Denver Human Services workers suspended after children placed with sex offender and child abuser

CALL7 discovers multiple background check failures

DENVER - The CALL7 Investigators have learned from sources familiar with the investigation that two Denver Human Services case workers and two supervisors are on administrative leave after the agency placed four children first with a registered sex offender, and then with a person convicted of child abuse, raising serious questions about whether DHS is conducting proper background checks and following state law.

The family members involved told the CALL7 Investigators they discussed their criminal records with case workers prior to placement, yet the children were given to them, anyway.

Those family members include Aaron and Andrea. Aaron is the father of one of Andrea's children. She has four others with two different fathers. The family's case is typical of those Denver Human Services investigates daily, in an effort to keep children safe.

"They came 'cause they got reports that I was using meth and crack," Andrea told CALL7 Investigator John Ferrugia. "I knew what I was doing wasn't right."

Andrea said she knew her drug use was endangering her children, and had sent three of them to live with Aaron even before DHS got involved.

Sources familiar with the case say DHS opened a Dependency and Neglect case on not only Andrea, but on Aaron, as well -- and decided the three kids would stay with him.

"[The] caseworker contacted me; he seemed really pleased that I was looking out for the interests of the kids," Aaron said.

Aaron claims he was the person who contacted DHS about the children’s mother, concerned about the well-being of the children living with Andrea. Even so, he was surprised he was allowed to keep the children in his care. He has an extensive criminal history that includes violent gang activity and convictions for providing alcohol to minors and sexual assault. He has to register with law enforcement each year.

"I never really expected that the state would be like, 'We're gonna give this guy someone else's kids, we're gonna give guardianship,'" he said. “It was kind of a shocker.  But I was totally excited and felt very proud that for once my history wasn’t holding me back from being a person.”

In fact, Aaron said, the case worker came to visit him and the three kids with a copy of Aaron's criminal record in hand.

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

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."

Despite the conviction, Aaron said the case worker left the children in his custody, even though state law prohibits DHS from placing children with convicted sex offenders.

In fact, a few weeks later, sources confirm when DHS removed the two children who had been living with Andrea, they placed one child with Aaron, bringing the total in his home to four.

A court order prevented Andrea from contact with Aaron or her children. So when a case worker caught them together at Aaron's home, with the children present, DHS removed them from his care -- not because of the sexual assault conviction on his record, but because he and Andrea had violated the order.

Sources familiar with the case say when Aurora police officers went to Aaron's home to support the case worker in removing the children, they checked his record, and found the sexual assault conviction. He said not long after that, DHS management found out.

"They go higher up in Human Services and then the alarm goes off, this guy has a sex offense on his record," he said. "And immediately, it was like sweep it under the rug."

The CALL7 Investigators have learned the four children who had been living with Aaron were then placed with Andrea's mother, Natalie -- again, apparently without a proper background check by DHS. Natalie's criminal record includes a conviction for child abuse and neglect.

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. 

The children, who have been moved repeatedly, are now in two separate foster homes.

Manager of the Denver Department of Human Services, Penny May, has so far declined an interview but has committed to a Thursday conversation about the issue. Meanwhile, officials sent a boiler plate statement which reads in part:

“Providing a safe living environment for the children of this city is Denver Human Services’ utmost priority … and we will take any and all steps possible to ensure that …”

Clearly, the CALL7 investigation has found that not to be true in this case.

The question now:  How many other kids are in homes where DHS has not properly completed a background check?

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