LaShauna Sewell, News9.com
OKLAHOMA CITY – The Oklahoma Department of Human Services (OKDHS) has released the findings from its investigation into the months leading up to the death of 5-year-old Serenity Deal.
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Serenity's biological father, 31-year-old Sean Devon Brooks, is accused of killing the little girl. She was found dead in Brooks' apartment on June 4. Brooks told police Serenity fell in the shower, but an autopsy determined the little girl had been beaten to death. Police arrested Brooks and Oklahoma County prosecutors charged him with first-degree murder.
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At the time of her death, Serenity was in the custody of OKDHS but had been placed in Brooks' home for trial reunification. According to the OKDHS report, Serenity was removed from her biological mother's care in June 2009 when the woman was accused of molesting a young relative.
Serenity lived with her maternal grandparents for several months. In August 2009, they filed a petition in Lincoln County to adopt her. But in February 2010, the court ruled the couple could not adopt Serenity without the consent of her biological father. The child's grandparents appealed the decision, and in April 2010, Brooks petitioned for sole custody of Serenity. The petition was still pending at the time of her death.
In August 2010, Serenity was removed from her grandparents' home after OKDHS learned the girl was having unsupervised contact with her biological mother and her live-in boyfriend, who is a registered sex offender. The case was assigned as an investigation in Pottawatomie County because that's where Serenity's mother lived; but after an interview, the child was placed in emergency DHS custody in Lincoln County because that's where her maternal grandparents resided.
According to the OKDHS report, Serenity had numerous overnight, unsupervised visits with Brooks. At least twice, Serenity returned from these visits with bruises and scratches. On January 4, 2011, Serenity's foster family told OKDHS the child had returned from a visit with Brooks with scratch and bruises on her face and abdomen. A child welfare worker questioned the little girl, who she said she was hurt when she ran into a door while running out of the bathroom. The worker reported the injuries appeared to be consistent with Serenity's explanation.
On January 21, OKDHS received notice that Serenity had again been injured during an unsupervised visit with Brooks. This time, she had extensive bruising on her face. Child welfare workers questioned Brooks. He said he'd put the child on his shoulders, but dropped her on her head while trying to carry a 12-pack of soda. Workers also questioned Serenity, and said her story was very similar to her father's version.
Serenity was taken to the hospital. After looking at her injuries, the medical report did not include a finding of abuse and could not conclude any other cause for the injuries other than what Brooks and Serenity had recounted. However, a doctor did recommend Serenity not be returned to Brooks until the exact cause of her injuries was determined. The girl's visits with her biological father were immediately suspended, pending the outcome of an investigation.
On February 16, a Pottawatomie County judge granted trial reunification between Serenity and her father. A plan was also put in motion to permanently place Serenity in her father's home. But according to the OKDHS report, the court was never informed that Lincoln County child welfare workers had suspended Brooks' visitation. The court was also not informed that the investigation into the January 21 incident was not complete.
The court was told about Serenity's injuries, but they were given an incomplete progress report on the investigation. The investigation was completed on March 21, with the overall finding of "Unsubstantiated-Services Recommended." OKDHS recommended Brooks complete parenting classes, and cooperate with comprehensive home-based services.
On May 25, 2011, a permanency hearing was held in Pottawatomie County District Court. The state assistant district attorney recommended Serenity remain in OKDHS custody, but placed in the home of her father, Sean Brooks.
Serenity was found dead in her father's apartment on June 4.
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