Inhofe asks for DHS investigation of Liberian adoptees' case
By JIM MYERS
WASHINGTON — U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe asked a top Oklahoma official on Friday to investigate his own agency’s reported support of keeping Liberian-born children with adoptive parents who were convicted of child abuse.
The case also drew the attention of Oklahoma Attorney General Drew Edmondson, who announced that he and Major County District Attorney Hollis Thorp have filed an emergency application seeking a judicial review.
In a letter to Human Services Director Howard Hendrick, Inhofe stated that “many abused children are frightened to speak out against abusive parents, be they adoptive or biological, out of fear of further abuse.”
Inhofe, R-Okla., described the facts as “startling” after recounting the case involving five sisters adopted from Liberia several years ago by Ardee and Penny Tyler of Fairview. He wrote that a Major County district judge ordered that four of the children should remain with the Tylers after both adults were convicted of child abuse.
“It is also my understanding that in a closed hearing, the judge heard testimony from a representative of the Oklahoma Department of Human Services who supported this decision based upon the supposed wishes of the adopted children,” Inhofe stated.
Inhofe press spokesman Jared Young said the senator’s letter followed a visit from the Liberian ambassador about the case.
Young said the ambassador asked Inhofe to intervene.
Inhofe has a granddaughter who was adopted from another African country, and the senator has made numerous trips to that continent and forged relationships with various
Young said the ambassador knew of the senator’s interest both in Africa and adoption issues.
The Liberian embassy did not return a call seeking comment.
DHS press spokeswoman Beth Scott said Hendrick was not in the office Friday and could not comment on the Inhofe letter.
Scott said state law prevented the agency from discussing specifics of the case, including whether a DHS employee offered support for keeping the adopted sisters with the Tyler family.
In his announcement, Edmondson said he was troubled by the judge's decision in the case.
“Terminating parental rights to one child does not guarantee the safety and well-being of the other siblings,” he said, referring to the decision by the parents to voluntarily terminate their rights to the child they were convicted of abusing.
“The order releasing the children from Department of Human Services’ custody was issued despite objections from DA Thorp’s office and an attorney for the children.”
Edmondson conceded that his office “has extremely limited authority” to question the judge’s decision but cited legal openings provided in some cases.
“Our authority stems from a change in the law that came about with the Ryan Luke law,” he said, recalling his support for that authority after the 1995 death of 2-year-old Ryan Luke in Pittsburg County.
Edmondson spokesman Charlie Price said the Oklahoma Supreme Court will appoint a judge to handle the review after the presiding judge recused himself.
State Rep. Mike Shelton, D-Oklahoma City, called on Edmondson earlier this week to investigate Major County District Judge Vinson Barefoot, adding that he believes that the judge should be removed from office.
“It is very clear that these four girls are now in danger,” Shelton said.
“Based on all the public evidence, I don’t know how anyone could justify placing children in a home with adults who are known violent abusers of children. This decision defies all common sense.”
U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe, sits with his granddaughter, Zegita Marie Rapert, who was adopted as an Ethiopian baby by his daughter and her husband. Inhofe is now questionning the Oklahoma Department of Human Services' reported support of keeping Liberian-born children with adoptive parents who were convicted of child abuse. Courtesy.