In my previous story, I began investigating the Tulsa Boys’ Home. This is the next story in this investigative story on the Tulsa Boys’ Home and DHS.
14-year-old Cameron Dail and 13-year-old Rylan Harris both died after running off from the Tulsa Boys’ Home—nine months apart—in 2020.
Rylan was placed at the Tulsa Boys’ Home through DHS. Cameron Spradling, the attorney representing Rylan’s family, said that was a mistake. Rylan’s family is now preparing to sue.
Attorney Cameron Spradling argues that Rylan was medicated and in-and-out of psychiatric medical facilities his entire life. Spradling said Rylan was suicidal and homicidal at the time he was placed into the Tulsa Boys’ Home.
“in this litigation, I can tell you we are going to get down to the case workers, we will get down to the people who were knowledgeable about it, and people who had hands on it,” Spradling said. “We are going to find out every step of the way on why Rylan Harris was there.”
Spradling said 13-year-old Rylan was placed into DHS custody after trying to kill his mother in March 2019. He was originally placed at Integris Medical Center and DHS moved him to the Tulsa Boys’ Home.
Rylan arrived at the Tulsa Boys’ Home roughly seven months after 14-year-old Cameron Dail ran off from the facility and was hit and killed by a vehicle on Highway 51.
Dr. Deborah Shropshire, the Director of Child Welfare with DHS said the first and primary response is to find out how the boys and staff are.
“Honestly, our primary response to those kinds of situations is really first to say, ‘how are the boys? How are the staff?’ What kind of support and in addition to look[ing] at the system and ensure the system is tight and safe,” Dr. Shropshire said.
DHS has a no-right to refuse contract with the Tulsa Boys’ Home. This means on any given day, the state can place 40 boys in the care of Executive Director Gregg Conway and the Tulsa Boys’ Home.
I asked Dr. Shropshire: “When you looked at the system at the time in March  when that happened to Cameron Dail, was there anything you found as far as policies or procedures or anything that wasn’t followed or made you pause for concern that it could happen again?”
“So, that would not be information that we would share, at least that I would share in this kind of setting,” Dr. Shropshire replied. “Let’s make sure I’m staying in the space we are supposed to be in.”
I asked Dr. Shropshire if she had said that though. She agreed she had.
And she agreed that safety is a priority as there should never be another incident like what happened to Cameron. But it did happen eight months later with Rylan Harris.
Dr. Shropshire said that “we are not going to talk about that case. So, you can tell whatever story that you want to, but it’s not going to be a story that we’re going to be able to speak to.”
With no clear answer from DHS, I spoke with Gregg Conway, the Executive Director of the Tulsa Boys’ Home for nearly 24 years. I asked Conway if there was anything tangible that was done after Cameron died to ensure that it wouldn’t ever happen again.
“Not really, because when we debriefed and assessed our protocols, we are already doing everything that can be done,” Conway said.
Attorney Spradling is unsatisfied with that response. He said Rylan would be alive today had something been done to ensure another child was not able to run off from the Tulsa Boys’ Home after Cameron died.
Spradling also feels Gregg Conway should be able to return a child—like Rylan—to DHS after he ran away more than 20 times.
I asked Conway if they ever had conversations with DHS about Rylan.
Conway said they probably did.
“I don’t have the records in front of me, and I don’t have it all memorized but yes, when a boy starts going AWOL we will typically reach out to DHS and say ‘we are not sure this kid is a good fit,” Conway said.
Spradling is not satisfied with this answer.
“Let’s look at Mr. Conway; his promise to DHS, to adoptive parents, to the judge, to the guardian, to the attorneys is ‘I will keep these kids safe.’ Now you’re telling me he can’t do it? I find that inexcusable,” Spradling said.
I asked Conway if he recalled any conversations with DHS about feeling pressured to keep Rylan.
Conway stated, “Not at all, none.”
I also asked Dr. Shropshire if she believed Rylan Harris should have ever been placed at the Tulsa Boys’ Home.
“I’m not going to talk about the Rylan Harris case. That is not a case we would get into the details of specifically because it is confidential information,” Dr. Shropshire said.
When I turned the conversation toward the number of runaways at the Tulsa Boys’ Home, Conway stated 90 percent of his AWOL reports come from DHS placed children.
I asked Dr. Shropshire her reaction to the numbers from the Tulsa County Sheriff’s Office. She confirmed the numbers.
I asked: “are you concerned at all that last year the Sheriff’s Office was called more than 200 times to the Tulsa Boys’ Home through DHS placement. Are those numbers concerning to you?
“So, any time we have a single child—a single child or youth—who is not where we want them to be, not where we are comfortable that they are safe, whether that be in a family setting, a group home setting, whatever setting it is, any time a single child is missing from care we are absolutely concerned,” Dr. Shropshire said.
The big question remains: after Cameron and Rylan died what, if anything, has been done to make sure another tragedy does not happen?
The tough questions continue in the next part to this investigative series. A statewide child advocacy group will weigh in on the challenges facing facilities like the Tulsa Boys’ Home and what DHS can do to help moving forward.
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