*WARNING: THIS ARTICLE CONTAINS SENSITIVE MATERIAL SURROUNDING CHILD ABUSE AND FORCED ADOPTIONS: IDENTITY OF SOME PERSONS HAVE BEEN CHANGED
Nearly eight years after the beginning of a terrible plot gone wrong, an Oklahoma City law firm is filing paperwork in Payne County District Court to ensure a father is made whole. Marcus Hall, a Stillwater Oklahoma native is filing a petition to ensure he receives full custody of his minor child Sandy [Identity Protected]. Marcus has spent upwards of $50,000 during the process of protecting his family in the Payne County Courts and his expenses are expected to continue to rise for the future care and wellness of his daughter. A black man in a predominantly white town has been restricted to only having supervised visitation with his minor daughter based on an unfounded and uncharged allegation of sexual abuse by Assistant District Attorney Debra Vincent that has been held over his head for close to a decade with no contact from the office.
Guilty Until Proven Innocent
Let’s start with a look back before we look forward. The 14th Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause mandated that all individuals be treated equally by the law, albeit with separate treatment. It took effect in 1868, but many in Oklahoma are arguing that they are still waiting for true equality under the law.
Slavery ended, supposedly, in 1865. In 1868, the 14th amendment was created, and in 1870, black men were given the right to vote. In 1920, the 19th amendment gave women the right to vote, with an exception for black women, who didn’t have the right to vote until the 1965 Voters Rights Act. Despite the 14th amendment, there are still things occurring in the dark rooms of our smallest communities that no one would consider equal protection under the law. In cases such as the one described in this article, in 2022, we see clearly that the question of equal application of the law is flawed.
The citizens of Oklahoma have bore witness to the upheaval of racism in Payne County Oklahoma courts in the recent past. The 2012 case of Darrell Williams immediately comes to mind. Rev. Jesse Jackson was in attendance at a rally on Williams’ behalf in 2012 at a packed Baptist church in Stillwater in a show of support for the black families of the rural Oklahoma town. Williams, who is black, from Chicago, and was an athlete on the Oklahoma State University basketball team, was convicted and then had his case overturned in 2014 in the court of criminal appeals. Williams’ family said in the 2014 AP interview, “Williams was an innocent victim of misidentification by the white women at the party and of racial profiling by a mostly white jury picked from a largely white jury pool.”
Racism doesn’t always come in the form of verbal assault. Racism refers to a system that favors white people while discriminating against or harming people of color. It doesn’t have to be a conscious decision. Racism in America may be interpersonal, institutional, and/or structural. As a consequence, people of color experience severe obstacles to include; present and future employment, future housing, current and future legal protection, and, historically, mintority families in Oklahoma have higher rates of long-term intervention of OKDHS than their white neighbors. Implicit racial biases are automatic, built-in associations towards specific groups of people, that influence someone’s behavior, even if the person consciously rejects racism. In other words, these subconscious thoughts may cause someone to act in a discriminatory way without them having the intent to discriminate. There is a pattern of discrimination in this District Court, there is a pattern to turn the other way, and that alone is a qualification for scrutiny of how these racial biases are played out in our Oklahoma courts.
For example, the judge in a Stillwater child custody case may automatically perceive the black father as less emotionally stable than the white mother when in the process of determining the child’s best interests and deny the black father sole custody, or any custody, even if there is evidence of abuse at a trial against the white mother.
Parenting While Black
Marcus was raised and then chose to raise his own children in a white-dominated town tucked away between the media markets of Tulsa and Oklahoma City. For those that don’t know, Stillwater is a small city of 50,000 full and part-time residents, in which everyone knows everybody. It’s his home.
Marcus grew up with a normal childhood in the small community and attended school in the local public school system. According to friends, Marcus was quiet with people he didn’t know, nonaggressive, and really enjoyed collecting baseball cards and playing whiffle ball in the backyards of Star Avenue. Marcus came from a two-parent household, both parents dedicating their lives to working within the community and for Oklahoma State University. His parents woke up early for the workday and Marcus was expected to do the same. Keeping a schedule was important to his family, even in childhood. It wasn’t hard in the lower middle-class neighborhood to find a pickup basketball game between friends after school. The bonds Marcus made from those childhood years still remain today. Marcus was raised right.
A known face in the community, Marcus made friends and kept almost all of them during his 46 years in Oklahoma. Marcus hasn’t explored outside of the city limits, with the exception of a brief stint at the Historical Black University designated, Langston University during his college years. It wasn’t uncommon for Marcus to make his social appearances on the local softball diamond or bowling alley, skipping the alcohol and late-night post-game festivities on the Strip with the rowdier of the softball team. Marcus after all was a father now.
The Cruelest Intentions
Marcus Hall and Katanna Hurst married in 2011 and had one daughter together. The pair also helped raise an older daughter from Katanna’s previous marriage. Marcus and his wife were married until 2015.
Katanna had slipped into odd behavior in the past, “I think she was high on drugs when she made the false allegation. At the time I was working at Ditch Witch in Perry, I would get home at about 5:30 or so. That night I cooked dinner for the family when I returned from work. To me, it was a normal evening. The children went to their rooms, I cleaned up the kitchen and Katanna went outside to smoke her joint.” At the time, cannabis was an illegal substance, but Katanna had her hookups, some even believe those connections were now convicted DHS employees. Marcus didn’t consume the drug and had no dealings in Katanna’s matters.
As with most kids, it wasn’t uncommon for the five-year-old minor child to put her own clothes on wrong; having dressed herself with underwear, shorts, and t-shirts backward from time to time. Like a kid that puts their shoes on the wrong feet, it was something that Marcus as a father was working to correct. The minor child had put her clothes on wrong the day before as well. The night of the blowup, Marcus was walking down the hallway of their small home and when passing his minor daughter’s bedroom, “I walked up to my daughter and looked to see if her underwear were on correctly, I noticed they were on correct, and turned to go back to the kitchen to do my clean up from dinner. At this point, Katanna has finished her break outside and is walking past me and into the kid’s bedroom. She was alone with the minor child for a brief time, then casually said ‘come here for a second,” according to Marcus. Hall then followed her into the room, “she [Katanna] says ‘tell daddy what you just told me’.” Marcus states his daughter said nothing with exception of a giggle at one of her mother’s coaching. According to Marcus this is when, Katanna said, “no it’s not funny, tell daddy what you just told me.” then the child said nothing again, then Katanna finished by questioning their daughter, “Did daddy just touch you?”. There was a brief blowup and Marcus left the house upset. She then contacted authorities to claim Marcus sexually assaulted their young daughter in a police report, while she was stoned witnesses say.
The following day, while Marcus is at work, two members of the church Katanna attended, pulled up to Marcus’ home on the north side of town and demanded that Marcus’ mother leave the property. They didn’t say exactly why they had intervened themselves according to Hall. Marcus’s mother was there to speak with Katanna. The church members explained to Mrs. Hall that Katanna had filed a police report and they were there to assist. The church has since changed leadership and names; it was purchased.
Marcus didn’t have legal representation at the time of facing the initial allegation. Marcus was unsure of everything going on and since it was the day after a family argument, he hadn’t been served with paperwork. Marcus contacted the police and he was asked to interview with Stillwater Police Department’s Kyle Bruce. Katana retained Frank Murett as her divorce attorney. Marcus completed an interview and then hired an attorney following what turns out to be an interrogation by Officer Bruce.
During the interview, Bruce then continues to pressure him for information and, according to Hall, “then that’s when he starts in with… well, one thing left, you know, we can take a polygraph test and I looked him in his eyes and leaned into him. ‘Let’s do it’.” SPD never orders their own Polygraph.
On October 16th, 2015 Marcus retained the husband-wife attorney team of Szlichta & Ramsey, P.C. Ramsey handled the criminal case that was opened against Marcus and Payne County Bar President, Christopher D. Szlichta, handled Marcus’s divorce case.
Marcus, then pays for and completes an independent polygraph test at the urging of Ramsey. He passed. There were never formal charges brought and all testimony for what would have been a crime against a child, took place in Payne County Family Court, not in criminal proceedings.
We won’t repeat the false allegation in this story; however, it is noted that at the divorce trial, Katanna’s story didn’t add up and it eventually changed. In Payne County, Katanna perjured herself, made a false police report, and no action was taken by the presiding judge. Witnesses testified to her pattern of lying, such as her former supervisor Brian Dudgeon stating that she claimed she needed to leave her job, because of her mother’s cancer diagnosis. Katanna’s mother didn’t have cancer. During the testimony, the opposing counsel objected to allowing evidence of her pattern of untruthfulness. This is a shame, Katanna has made this same accusation against her oldest child’s father years before. The charge was unfounded.
No criminal charges were ever brought against Marcus. Judge Worthington and Judge Kistler of Payne County have both been involved with questionable actions involving black citizens that appear in their courts. Neither of the judges placed any privacy orders upon the open files presented to the public. Everything pleading took place in family court.
Meanwhile, Hurst, who was still Marcus’s wife, had also received a DUI in 2017. DHS did not take the initiative to testify that Marcus was the more fit parent at any hearing. Just prior to the finalization of the divorce, Ramsey contacted Marcus to state that the District Attorney was leaning towards not filing charges. Marcus was only required to take a thirty-day parenting class offered through Oklahoma State University, just like other divorcing Oklahoma parents are required, not any type of abuse counseling, because it wasn’t warranted.
On October 28th, 2018 an entry of appearance by Charles Meyers was made, to be the co-counsel for Mr. Hall. Meyers is a former Judge in Payne County and fully understood the wrongs committed by the court and the necessary timelines needed to correct the course of action the Payne County District Attorney had set. During this time, the Saville Center’s contracted child psychologist, Mary Melton, gave witness testimony that the minor child was scared to go to visits with her father. Upon cross-examination from Charles Meyers, it was apparent that this was a falsehood put forth by opposing counsel and attempted by the state to create a reason for the separation of the father and daughter. Mr. Hall and his attorney provided photos of the minor child happy and vibrant, engaging with her father in a loving normal way. Melton of the Saville Center then stated that “the only reason she looked happy in the photos is that she knew she had supervision [for the visits],” eluding that DHS required supervision made her feel safer than with her father. Melton is no longer contracted to the Saville Center and is accused of criminal misconduct by numerous families.
On September 12th, 2019 a divorce decree was finally delivered by the court. Marcus signed divorce papers that include supervised visitation, with the agreement that when he finished the normal counseling, full rights would be restored. Since that time, nearly three years later, a modification still has not occurred allowing Marcus his full rights as a father.
David Hammonds, the child support attorney for OKDHS, then began making regular appearances on the court docket; however, Marcus always paid his child support. It wasn’t until June, 4th 2020 that the court appointed a Guardian Ad Litem to the case on behalf of the children. Common Dog Whistles, swaying initial public review of the case register.
In 2022, Katanna was arrested and charged with child abuse of her oldest daughter. A restraining order was placed on Katanna prohibiting her from contacting her daughter which is currently still in effect according to our last review of documents related to the case.
On July 22nd, 2022, nearly eight years after the beginning of the saga, an out-of-county attorney named Armando Melendez came on board to represent Marcus. The firm is filing paperwork to ensure that Marcus receives full custody of his children.
While many of the Stillwater community are quick to call Marcus a friend, growing up as a black man in Stillwater, Oklahoma has been described as an isolating experience. When speaking with one gentleman of color, Daquiri Nelson, now familiar with the ongoing case stated, “It has been years since I lived in Stillwater but, like anywhere in the US, being a person of color means a lot of eyes on you. No matter what you do or say it is under the microscope and considered wrong until proven otherwise and more,” the professional from Snellville, Georgia reacted.
Aside from out-of-town athletes admired by the locals, there are only a handful of black families that have made their home in the rural north central college town. Estimates in 2022 are that just 5% of the families in Stillwater are of African American descent. The United States Supreme Court ruled in Palmore v. Sidoti that a court cannot consider racial biases and prejudices in child custody cases. However, such as in this case, a judge’s implicit racial bias may still influence their discretionary decision-making, despite case precedent and statutory law. State law also makes it optional for judges to explain their rulings and the State of Oklahoma has no legal process in place to evaluate the performance of Oklahoma judges.
Marcus is still on a DHS plan for supervised visitation as of the writing of this story. It is my opinion that the system of Oklahoma family courts, OKDHS, and numerous attorneys within the Payne County Bar have simply become accustomed to fraud upon the court. The pattern has created what amounts to child trafficking and profiteering in cases involving poor noncustodial parents who lack the ability to hire legal counsel. Even when legal counsel is provided, as in this case, the effort and application of the law is absent.
The legal ramifications of custody and the necessity to have legal representation and due process for children, both parents and their families as a whole, have become poisoned. The case of In re Gault made it clear that constitutional protections apply to children as well as adults; but what good are these protections if they are not followed and enforced by the courts? It is through neglect and dependency hearings that we normally hear of OKDHS involvement and where these constitutional protections are needed most. These proceedings are brought when children are alleged to be abused, abandoned or improperly cared for, and do not necessarily rest on a finding of parental fault, which is a major concern. This application of the law when used improperly, means that a mere ex parte hearing can immediately violate both a parent’s and a child’s civil rights. Where necessary, the court may permanently terminate the parents’ rights to the child, thus creating an industry for adoption without the consent of his parents. Adoption even to step-parents, against the objections of one side of a family, maternal, paternal, or both. This is an industry where services are contracted to continue the process for the state.
When the due process of both the parents and the children are denied at any one step of a court proceeding it is a major problem. When the slightest hint of fraud is detected, then the arguments of the adult claiming coercion must be accounted for; laws are already on the books, yet continue to be ignored in Oklahoma courts.
The courts have also made a habit of disturbing the Oklahoma family by way of divorce or legal separation hearings. When parents separate or divorce, the court or family (both parties in agreeance) decides which parent(s) will have custody/visitation of the children, but, due to gaps in the law, it is also possible that a child may be placed in the custody of someone else outside the family. Passage of the Federal Family First Act was meant to change the direction of our anti-family government, profiteering churches, profiteering adoption agencies, and inhumane officers of the court. Even when the parents agree, between themselves, which of them should have custody, the court’s approval of their agreement must still be obtained. Justin Brown, who served as Oklahoma Department of Human Services Director since June of 2019, will step down from his role effective Aug. 19, 2022. The new interim head, Samantha Galloway, has been rumored to have stated that “as soon as divorce proceedings start, OKDHS should always be involved”. How does that play out for minority or indigent families in Oklahoma?
Since family courts and state DHS agencies began their child-trafficking and racist attacks against minorities, the black child population living in single-parent homes went from about 20% in the 60’s to over 70% today. At the same time, 42% of Hispanic and 25 % of Caucasian children live without a parent because of this form of legalized child trafficking. These numbers are, of course, geographically dependent and the statistics for each race-based category can change depending on the pool of children sampled. However, the numbers are consistent with the economic power of the families and the resources offered to the victims of the process. If the group or individual is esteemed and has wealth, then destruction is often plan B versus allowing for constitutional protections to be afforded in our great state of Oklahoma. Statistics show that the business of family separation continues forward regardless of race, gender, or protected class. However, the effects on the individual racial community can be devastating.
The carelessness of the Oklahoma Bar Association, the Oklahoma Courts, and OKDHS are creating a recurring cycle of family trauma that diminishes prospects for employment and deprives children of an opportunity to build a relationship with both of their parents. Sometimes gaming a system to force an adoption, against objection. Many families have complained that the Payne County Bar Association and Legal Aid Services of Oklahoma work to ensure targeted parents do not receive effective legal counsel prior to most hearings.
Even when citizen complaints are filed with the Oklahoma Bar, citing the failures and unethical behavior of attorneys, the indigent are denied justice. Disciplinary action is rarely, if ever, imposed by the bar which is headed by Gina Hyndrix. The bar turns a blind eye when it comes to ethical violations of family law attorneys.
The media would seem to be guilty here as well, as several award-winning journalists were covering the Payne County Courts during this timeframe, including the Stillwater Newspress who never found cause to write about the events that were transpiring against Mr. Hall. These institutions’ practices are one of the root causes of the destruction of the State of Oklahoma as we see it today through the disintegration of the natural family. A whole family is a strong family.
Marcus at the urging of friends and family reached out to famed civil rights attorney Damario Solomon Simmons, but his office never returned Marcus’s phone calls. We aren’t dogging Damario; he’s doing great things and is pulled in a hundred directions. However, we need a hundred Damarios in Oklahoma, so that these harmful under the color of law and due process violations are fought vigilantly. Marcus worked with authorities, even at times when his rights were violated. It is essential to note the following; during the entirety of the legal process, Marcus has never spoken with a black peer in this “system”; not a single child development professional, an Oklahoma Department of Human Services employee, a clerk of courts, a court reporter, an investigator, an attorney, an officer of the court, nor the police officer involved, state representative, legal aid rep, or the mother was a person of color. Likewise, no one has taken accountability for the injustices that have occurred in Marcus Hall’s case. In Marcus’ case, as well as other custody cases where injustice has occurred, habeas corpus may be the only argument still available as a vehicle for the determination of custody. It has been argued in cases in other states.
Nearly 160 years after a clearly sought constitutional guarantee of the 14th Amendment after the end of slavery; here we are. Oklahoma clearly has built-in cultural and implicit biases, and it’s hard to set aside biases that you may not even know you have. We are thankful for the leadership in Oklahoma standing up and doing the right thing. Family values have always mattered to Oklahomans and it is time to show support for those leaders that come forward to promote families over profit.
(Writing by Moses Montefiore Cortizi; Editing by Robbie Robertson)
Copyright 2022 The Oklahoma Post
* This publication contains the opinion and facts of the Ownership of The Oklahoma Post and others who use The Oklahoma Post platform to voice their opinion and expertise. This news article, education, sports update, health news, faith story, public awareness or opinion piece and similar throughout The Oklahoma Post, TheOkPost.com are guest columns that make an argument, delivered in the author’s own voice, based on fact or their opinion drawn from the information they understand at such time to be reliable, and drawn from an author’s expertise, verifiable information, or personal experience and are not necessarily the views of The Oklahoma Post. Any content provided by our bloggers, columnist, or authors are of their opinion, usually for their community, and do not intend to malign any group, religion, minority, company, or anyone or anything. The Oklahoma Post’s goal is to offer readers community, a robust range of ideas, on newsworthy events or issues of broad public concern from people outside The Oklahoma Post while exercising the freedom of speech of citizens.
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