The state of Oklahoma has paid $300,000 to settle a lawsuit filed by a mother who hid her young girl after DHS workers rejected her concerns the girl had been molested.
Misty Lynn Williams spent almost 14 months in the Sequoyah County jail in Sallisaw to keep secret her daughter's location.
The unusual case attracted national attention — at first while the mother and girl were missing and then after the mother went to jail for refusing to reveal the girl's whereabouts.
The mother, who grew up in Muldrow, said in a jail interview in 2005 that she was protecting her girl from further sexual abuse. “I would sit here until I die if I have to,” she told The Oklahoman in 2005.
“It was a long time but it was worth it,” Williams, now 33, said in December of her jail stay.
She and her daughter now live together in Van Buren, Ark. Her ex-husband — the girl's father — has given up his parental rights. The girl is now 13.
A federal judge in Oklahoma City on Dec. 21 approved the $300,000 payment from the state on behalf of the Department of Human Services, its employees and former employees and on behalf of retired Associate District Judge A.J. Henshaw.
The settlement was split three ways — $100,000 to the mother, $100,000 to her attorney and $100,000 to a trust for her daughter.
DHS and the retired judge did not admit to any liability in agreeing to settle. Officials decided settling the federal lawsuit would be less costly than continuing to fight it, particularly since a key witness, a retired DHS worker, lost her memory of events after a stroke.
The mother alleged the girl's father and other relatives molested the girl. She alleged doctors in 2002 found the girl, then 4, had genital warts, which is often a sexually transmitted disease.
The father denied molesting the girl. His attorney, Monte Johnson, in 2005 called the sexual abuse allegation “pure fabrication.” The attorney last week declined to comment further.
After her divorce was final in October 2002, the mother fled with the girl. They left because the judge ruled her ex-husband could have overnight visits with the girl.
They ended up in 2003 in Texas.
While missing, the mother was charged in Oklahoma with a felony, child abuse. Based on a DHS worker's statement, prosecutors alleged the mother abused her daughter by subjecting the girl “to unwarranted sexual abuse examinations on multiple occasions.”
DHS workers suggested the mother had a mental illness, Munchausen syndrome by proxy.
A parent with the unusual mental condition will make a child sick or try to mislead others into believing the child is sick for the attention.
Williams was arrested in Texas in October 2004 while leaving church. Her daughter was not with her. Because she feared she was about to be arrested, she had arranged for the girl to be cared for by others.
The child abuse charge was dropped in July 2005. But the mother was held in Sequoyah County jail until December 2005 for contempt of court. She was released after providing information about her daughter. The girl was found shortly afterward living with a couple in Texas.
The girl was returned to Oklahoma. Since then, she has lived with her father, in foster homes and with her mother.
The mother filed two federal lawsuits, dismissing the first in November 2009 shortly before trial. In the second lawsuit, she made several accusations. The second lawsuit originally named 26 defendants including then-Gov. Brad Henry and DHS Director Howard Hendrick.
Her chief accusation was that a rogue DHS worker covered up evidence of her daughter's molestation because the worker was friends with her ex-husband's influential family. She alleged the worker told a counselor, “They're just trying to frame an innocent man.”
She alleged the DHS worker manufactured evidence she was mentally ill. She alleged others tried to cover up the misconduct and later retaliated against her because of the negative publicity.
An oversight state agency, the Oklahoma Commission on Children and Youth, at one point issued a confidential report critical of how DHS initially investigated the case.
The mother's attorney, Ty Clevenger of Texas, said last week, “I get angry just thinking about this stuff.”
Did you know
Settling DHS lawsuits
In the past three months, the state has paid almost $1 million to settle lawsuits involving the Oklahoma Department of Human Services, records show.
In November, the state paid $600,000 of the $1.1 million settlement that went to a young man who was sexually molested at a foster home. In 2006, the victim — then 15 — was molested by his foster father and the foster father's live-in lover in Oklahoma City. He sued DHS and Shadow Mountain Behavioral Health System, which was hired by DHS to find foster parents.
In December, the state paid $92,500 to settle a lawsuit that blamed DHS for a boy's death. Eli Kevin Johnson, 3, was murdered in 2009 by his mother's boyfriend in Oklahoma City. The boy's father alleged DHS did not do enough to protect Eli after he reported the boy had been abused in 2008.
In January, the state paid $300,000 to settle Misty Lynn Williams' lawsuit against DHS workers and a former judge.