment from the car.

Serenity cried before her visits with Brooks, saying she didn't like him and didn't want to go to his house. Serenity said Brooks screamed at her, spanked her and did not wash her hair. Brooks denied those claims.

Interviews with relatives and witnesses noted Brooks told them he wanted to sign over his birthrights to Serenity, and didn't request visits with her until “DHS pushed it.”

Child welfare workers were told Brooks has three other children he had not visited in four years.

Two counties clash

Pottawatomie County child welfare workers in March reported Brooks could provide Serenity with a safe environment and recommended she live full time with her father.

The report indicates it was Lincoln County social workers who investigated the complaints about Serenity's injuries, her attitude toward her father, and found that Brooks didn't have a valid driver's license in December and was wanted by authorities for unpaid traffic fines.

That information was supposedly passed on to child welfare workers in Pottawatomie County.

There also was concern about a potential conflict because a relative of Serenity's works in the Lincoln County DHS office.

“There were extreme disagreements between workers in the two offices about what to do,” a source close to the case told The Oklahoman. “Some people thought the reunification was moving too fast, and no one foresaw this.”

Shawnee Attorney Joe Vorndran represented Chuck and Annette Deal, Serenity's maternal grandparents, in their attempt to adopt Serenity.

“We are deeply saddened by this tragedy and hope that the investigation into this matter will result in changes at the Oklahoma Department of Human Services that will prevent a similar incident in the future,” the Deals said in a written statement.

Vorndran said Serenity lived with her grandparents for three years. He said while she was under DHS supervision, his clients were never given a copy of the DHS plan that prohibited them from allowing Samantha Deal from visiting her children.

He said at no point did Chuck and Annette Deal allow Serenity to live with their mother as alleged by DHS officials.

DHS reaction

Officials from DHS have little to say about the report. The agency's spokeswoman, Sheree Powell, said their internal review is ongoing and they plan to release a summary of their findings sometime next week.

Powell said they are surprised the Oklahoma Commission on Children and Youth completed their report so soon, and question whether they had all of the information to do a thorough review.

“We are deeply saddened anytime there is the death of a child,” Powell said. “I say that to reinforce the most important thing about this story should be the child.”

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