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In loving memory of 6-year-old Alexis Morris who died in the care of DHS

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on Sun, 02/12/2012 - 10:45

Lawsuit blames DHS for Shawnee child death

DHS is being blamed for another girl's death — this time for
leaving 6-year-old Alexis Morris and her younger brother in the care of a
stepmother who previously had two of her own young children die under
tragic circumstances.

 



BY RANDY ELLIS, NOLAN CLAY AND ROBBY TRAMMELL


  

Published: November 6, 2011
 

DHS is being blamed for another girl's death.




Jordan Morris, Alexis Morris and
their mother, Christina Potter, posed for this photo around Christmas
2008. Alexis was 6 years old when she died. PROVIDED - Photo provided

 

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TIMELINE

Alexis' life

Here are some dates listed in a lawsuit that DHS was told about abuse in the case of a girl who later died.

• June 28, 2005: DHS told of suspicions Alexis Morris and younger brother abused by father and stepmother.

• April 17, 2006: DHS told of bruising on children and suspicions they are being abused by father and stepmother.

• Dec. 11, 2007: Shawnee physicians file report with police after Alexis is treated for chin laceration. No record DHS investigated.

• April 8, 2008: Alexis'
child care provider reports suspected child abuse. Alexis' mother later
tells DHS Alexis and brother “get worked up” and “constantly puke” when
it is time to go back to father and stepmother.

• Sept. 11, 2008: Teachers report Alexis arrives at school with head gash and blood all over her backpack.

• Oct. 1, 2008: School reports bruises on Alexis' forearms, forehead, ribs, knees and shins.

• Oct. 6, 2008: School reports new and different bruises on Alexis.

• Oct. 19, 2008: DHS told of allegations stepmother is taping the children's mouths, noses and wrists.

• May 7, 2009: School reports nine bruises on Alexis' brother.

• June 1, 2009: DHS told of allegations stepmother pulled Alexis' and her brother's hair and drove erratically.

NewsOK Related Articles

 

This time, the state agency is being criticized for leaving 6-year-old Alexis Morris
and her younger brother in the care of a stepmother who previously had
two of her own young children die under tragic circumstances.

DHS
chose to leave Alexis and her younger brother, Jordan Morris, there
despite receiving 27 complaints of possible child abuse to those two
children. The complaints came from multiple sources, including a doctor,
teacher, neighbor, school counselor, child care provider and the
children's natural mother, a lawsuit states.

The stepmother, Jennifer Jimenez, 29, of Shawnee, was charged with child abuse in November 2010 in Pottawatomie County — more than a year after Alexis' Sept. 25, 2009, death.

The
felony criminal charge alleges that from Nov. 19, 2007, through the
date of Alexis' death, Jimenez willfully and maliciously inflicted
physical injuries to the two children.

Christina Potter, the children's natural mother, filed a lawsuit in August accusing the Oklahoma Department of Human Services and 11 of its current and former workers of failing to take action to protect her children.

“This has nothing to do with the money,” Potter said of the lawsuit. “That's dirty money.”

The lawsuit was filed to hold DHS officials accountable, she said.

“There
are other kids out there being hurt and they're still not doing
anything,” said Potter, who recalled her daughter loved playing princess
and ballerina and was buried wearing a glittering tiara.

“I couldn't save her and they didn't even try,” Potter said, tears rolling down her cheeks.

DHS spokeswoman Sheree Powell

said it would be premature to comment on specifics of the case. The
spokeswoman also said, “The events as alleged in lawsuits are not always
the same as the facts as they occurred.”

Potter, 27, lives in Edmond.
She said Alexis and Jordan had been in the custody of their father and
his wife, Jimenez. Potter said she made a poor choice and was with an
abusive boyfriend at that time and his family had drug issues. She said
she has a new boyfriend and was given back custody of Jordan.

The
lawsuit alleges DHS workers failed to inform the district attorney or
judge about abuse allegations and says that after Alexis' death, a
court-appointed special advocate for the children determined DHS was
“guilty of turning a deaf ear on this case for many, many years.”

“DHS dropped the ball completely on this case,” said Darla Ash, Alexis' grandmother.

“DHS just needs to be reformed completely. That is all there is to it,” Ash said.

 

Death cause uncertain

The exact cause of Alexis' death is uncertain.

The
stepmother claims she wasn't in the room at the time, but Alexis was
injured when she fell from a bunk bed, said the stepmother's attorney, Allan Grubb of Shawnee.

Potter alleges in her lawsuit that the stepmother killed the girl.

The Oklahoma medical examiner officially ruled the probable cause of death as “undetermined” and the manner of death as “unknown.”

Alexis'
medical history included an irregular heartbeat that could have caused
her death, the autopsy report indicated. However, the pathologist noted
an examination of the girl's body revealed “multiple contusions and
abrasions on the scalp, back, buttocks, right flank, lower extremities,
and on the face.”

“Due to the presence of trauma, it is felt that
this death is better classified as undetermined with the manner
unknown,” the autopsy states.

Potter told The Oklahoman there was another child in the home who reported witnessing Jimenez repeatedly slamming Alexis against the floor.

Grubb said he has heard that, but has not yet received information from prosecutors about witness statements.

“Children
have changed their stories several times,” he said. He added that the
other children were removed from the home after the incident and it's
possible they are being influenced by the adults currently caring for
them.

Richard Smothermon, Pottawatomie County district attorney, declined to comment on what witnesses have said.

Smothermon said he did not file a murder charge because the medical examiner didn't rule the death a homicide.

Smothermon and Grubb both said the child abuse case may go to trial in January.

 

Abuses detailed

Potter's lawsuit lists 27 specific instances in which people, including a doctor and various Pleasant Grove school officials, contacted DHS to report they suspected Alexis and/or her brother were being abused.

Examples include:

• On Dec. 11, 2007, a police report concerning suspected child abuse was filed by physicians at Unity Health Center

in Shawnee, who treated Alexis for a chin laceration. “There is no
record of any investigation by DHS of this suspected abuse,” the lawsuit
states.

• On Oct. 1, 2008, officials at the children's
school reported that bruises were discovered on Alexis' forearms,
forehead, ribs, knees and shins. DHS workers investigated but said
school officials did not know the origin of the injuries and abuse
allegations could not be substantiated.

• Less than a month later,
DHS received two complaints stating that Alexis' brother had reported
that his stepmother had put duct tape on his mouth, nose and wrists and
threw him on the bed to prevent him from waking a baby. DHS workers said
the child denied the allegations when interviewed at his stepmother's
home.

• DHS also received complaints the children would get
“worked up” and “constantly puke” when told they would have to go back
to Jimenez.

 

Prior deaths

Jimenez,
the stepmother, had a troubled past, having previously pleaded guilty
to methamphetamine possession in 2003, records reveal.

She also had two young children who had died, the lawsuit states.

Donte Jimenez was nearly 3 when he choked to death on a hot dog fed to him by Jimenez in July 2009, records indicate.

“Donte
Jimenez had a known eating disorder which interfered with the child's
ability to safely eat food such as hot dogs,” the lawsuit alleges.

The
other child, Eric, was reportedly 3 months old when he died in March
2001 from what the medical examiner described as “undetermined” causes.

“Unfortunately,
accidental asphyxiation remains a possibility in this case which can
neither be proven or disproven,” the lawsuit quotes the autopsy as
stating. “Our investigator reports that it appears that the house was in
a very filthy condition and liquor bottles were abundant. Although we
have nothing from our standpoint to classify this as other than a
potentially accidental death, we would stand ready to help you with any
intervention that you feel necessary.”

Potter said Alexis' death continues to be traumatic for her entire family, but is especially hard on her son.

Jordan,
now 7, “still has night terrors,” she said. “Screams out within the
night sometimes. He whimpers and cries. ... He asked me for months,
‘When is my sister coming back?' I had to tell him she's not.”

“That's the hardest thing to do,” she sobbed. “It's not fair.”