Judge under investigation after ignoring DHS warning

OKLAHOMA CITY – A Dewey County judge is being investigated after ruling a child should return to her mother’s custody despite concerns from doctors and the Department of Human Services.

Judge Rick Bozarth twice gave custody of 1-year-old Braylee Hinkle to her mother, both times after doctors had expressed concerns that Braylee was being abused or neglected.

Braylee’s mother has since been arrested and charged with child abuse.

Braylee has suffered spinal damage and her grandfather said she might never walk again.

Braylee’s parents are divorced and her paternal grandfather, Troy Hinkle, said he had seen signs of potential abuse for months.

“When I would pick her up for visitations she wouldn’t smile, she wasn’t happy,” Hinkle said. “You could tell something was wrong.”

DHS reports dating back to December reveal several doctors and DHS workers had seen Braylee with suspicious bruises on several occasions.

In the reports, Dr. John Stuemky, the child abuse examiner for Oklahoma is quoted saying Braylee was bruised “because someone has caused her to be bruised.”

Stuemky also said in his professional opinion, Braylee was being abused and her injuries were not accidental.

Days after that opinion was given to a child welfare supervisor, Judge Bozarth again granted custody to Braylee’s mother, despite suspicion that Braylee was being abused while in her care.

Troy Hinkle said Bozarth was being partial because the judge knew the mother’s family.

“The judge came out, said he knew the family their whole life,” Hinkle said. “If he knew the family, why didn’t he give it to another judge?”

Newschannel 4 attempted to reach Bozarth at home for comment, but he has yet to return our phone call.

Troy Hinkle and his family have filed a complaint against Bozarth with the Oklahoma Council on Judicial Complaints.

According to that office, a case number has been assigned and the council will review the case, possibly by mid-November.

Troy Hinkle said the judicial system has failed his granddaughter.

“Children need to be protected,” Hinkle said. “And if the DHS can do all they want and the doctors can do all they want but if a judge allows this to happen, [the abuse] is going to continue.”

Weeks after Bozarth’s second ruling, Braylee was taken into DHS custody.

She now lives with her paternal grandmother.