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Oklahoma counties have history of child death problems

Records reveal that two to the 11 Oklahoma DHS workers and supervisors allegedly involved in her case have been disciplined by the agency within the last four years.
BY RANDY ELLIS, NOLAN CLAY AND ROBBY TRAMMELL Modified: November 5, 2011 at 12:40 am •  Published: November 6, 2011

SHAWNEE — The 2009 death of 6-year-old Alexis Morris was in the same region of the state where DHS child welfare workers have been involved in at least four other cases that ended in violent deaths.

Records reveal that two of the 11 DHS workers and supervisors allegedly involved in Alexis' case have been disciplined by the agency within the past four years. It is not possible from the records to determine whether the discipline was connected to that case.

Serenity Deal, 5, Kelsey Smith-Briggs, 2, Aja Johnson, 7, and Melissa Ellison, 5, all suffered violent deaths within the past nine years after having come under supervision of DHS in Lincoln and Pottawatomie counties. Aja's DHS case was closed before her death, said Sheree Powell, spokeswoman for DHS.

Powell said DHS administrators are highly aware of child deaths in Lincoln and Pottawatomie counties and for more than a year have been engaged in a special focus program to identify deficiencies in those counties and provide additional training.

“This broad assessment includes reviews of individual cases, management of the offices and decision making, as well as communications between the counties, district attorneys and the courts,” Powell said. “We have also instituted weekly training sessions with our legal division, county staff and assistant district attorneys.”

A lawsuit over Alexis' death alleges one of the disciplined workers, Tamara Story, was both a close friend and worked at DHS with a sister of Alexis' father.

Alexis' mother contends that relationship prompted Story and other workers to leave Alexis and a brother at their father's home when they should have been removed.

Story declined to comment when contacted by The Oklahoman.

Workers disciplined

Records show Story is one of two DHS workers involved in Alexis' case who have been disciplined by the agency.

Story was fired by DHS in April for dereliction of duty and having medical limitations that prevented her from performing her duties.

Her discharge letter indicates she failed to appear at work the last nine months she was employed, was on medical leave without pay for a portion of that time and had complained actions taken weren't fair because her medical problems were “OKDHS' fault.”

Records show Story was suspended without pay for five days in April 2010 for unsatisfactory performance and misconduct and had twice before received written reprimands on the same grounds.

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