Pottawatomie County District Attorney Blast DHS's Handling Of Serenity Deal Case
POTTAWATOMIE COUNTY, Oklahoma -- The Pottawatomie County District Attorney is blasting The Oklahoma Department of Human Services for its handling of the Serenity Deal case.
Five-year old Serenity was found dead earlier this year, inside her father's Northeast Oklahoma City apartment.
08/11/2011 Related Story: DHS Releases Report On Serenity Deal's Death.
District Attorney Richard Smothermon says during his investigation, he found DHS failed to inform his office and the courts of a November 2010 incident where Sean Devon Brooks, Serenity's father, dropped her off at her foster home with severe bruises and that lead to her death.
Smothermon says had DHS followed its own policies and informed his office or the courts of the apparent abuse, Serenity would have been kept away from her father, who is charged with first-degree murder for Serenity's death.
District Attorney Richard Smothermon's Statement
Richard L. Smothermon
District Attorney, District 23
State of Oklahoma
August 15, 2011
Immediately following the death of Serenity Deal, my office began an investigation into the actions of all parties involved in the juvenile proceedings involving Serenity and her siblings. This investigation is ongoing, however, on august 10th, 2011, the department of Human Services (DHS) issued its report in the case. This report is incomplete, and intentionally misleading.
The initial question is what was known about Sean Brooks at the time Serenity was places in his custody.
In its report and its public comments through a spokesperson, DHS states that the District Attorney and the District Judge approved the return of Serenity Deal to Sean Brooks. This assertion is misleading and is a deliberate attempt to shift blame on DHS itself.
What the report fails to point out is that the District Attorney's Office and the "court were not informed of evidence in the possession of DHS. My investigation has uncovered critical information that was purposely withheld from the District Attorney and the Court that almost certainly would have changed the outcome of the case.
EXAMPLES OF WITHHELD INFORMATION:
DHS workers in Pottawatomie County failed to inform the District Attorney or the Court about concerns of the foster mother and workers in Lincoln County. Lincoln County worker Donald Wheeler emailed these concerns to the Pottawatomie County worker no less than 12 times in the two months prior to placement of the child with the father. These concerns included:
- severe physical injury to the child during visits with Sean Brooks;
- failure by Sean Brooks to seek medical attention for the injuries;
- Sean Brooks spanking the child in violation of DHS policy;
- Sean brooks allowing the chi8ld to ride in the a vehicle without a car seat;
- fear of Sean Brooks displayed by the child.
These concerns of the foster mother, and Lincoln County DHS workers, Donald Wheeler and Wesley Priest should have been viewed as crucial information, yet this information was never relayed to the District Attorney or the Court.
In November, 2010, DHS became aware that Sean Brooks had been untruthful regarding his involvement in the lives of his other children. Sean Brooks told DHS that he saw his other children 2-3 times a week, when in reality he had not had visitation with them in year. This information was never provided to the District Attorney or the court.
The most glaring example of withheld information by the DHS in this case stems from a January 21st incident where Sean Brooks returned the child to the foster parents with severe bruising. Sean Brooks stated that the bruising was a result of "dropping the child out of her car seat". Pictures were taken of the injuries and entered into the DHS computer system.
The failure by DHS to provide this information to either the District Attorney or the court was fatal.
Last Friday, my office was provided, for the first time, the photographs of this incident. The pictures graphically depict severe bruising to Serenity Deal, The injuries include bruising to the right shoulder, the left lower chin and neck, the lower right chin and neck, the nose, behind the left ear, inside the left inner ear, and severe bruising to both eyes.
It is important to note that while it is DHS policy to include all investigative reports and photographs of injuries in DHS reports to the court, that was not done in this case.
The graphic nature of these pictures cannot be understated. It is the opinion of this office that these injuries could not have been caused in the manner Sean Brooks stated they occurred, and could only be a result of child abuse. Furthermore, it is the opinion of this office that had these pictures been provided to the District Attorney's office or the Court, that this office and the district judge would have vehemently objected to the placement Serenity Deal with Sean Brooks.
Sean Brooks stand charged in Oklahoma County with murder of Serenity Deal. His culpability in this case should be the upmost concern of all involved; however, justice demands that we also focus on insuring that all DHS policies are followed, and that all parties are fully informed, so that a tragedy like this one can be prevented in the future.