Shawnee Mother: Daughters Forced By Judge To Visit Father They Fear

Monday, November 21st 2011, 9:18 pm
By: News 9

A mother claims one judge is handing her children a death sentence.

The mother explains the judge has a track record for placing children in homes where they later die. Child abuse complaints, Department of Human Services' recommendations, and testimony from professionals are a few of the things parents tell us just do not matter in this judge's courtroom.

Our investigation started three months ago when a mother first told us the judge has made mistakes that led to the deaths of children in the past - and he's now compromising her children's future.

Five-year-old Serenity Deal died June 2011 from child abuse. Six-year-old Alexis Morris is buried in 2009 despite multiple complaints of suspected abuse.

This is where some stories end, but the parents said they know exactly where it begins- Judge John Gardner in Pottawatomie County.

"The system failed me and my family and you didn't help at all. I blame you," said Christina Potter, Alexis' mother.

Christina Potter not only faults the judge for mistakes she says he made in Alexis' case, but said Gardner is also to blame for the deaths of more children.

"If you have to go before Judge Gardner, it's best you pick up your kids and run," Potter said.

"I'm terrified, I don't know what he is going to do," Sherri Crumb said.

Crumb's been fighting Judge Gardner's rulings since 2005. For six years now, the mother said her daughters have been scared to see their father.

"He won't listen to the children, he won't listen to me, who is he going to listen to?" Crumb said.

Court documents reveal five protective orders against the father. One for allegedly trying to choke a child in his home, most recently for assault on a two-year-old, but no arrests was made.

"The courts have got to understand that they have to protect these children, and they keep putting them back in there," Crumb said.

DHS records show the father touched one of his daughters on the chest and then made comments to other adult men. The father's attorney told News 9 DHS could not substantiate his actions were sexual in nature. Crumb said the girls were still ordered to visit their father.

"The courts have got to understand that they have to protect these children and they keep putting them back in there," she said.

News 9 obtained court transcripts from DHS caseworker Wes Priest. He tells the courtroom "no, the father is not capable, without harming the children, of having visitation alone."

Still, Crumb said Judge Gardner ignored the recommendation as well as testimony from a forensic counselor.

Dr. Mary Looman has worked with the children for six years.

"They are very very terrified of their father," Dr. Mary Looman said.

Dr. Looman also testified the children should not have overnight visits with their father. She said the court does not appear to listen, a response she notices more often in Pottawatomie County.

"The protection of the children seems to not work as well there, and again, I am just confused about that," Looman said.

Now one mom is crying out and worried that if she doesn't, more kids will end up dead.

"All I know is we've tried to protect them. This is the only thing I have left. Something needs done with this judge," Crumb said.

Judge Gardner said state law prevents him from commenting on any cases he presides over. Calls made to his office in the past two weeks were not returned.

News 9 also tried to contact the father in this case, but could not find him at the most current address listed with the courts. His attorney maintains all allegations are unfounded.

In some of the child death cases, DHS shares the responsibility with Judge Gardner. DHS released this statement:

"We are in an ongoing assessment process with both Lincoln and Pottawatomie Counties to identify deficiencies and areas needing improvement. This is an intense joint effort of the state office, the area director and local county directors to establish better protocols and improve practices.

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. We have also instituted weekly training sessions with our legal division, county staff, and assistant district attorneys."