A DHS child welfare worker and her supervisor have been charged with criminal wrongdoing after a police investigation into the 2013 death of a special-needs teenager.
Rachel Qualls and supervisor Paul Kim Myers were charged Friday in Oklahoma County District Court.
Both are accused of failing to properly investigate a sister’s concerns the boy was being neglected at his Oklahoma City home. The supervisor also is accused of falsifying computer records after the boy died in an attempt to cover up their failures.
The boy’s father, Michael David Wood, meanwhile, has been charged with child neglect.
Quinten Wood died Jan. 4, 2013, of acute pneumonia. He was 15.
His death attracted widespread attention when the sister, Valerie Wood-Harber, delivered a petition with more than 460,000 electronic signatures to the governor’s office in January.
The petition expressed “outrage at the dysfunction” in Oklahoma’s child welfare system.
“I called DHS 22 times in between the dates of Dec. 17, 2012, and Jan. 3, 2013,” the sister, who lives in Arkansas, said in January. “My reports of neglect went uninvestigated by DHS. They went unreported by his public school that he attended. I was told that I needed to mind my own business, that he was fine, when he was dying.”
The Oklahoma Department of Human Services in February announced it had initiated steps to fire the two employees. Both are now on paid leave.
“Unfortunately in this case, a thorough and comprehensive review of the facts and circumstances of Quinten’s death led us to the difficult and sad conclusion that the individual actions of two employees associated with this case clearly violated agency policies and reasonable child protection practices,” DHS Director Ed Lake said.
Qualls, 24, of Oklahoma City, is charged with a misdemeanor, willful neglect to perform a duty. She has worked at DHS since October 2011.
If convicted, she faces up to a year in jail.
Myers, 57, of Edmond, is charged with the same misdemeanor and also with a felony, unlawful use of a computer. He has worked at DHS since March 2007.
If convicted, he faces up to a year in jail on the misdemeanor and five years in prison on the computer crime.
Neither responded Sunday to messages left by phone for comment.
Quinten’s sister, Wood-Harber, said Sunday of the charges, “I think it’s very appropriate. I’m fully in support of the DA.”
Qualls admitted she never went to Quinten’s home after being assigned to investigate his sister’s concerns, police reported.
Quinten lived in a trailer house with a younger brother, Cameron, and their father.
The DHS worker did see Quinten at school in Midwest City on Dec. 19, 2012, two days after the sister first called. She also talked to his teachers and to Cameron, at school, records show.
She said she drove by the boy’s trailer that day but did not stop, records show. She also said she he never went back and never contacted the boy’s father.
By law, a DHS worker must make a visit to the home of a child while investigating a child abuse or neglect report.
Oklahoma City police detective Rocky Gregory wrote in a court affidavit that Qualls confirmed in the interview with Cameron that the children did not have any food in the trailer house.
The detective wrote she also learned Cameron, then 14, was taking full care of his disabled brother and that both were being neglected by their father.
“The boys were not taken from the home,” he wrote.
Myers admitted to DHS officials that he deleted from Qualls’ report that she had not gone to the boy’s home, the police detective also reported. “Myers ... admitted to officials that he was afraid that information would look poorly on his supervision,” the detective wrote.
Quinten suffered from a rare chromosomal abnormality that left him unable to care for most basic needs. He wore diapers, needed help to eat and clean himself, and had the mental capacity of an infant or a toddler, records show.
Father faces charges
His father, Michael David Wood, 47, of Midwest City, was charged March 7 with two counts of child neglect — one involving Quinten and one involving Cameron. If convicted, he faces up to life in prison on each felony count.
He has denied neglecting Quinten.
“If I didn’t care properly for Quinten, he wouldn't have lived 15 years, especially when we were told that he wouldn’t live to see a year,” he told CNN last year.
“I was going to take both of them to the doctor that afternoon,” he also told CNN. “Would he have been alive if I’d taken him to the doctor the day before? Probably, maybe not, I don’t know. People die of pneumonia in the hospital.”
The police detective, Gregory, wrote in a court affidavit that Quinten had not been to the doctor since 2011. He had been ill for days before his death, the detective wrote.
The detective also reported Cameron said there was no food in the house on a regular basis.
The detective reported the residence was found to be in disarray after Quinten’s death.
“The boys lived with their father in a trailer filled with trash (and) animal feces scattered about,” the detective wrote.
A rare case
It is extremely rare for criminal charges to be filed against DHS workers in the mishandling of cases.
District Attorney David Prater personally authorized one of his top assistants to file Friday’s charges.
In 2012, two former DHS workers were charged in Shawnee with suppressing evidence in the Serenity Deal case.
Both pleaded no contest to the misdemeanor charge and agreed to drop efforts to get their jobs back.
Those two workers were accused of maliciously keeping evidence from the judge when they recommended that the girl be placed with her father.
Serenity, 5, was murdered by her father in June 2011 less than a month after she began living with him full time at his Oklahoma City apartment.
She had been in a foster home.