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Man accused of child sex abuse helped train Oklahoma child welfare supervisors

A former University of Oklahoma social work professor who is awaiting trial on charges of sexually abusing children helped train Oklahoma Department of Human Services child welfare supervisors, records reveal.
by Andrew Knittle and Randy Ellis Published: July 23, 2012

A former University of Oklahoma social work professor who is awaiting trial on a charge of sexually abusing children helped train state DHS child welfare supervisors for 15 years before his contract was terminated in December 2011, The Oklahoman has learned.

Professor Dwain Pellebon, 55, pleaded not guilty Friday in Cleveland County District Court to three counts of child sexual abuse and six counts of making lewd or indecent proposals to a child.

Pellebon led continuing education training sessions for state Department of Human Services child welfare supervisors from 1996 through 2011, officials said.

OU notified Pellebon that his university contract to provide services to DHS was being terminated on Dec. 16, 2011, three days before he was charged on the current child sex abuse complaint.

As far back as 2001, DHS had received a complaint against Pellebon alleging inappropriate conduct with a child. At that time, the DHS investigator ruled the complaint “unfounded” after the alleged child victim declined to disclose what happened, records reveal.

The complaint had been lodged by the girl's father, who was a Norman police officer at the time. The report was forwarded to the district attorney's office, but no further action was taken.

Sheree Powell, DHS spokesman, said confidentiality laws would have prevented the agency from sharing information about the complaint with OU officials, who contracted with Pellebon for the DHS training job. The agency could not even have shared the complaint with other DHS divisions, she said.

“Complaints about possible abuse made to our agency must be kept confidential by state and federal law,” Powell said. “Those complaints are investigated, often times with local law enforcement, and the findings are turned over to the local district attorney. Unless there is evidence of abuse and charges filed, the fact that a complaint had been lodged against someone cannot be disclosed.”

Powell said she was not aware of any complaints registered against Pellebon by child welfare supervisors who attended his training sessions.

Those sessions “did not include any contact with minors,” an OU official said.

Under the newest contract, individuals who lead the training sessions are required to undergo Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation criminal background checks, but that requirement did not exist while Pellebon was a trainer, OU officials said.

An OSBI criminal background check would not have revealed the DHS complaint against Pellebon anyway.

Several young girls testified against Pellebon at his preliminary hearing in June, including a mentally disabled 16-year-old girl who told the court how the defendant took her to his bedroom and removed her clothes.

“He started touching me … where he's not supposed to,” the girl testified.

The 16-year-old also described taking a shower with Pellebon, saying that the older man was naked.

She said the former professor urged her not to “tell my mom.”

Another witness testified Pellebon liked to watch her while she used a massage chair and would give her massages where he would undo her bra and rub her back.

Pellebon described himself to police investigators as an “affectionate, sensual man who liked to hug, kiss, cuddle and stroke young girls that he felt close to,” according to court documents.

The former Norman police officer who filed the initial 2001 complaint against Pellebon said he could see the “red flags” even then.

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by Andrew Knittle
Investigative Reporter
Andrew Knittle has covered state water issues, tribal concerns and major criminal proceedings during his career as an Oklahoma journalist. He has won reporting awards from the state's Associated Press bureau and prides himself on finding a real...
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by Randy Ellis
Investigative Reporter
For the past 30 years, staff writer Randy Ellis has exposed public corruption and government mismanagement in news articles. Ellis has investigated problems in Oklahoma's higher education institutions and wrote stories that ultimately led to two...
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