Lawsuit accusing DHS in toddler's death to move forward

Oklahoman Modified: April 24, 2008 at 5:38 pm •  Published: April 24, 2008
TULSA - A lawsuit claiming three Oklahoma Department of Human Services workers contributed to the conditions that led to a 2-year-old girl's death has been allowed to move forward by an appeals court.

The 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Wednesday that the DHS workers accused in Raymond Briggs' lawsuit are eligible to be sued.

Briggs sued DHS employees Kristal Johnson, Yolanda Hunter and David Burgess along with another youth services agency in 2006, claiming they discouraged the reporting of child abuse leading up to the death of Kelsey Smith-Briggs.

"This allows us the opportunity ... to begin questioning those people who we feel are responsible for what happened to little Kelsey," said Joe White, an attorney for Briggs.

Kelsey's mother, Raye Dawn Smith, was convicted of enabling child abuse and sentenced in September to 27 years in prison. Smith's ex-husband, Michael Porter, is serving 30 years in prison after pleading guilty to enabling child abuse.

Kelsey was taken away from Smith and placed in DHS custody in January 2005 after the agency concluded that she had sustained broken bones and bruises while in Smith's care. However, the girl continued to sustain injuries during unsupervised visits with Smith leading up to her death in October 2005.

Kelsey's death led to an Oklahoma law bearing her name that improved training of court-appointed child advocates and makes judges more accountable for their rulings in child-placement cases.

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