Oklahoma is paying $350,000 to settle a federal lawsuit that blamed DHS for a 6-year-old girl's death.
The girl's mother, Christina Marie Potter, sued the Oklahoma Department of Human Services after Alexis Morris died on Sept. 25, 2009. Potter now has the last name of Wiggins.
In the lawsuit, she alleged DHS workers failed to remove her daughter and her son, Jordan Morris, from their abusive stepmother's home despite repeated reports of problems there.
“I couldn't save her, and they didn't even try,” the mother said in tears in an interview with The Oklahoman in 2011.
The stepmother, Jennifer Jimenez, 31, is now in prison for abusing both Alexis and Jordan.
An Oklahoma City federal judge last week approved the settlement of the lawsuit.
“Despite reports of abuse and pleas for assistance from reliable sources such as the children's day care teachers, schoolteachers, counselors, school superintendent and even the children themselves, the … child welfare specialists forced Alexis and J.M. to remain in the violent and hostile home and suffer repeated beatings and abuse at the hands of Jimenez,” the mother's attorneys told the judge in June.
The children's father, David Morris, obtained custody of them in October 2007.
Alexis and Jordan lived in Shawnee with their father, their stepmother and two of the stepmother's children.
There were 17 referrals to the DHS office in Pottawatomie County concerning Alexis and Jordan in the almost two years they were in their father's custody, according to testimony at the stepmother's trial.
A DHS worker from another county, who reviewed the referrals after Alexis died, testified they were not truly investigated.
The lawsuit alleged a Pottawatomie County DHS worker failed to properly investigate complaints because she is a close friend of Morris' sister. The lawsuit identified Morris' sister as a DHS worker herself at the time.
The Oklahoma Commission on Children and Youth, an oversight agency, found 25 violations of DHS policies and procedures when it conducted a review after Alexis' death, according to the lawsuit.
Before settling, DHS attorneys told the judge: “The DHS employees were within the scope of their employment and followed agency protocol and policy in their investigations, relying heavily on law enforcement's investigation and interviews with the children.”
Jimenez was convicted at a jury trial last year of two counts of child abuse. She was sentenced to life in prison plus 25 years. The conviction was upheld on appeal in September.
Jimenez had a troubled past, having pleaded guilty to methamphetamine possession in 2003, records show. Two of her own children had died previously under her care.
Jimenez held Alexis up in the air by the ankles on the morning of Sept. 25, 2009, and beat the girl's head on the floor, her then-12-year-old daughter testified at the trial last year.
Alexis was screaming, crying and bleeding from the nose, the young witness recalled.
Jordan Morris, who is now 9, described his abuse for jurors.
Jordan testified his stepmother hit him in the face with a dog leash, put duct tape on his mouth, hands and feet until he went to sleep, broke his arm and forced his head underneath the water of the toilet.
In the 2011 interview with The Oklahoman, the mother said Alexis and Jordan had been in the custody of their father because she made a poor choice and was with an abusive boyfriend at that time.
Jordan is now living with his mother. Jordan's father relinquished his parental rights in 2010.
The settlement money is coming from a fund that state agencies pay into for insurance coverage for errors and omissions by agency directors, officers and employees. DHS pays more than $500,000 a year into the fund to cover the insurance premium and deductible.
Under the settlement, Wiggins is getting $86,779, and Jordan is getting $86,779. More than a third of Wiggins' share will go to pay off loans. She lives in Cleveland County, according to an amended petition filed in March in the case.
Her attorneys, Jerry Colclazier, of Seminole, and Paul A. Harris and Kevin Coffey, both of Oklahoma City, are getting $176,440. About $2,900 of the attorneys' total is for their expenses.
Jordan was in court with his mother last week at the brief hearing over the settlement. In a touching moment, U.S. District Judge Stephen P. Friot invited Jordan to sit beside him at the judge's bench in the front of the courtroom.
“I'm just happy that it settled, and it went the way it did,” Wiggins, 29, said after the hearing.