Lawsuit blames DHS for Shawnee child death

DHS is being blamed for another girl's death — this time for leaving 6-year-old Alexis Morris and her younger brother in the care of a stepmother who previously had two of her own young children die under tragic circumstances.
BY RANDY ELLIS, NOLAN CLAY AND ROBBY TRAMMELL Published: November 6, 2011

Grubb said he has heard that, but has not yet received information from prosecutors about witness statements.

“Children have changed their stories several times,” he said. He added that the other children were removed from the home after the incident and it's possible they are being influenced by the adults currently caring for them.

Richard Smothermon, Pottawatomie County district attorney, declined to comment on what witnesses have said.

Smothermon said he did not file a murder charge because the medical examiner didn't rule the death a homicide.

Smothermon and Grubb both said the child abuse case may go to trial in January.

Abuses detailed

Potter's lawsuit lists 27 specific instances in which people, including a doctor and various Pleasant Grove school officials, contacted DHS to report they suspected Alexis and/or her brother were being abused.

Examples include:

• On Dec. 11, 2007, a police report concerning suspected child abuse was filed by physicians at Unity Health Center in Shawnee, who treated Alexis for a chin laceration. “There is no record of any investigation by DHS of this suspected abuse,” the lawsuit states.

• On Oct. 1, 2008, officials at the children's school reported that bruises were discovered on Alexis' forearms, forehead, ribs, knees and shins. DHS workers investigated but said school officials did not know the origin of the injuries and abuse allegations could not be substantiated.

• Less than a month later, DHS received two complaints stating that Alexis' brother had reported that his stepmother had put duct tape on his mouth, nose and wrists and threw him on the bed to prevent him from waking a baby. DHS workers said the child denied the allegations when interviewed at his stepmother's home.

• DHS also received complaints the children would get “worked up” and “constantly puke” when told they would have to go back to Jimenez.

Prior deaths

Jimenez, the stepmother, had a troubled past, having previously pleaded guilty to methamphetamine possession in 2003, records reveal.

She also had two young children who had died, the lawsuit states.

Donte Jimenez was nearly 3 when he choked to death on a hot dog fed to him by Jimenez in July 2009, records indicate.

“Donte Jimenez had a known eating disorder which interfered with the child's ability to safely eat food such as hot dogs,” the lawsuit alleges.

The other child, Eric, was reportedly 3 months old when he died in March 2001 from what the medical examiner described as “undetermined” causes.

“Unfortunately, accidental asphyxiation remains a possibility in this case which can neither be proven or disproven,” the lawsuit quotes the autopsy as stating. “Our investigator reports that it appears that the house was in a very filthy condition and liquor bottles were abundant. Although we have nothing from our standpoint to classify this as other than a potentially accidental death, we would stand ready to help you with any intervention that you feel necessary.”

Potter said Alexis' death continues to be traumatic for her entire family, but is especially hard on her son.

Jordan, now 7, “still has night terrors,” she said. “Screams out within the night sometimes. He whimpers and cries. ... He asked me for months, ‘When is my sister coming back?' I had to tell him she's not.”

“That's the hardest thing to do,” she sobbed. “It's not fair.”


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TIMELINE

Alexis' life

Here are some dates listed in a lawsuit that DHS was told about abuse in the case of a girl who later died.

• June 28, 2005: DHS told of suspicions Alexis Morris and younger brother abused by father and stepmother.

• April 17, 2006: DHS told of bruising on children and suspicions they are being abused by father and stepmother.

• Dec. 11, 2007: Shawnee physicians file report with police after Alexis is treated for chin laceration. No record DHS investigated.

• April 8, 2008: Alexis' child care provider reports suspected child abuse. Alexis' mother later tells DHS Alexis and brother “get worked up” and “constantly puke” when it is time to go back to father and stepmother.

• Sept. 11, 2008: Teachers report Alexis arrives at school with head gash and blood all over her backpack.

• Oct. 1, 2008: School reports bruises on Alexis' forearms, forehead, ribs, knees and shins.

• Oct. 6, 2008: School reports new and different bruises on Alexis.

• Oct. 19, 2008: DHS told of allegations stepmother is taping the children's mouths, noses and wrists.

• May 7, 2009: School reports nine bruises on Alexis' brother.

• June 1, 2009: DHS told of allegations stepmother pulled Alexis' and her brother's hair and drove erratically.

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