- Associated Press - Monday, June 1, 2015

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) - A judge has ruled that the Oklahoma Department of Human Services wasn’t liable in the 2011 death of a 5-year-old girl killed by her father less than a month after the state put her in his care.

Sean Brooks, 35, is serving a life sentence after pleading guilty to first-degree murder in the beating death of his daughter, Serenity Deal. She had been placed in his care after the state removed her from foster care.

Two Human Services workers were fired in the case and pleaded no contest to misdemeanor charges of suppressing evidence that prosecutors argued could have prevented the girl’s return to her father. Jennifer Shawn and Randy J. Lack were put on probation.

Prosecutors said the employees didn’t show a judge a hospital photo of Serenity taken after one of the visits with her father in January 2011. The photo showed her with a swollen and bruised face and two black eyes.

Pottawatomie County District Attorney Richard Smothermon said in 2012 that the judge wouldn’t have placed Serenity in her father’s care had the judge seen that evidence.

Serenity’s family filed a wrongful-death lawsuit against the department, claiming her death came about due to negligence by the state.

But attorneys for the department had argued that the agency couldn’t be held “vicariously liable” for the actions of employees that were “in direct violation of agency policy and were ultimately found to include criminal conduct.”

Judge Phillip Corley earlier this month dismissed all claims against the agency in the case, which Serenity’s maternal grandparents are appealing to the state Supreme Court, The Oklahoman (http://bit.ly/1Jedv7B ) reported.

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Information from: The Oklahoman, http://www.newsok.com

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