Two former Pottawatomie County DHS workers fired following the death of a 5-year-old under DHS supervision were formally charged Friday with suppressing evidence, including information that could have prevented the child from being returned to the home where she later died, prosecutors said.
The terminated DHS workers, Randy Joe Lack, 59, Tecumseh, and Jennifer Shawn, 33, of Shawnee, were formally charged with the misdemeanor count late Friday afternoon.
Shawn appeared in person before Special District Judge David Cawthon while Lack's attorney appeared on his behalf as both entered pleas of no contest in the case. Each received a one year suspended sentence and was ordered to pay fines and court costs.
But most importantly, according to District Attorney Richard Smothermon, is that neither can ever again be employed by DHS as a condition of their probation.
"The thought that they could ever be in a position to make decisions and place children in harm was appalling to me and that's why I filed these charges today," Smothermon said, adding what they did was criminal.
Smothermon said this plea effectively ends their appeals to try to get their jobs back.
Both are charged with suppressing evidence between Sept. 10, 2010 and June 4, 2011, by maliciously practicing deceit and/or fraud with the intent of preventing the parties and the Court of a Pottawatomie County Juvenile case, from obtaining evidence and/or being cognizant of the facts pertinent to the Court's decision to place the child with her father, Sean Devon Brooks.
According to arrest warrants in the case, the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation's Child Abuse Response Team began investigating the matter at Smothermon's request in September 2011. They were asked to probe the decisions leading up to the murder of Serenity, who was placed in the custody of DHS on Sept. 8, 2010.
The warrant shows the child remained in the custody of DHS until June 4, 2011, the day she was murdered by her biological father, who later pleaded guilty in the case in Oklahoma County District Court.
Background shows that on May 11, 2011, Serenity had been placed in a trial reunification with Brooks based on decisions made by Shawn and Lack. At that time, they were employed by DHS, with Lack being the primary case worker for Serenity and Shawn being Lack's supervisor.
Essentially, neither Lack nor Shawn made the District Attorney's office or the Court aware of Brooks' criminal history, the record reads.
The affidavit alleges Lack told investigators he could only remember speeding tickets and Shawn reportedly was not aware of the results as she was no longer supervising Lack and Serenity's case, although a report showing otherwise had been approved by Shawn even though a supervisor did not give Shawn permission to approve it.
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When the OSBI agent ran a criminal history on Brooks, there were criminal charges and violations dating from 1999 to 2010, including numerous protective order violations, he said.
"A lot of things never made it to court," Smothermon said, including a criminal background check of Brooks. If they had, Smothermon said DHS would have found prior protective orders and even a previous arrest for child abuse.
Smothermon said these DHS workers were even warned by Brooks' own father not to return the child to his care.
"And you know what, he was right," Smothermon said.
Also left out of court records was documentation and photographs of an injury Serenity suffered in her father's care that was explained as the child falling out of her car seat.
Smothermon, holding up graphic photos of the bruised and battered child's face, said, "No way this child fell out of a car seat — this child was beaten."
Smothermon said that evidence would have made the difference.
"Had they provided this information to the court, I assure you Judge Gardner would have never have released Serenity Deal back to Sean Brooks," he said.
Also involved in the case of Serenity was DHS worker Donald Wheeler, who committed suicide last year. Smothermon said Friday that everything from this OSBI investigation exonerates Wheeler of any wrongdoing.
"Donald Wheeler repeatedly tried to warn these two workers not to place the child with Sean Brooks," Smothermon said, "and he was repeatedly ignored."
According to the pleadings, Shawn was to surrender herself to the Pottawatomie County Public Safety Center for processing Friday night and Lack must surrender himself for arrest by Nov. 13.
While these two former DHS workers have been charged for their role in what Smothermon called criminal, "there are so many hardworking DHS workers that are underpaid that do this work, God's work," he said, adding he's glad changes are being made at DHS.