Toddler's Death Results in New Oklahoma Law

by Darlene Barriere
(Kamloops, British Columbia, Canada)

UPDATED from July 2007 issue of Barriere Bits E-zine<br>Mother now on trial for child abuse

UPDATED from July 2007 issue of Barriere Bits E-zine
Mother now on trial for child abuse

The death of a toddler from Meeker, Oklahoma in October 2005 prompted state senators to pass House Bill 2840, the Kelsey Smith-Briggs Child Protection Reform Act, named in memorial of the two-year-old victim of child abuse.

Kelsey's Law went into effect November 1, 2006. The state law boosts the power of Department of Human Services (DHS), as well as other state agencies and judges to intervene on behalf of children in abusive homes. It further strengthens the education of Court-Appointed Child Advocates (CASAs) to meet national training standards. The new law goes one unprecedented step further: The bill makes judges accountable for their rulings in child-placement cases.

Here is some background information about Kelsey Smith-Briggs and what happened to her. . .

  • Kelsey is the daughter of Raye Dawn Smith and Lance Briggs.

  • Kelsey’s parents are divorced before she is born.

  • In January 2005, Kelsey’s paternal grandmother, Kathie Briggs, finds numerous bruises in varying degrees of colour on her face, arms, legs and back. Kelsey also has a broken collarbone. An emergency court order for temporary custody is granted to Kathie Briggs, with visitation rights extended to Kelsey’s mother, who is ordered to take parenting classes, anger management and receive an alcohol assessment.

  • Kelsey suffers two broken legs. Kathie Briggs reports the injuries as having occurred during a non-supervised visit with Kelsey’s mother, Smith. Smith reports the injuries as having occurred when the child was with her paternal grandmother.

  • DHS removes Kelsey from Briggs’ home and places her in the care of her maternal grandmother, Gayla Smith.

  • Raye Dawn marries Michael Lee Porter, becomes Raye Dawn Porter.

  • Judge Craig Key cannot determine who inflicted the injuries on Kelsey, therefore, orders her returned to the custody of her mother. DHS monitors the home and Kelsey with weekly visits.

  • Two months after being returned to her mother, Kelsey is injured in a car accident.

  • Less than two months after the car accident, on October 11, 2005, Kelsey dies after being struck in the stomach.

  • During the course of Kelsey’s short life, a total of 10 reports of abuse are lodged with DHS.

As for the legalities of this case . . .

In January 2007, Kelsey's stepfather, Michael Lee Porter, 27, was charged with first degree murder and sexual abuse of Kelsey. At the time, Raye Dawn Porter, who was scheduled to testify against her husband, was under investigation for Kelsey’s death. Prosecutors had had Kelsey's body exhumed for a second autopsy by a private Indiana doctor, who concluded that Kelsey's injuries were caused by sexual assault. However, a forensic pathologist could not determine if the child's fatal injuries were as a result of sexual assault or from a low blow. Based on the findings of the first autopsy, the official cause of death was ruled blunt force trauma to the abdomen.

In a plea bargain agreement, Michael Porter pleaded no contest to enabling child abuse by injury. He is currently serving a 30-year sentence for failing to protect the child. In the months that followed the plea bargain with Porter, Raye Dawn Porter, 27, was also charged. Depending on the report you read, charges against her range from felony child neglect and enabling child abuse to felony child abuse. At the time of this writing, I was unable to confirm the actual charges against Raye Dawn Porter aka, Raye Dawn Smith.

Michael Porter testified last week against his now ex-wife, claiming he witnessed her abuse the child on several occasions, citing three separate incidents, including once when she allegedly punched Kelsey in the stomach.

My Comments: Clearly, this is a situation of "he-said/she-said". But regardless of who did it, two-year-old Kelsey is dead and the people who were supposed to protect her and keep her safe failed miserably, including child advocates and social services.

Since her untimely death, the Oklahoma Senate corrected the flaws in their system by passing Kelsey’s Law. The passing of this law means other children in Oklahoma will not have to suffer the way Kelsey did. Oklahoma has put in measures to ensure that their most vulnerable citizens are protected. It’s time for ALL states to implement this law. In fact, I’d like to see this law implemented in Canada, as well as in other countries.

UPDATE: Raye Dawn Smith (aka Raye Dawn Porter) was found guilty of enabling child abuse and was sentenced to 27 years in prison.

There was public outcry on both sides of the fence. Some felt strongly that 27 years wasn't enough and expressed a desire to have Raye Dawn "spayed." Others felt the judge ruled erroneously, citing Raye Dawn was a victim of the legal system, while others felt the ruling was too harsh given that she did not abuse the child herself.

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