MuskogeePhoenix.com, Muskogee, OK

Oklahoma News

November 10, 2012

Two formerDHS workers plead in case of slain girl

— SHAWNEE — Two fired Oklahoma Department of Human Services pleaded no contest to misdemeanor charges of suppressing evidence that could have prevented a 5-year-old girl from being returned to her father, who is now serving life in prison for her killing.

Randy Joe Lack, 59, of Tecumseh and Jennifer Shawn, 33, of Shawnee, also agreed as part of Friday's plea deal to never to work at the Department of Human Services again. Each was sentenced to one year of probation and fined.

"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," said District Attorney Richard Smothermon.

Both had been trying to get their jobs back after being fired during an investigation into the death of Serenity Deal. Serenity died June 4, 2011, less than a month after she was returned to Sean Brooks, who pleaded guilty to killing the girl by beating her.

Both Shawn, who was a child welfare supervisor, and Lack, who was a child welfare specialist, have repeatedly denied wrongdoing.

Shawn wept as she stood before the judge.

"She's a fine person," said her attorney, Joe White, "and she's moving on with her life."

Lack did not appear in court and the judge accepted his plea after talking to him by telephone.

Lack's attorney declined comment.

The suppressed evidence included a hospital photo of the girl, both her eyes black and her face swollen, that was taken following a January 2011 overnight visit with her father.

"A lot of things never made it to court," including a criminal background check of Brooks, Smothermon said. If they had, Smothermon said DHS would have found prior protective orders issued against Brooks and a previous arrest for child abuse.

"Had they provided this information to the court, I assure you (the judge) would have never have released Serenity Deal back to Sean Brooks," Smothermon said.

The Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation began looking into the case in September 2011 at the request of Smothermon.

DHS released a statement following the plea agreeing with Smothermon's decision to file charges.

"We share the district attorney's belief that the child welfare workers handling Deal's case, Jennifer Shawn and Randy Lack, were negligent in their duties which is why they were terminated last year," the agency said.

"We continue to regret the heart-wrenching outcome of this child's case."

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