DHS manager says process 'is working' after children placed with sex offender, child abuser

CALL7 exposes serious background check failures

DENVER - Denver Human Services manager Penny May claimed Thursday there are no problems with her department's system to protect children, after a CALL7 investigation revealed four children were placed with a convicted sex offender, and later, with a convicted child abuser.

May also refused to discuss how her department made such egregious errors in the interview with CALL7 Investigatior John Ferrugia, even as she has suspended four employees involved, according to multiple sources familiar with the case.

Ferrugia asked May to explain who is responsible for conducting background checks on foster parents and family members with whom DHS places children.

"The case workers working on the call and the case are responsible," May said.

"That would be the intake case worker," said Ferrugia.

"That is my assumption," said May. "I don't know that for sure, but I can certainly get that information. I am not involved in the process."

Ferrugia also asked who is responsible for making sure the background checks actually happen.

"The supervisors review the files," May said.

The CALL7 investigation found it was case workers and supervisors who took the four children from their mother, placing them all with one child's father, Aaron, who had a conviction for sexual assault. One of the case workers interviewed Aaron about his criminal record prior to placement.

"And he was like, 'I see here that you've had to register as a sex offender on this crime,'" Aaron said. "And I told him, yeah."

Aaron said he explained the circumstances of his conviction for sexual assault, and showed the case worker a discovery report from his court case, proving he never harmed children.

"I show it to him, he reads through it, he sees that the girls lied about their age, that they had reportedly lied to several people that they had babies before, that they were 18 years old, had their own homes," Aaron said. "He seen pretty much the whole breakdown of the situation, and he asked me why I even pled to it, why there was a conviction, and I let him know that pretty much my life was threatened at 19 years old. Because the state wanted what they called a career criminal off the streets."

But the children were left in his home, in violation of basic safety procedures.

Months later, when the children were removed from Aaron's home, DHS placed them with their maternal grandmother, Natalie, who had a conviction for child abuse and neglect. The agency apparently did not perform a background check, again violating safety procedures.

Natalie said she discussed her criminal history with DHS prior to placement.

"I let them know in the meeting of my history -- that I had felonies, that I had been in prison," she said.

Natalie said she assumed DHS would have run a background check on her before placing the children with her. The CALL7 investigation found, that didn't happen. Natalie said she would never hurt her grandchildren, and said even the judge in the case acknowledged that she loved them, but that her conviction prevented a placement.

"Who is responsible for distribution of that information to the parties that need to know?" Ferrugia asked May.

"I don't have that information," she said. "I can follow up with you."

"You don't know the process?" Ferrugia asked.

"No, I don't have that information," she said.

"You're the boss," Ferrugia said.

"I'm not a case worker," May said.

May told Ferrugia she had never been a case worker, had never worked in family services, and is not a human service professional. She said she had been at DHS for three years. May received her MBA from the University of Denver.

May claims the system in place in her department is not flawed.

"I am saying that the process is in place and it is working," she said. "It has been in place, and it continues to be in place, and it is in place today. It is working."

"If it is working, then how can a child be placed with a sex offender and a child abuser?" Ferrugia asked.

"I'm not talking about specific cases," said May. "That is a specific case."

"I'm talking about your processes," said Ferrugia.

"You're talking about a specific case," said May.

"I'm talking about reality," said Ferrugia.

"I am not speaking to a specific case, which is what you're asking me," she said.

"What I'm saying to you is that I and the people who are watching this know that the process isn't working," Ferrugia said. "Because we've got evidence it's not."

"You're speaking to a particular case," said May. "I will not address the case."

CALL7 gave May ample time to review the process for background checks, contacting her on Wednesday.  However, sticking to her main talking point, she refused to answer important questions about the lapse in procedures for background checks.

May said there was no audit underway to determine whether there have been similar safety lapses in other cases.

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