Â© Copyright 2008, The Oklahoman Tulsa athlete Micheal Thomas swears he never met Lawton drug user Tiffany Dickson.
Dickson says she never met him. That didn't stop the Oklahoma Department of Human Services from getting Thomas declared the father of Dickson's baby daughter and badgering him until he dropped out of college, forfeiting a football scholarship. It also didn't stop DHS from taking a portion of his biweekly paychecks and seizing his $290 state and federal tax refunds. "This is unbelievable. This is crazy,” said Thomas, 21, a former running back at Tulsa's Victory Christian School. It gets worse. Thomas took DNA tests that proved he wasn't the father, DHS records show. However, DHS continued to take money from his paychecks and refused to tell him the results, Thomas said. He said it wasn't until he got a lawyer that DHS stopped seizing money from his checks. Thomas still hasn't gotten his money back. Tulsa Attorney Billy Wiland III, who agreed to take Thomas' case without pay, said he has uncovered evidence that DHS filed untruthful reports with a Comanche County judge, who could have ended the bureaucratic mix-up. One report falsely claimed Thomas had "not responded to OKDHS letters, phone calls, or diligent search efforts” and had "not made any attempt to make contact with OKDHS.” The report was made at a time when Thomas had already taken two paternity tests and was having money withheld from his paycheck by the agency, Wiland said.
Legal claim filedWiland has filed a legal claim with the state asking for $167,000 to compensate Thomas for the "intentional or reckless infliction of severe emotional distress.” Taxpayers ultimately could pay the tab. Richard Freeman, a DHS attorney, said the matter is under investigation. DHS spokesman George Johnson said the agency "is hopeful that this matter may be resolved short of litigation.” Wiland said the inexplicable naming of his client as the father and "blatant bureaucratic bullying” to which Thomas was subjected make him wonder whether Thomas was the victim of profiling. "Were these actions by DHS due to a prejudicial discrimination against Mr. Thomas ... due to the fact that Mr. Thomas is a young black male who might fit the role which they hope he will play?” Wiland asked attorneys for DHS. Thomas said an older friend told him the same thing happened to him 20 years ago. Thomas wonders how many other men have been falsely accused of being fathers by DHS and had money taken from their paychecks. Freeman said he doesn't believe it happens often or DHS' legal division would have received more complaints.
‘The wrong guy'Thomas' problems began March 31, 2005, when Dickson gave birth to a baby girl in Comanche County, records show. The baby was taken away by the state the next day after DHS reported both mother and daughter tested positive for cocaine and marijuana. DHS filed a report with a Comanche County judge in June 2005 that said Dickson did not know the father's last name. "Tiffany said that she knows his first name is Michael, but she is not sure of his last name,” the report said. "Tiffany believes that Michael is running from the law.” Reached by telephone at her mother's house in Hollis, Dickson told The Oklahoman that she told her DHS worker she thought the last name of the father was Thomas and that he lived in Lawton. "When I met him, see, I was on drugs really bad, so he might have gave me a fake last name,” Dickson, 27, said. "I know for a fact he has never lived in Tulsa. They have the wrong guy.” Even back in 2005, DHS had plenty of reasons to know they had the wrong man. A DHS report filed with a Comanche County judge in December 2005 stated that one of Dickson's relatives had said the purported father was in the Jackson County jail. The DHS worker reported she checked with the jail and was advised "Mr. Thomas was released Oct. 17, 2004.” The Oklahoman checked with a Jackson County jail spokeswoman and was told the jail did release a Michael Thomas on that date. Read the paternity affidavit