A former University of Oklahoma social work professor who is awaiting trial on charges of sexually abusing children helped train Oklahoma Department of Human Services child welfare supervisors, records reveal.
NORMAN — A former University of Oklahoma social work professor who is awaiting trial on a charge of sexually abusing children helped train state DHS child welfare supervisors for 15 years before his contract was terminated in December 2011, The Oklahoman has learned.
Professor Dwain Pellebon, 55, pleaded not guilty Friday in Cleveland County District Court to three counts of child sexual abuse and six counts of making lewd or indecent proposals to a child.
Pellebon led continuing education training sessions for state Department of Human Services child welfare supervisors from 1996 through 2011, officials said.
OU notified Pellebon that his university contract to provide services to DHS was being terminated on Dec. 16, 2011, three days before he was charged on the current child sex abuse complaint.
As far back as 2001, DHS had received a complaint against Pellebon alleging inappropriate conduct with a child. At that time, the DHS investigator ruled the complaint “unfounded” after the alleged child victim declined to disclose what happened, records reveal.
The complaint had been lodged by the girl’s father, who was a Norman police officer at the time. The report was forwarded to the district attorney’s office, but no further action was taken.
Sheree Powell, DHS spokesman, said confidentiality laws would have prevented the agency from sharing information about the complaint with OU officials, who contracted with Pellebon for the DHS training job. The agency could not even have shared the complaint with other DHS divisions, she said.
“Complaints about possible abuse made to our agency must be kept confidential by state and federal law,” Powell said. “Those complaints are investigated, often times with local law enforcement, and the findings are turned over to the local district attorney. Unless there is evidence of abuse and charges filed, the fact that a complaint had been lodged against someone cannot be disclosed.”
Powell said she was not aware of any complaints registered against Pellebon by child welfare supervisors who attended his training sessions.
Those sessions “did not include any contact with minors,” an OU official said.
Under the newest contract, individuals who lead the training sessions are required to undergo Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation criminal background checks, but that requirement did not exist while Pellebon was a trainer, OU officials said.
An OSBI criminal background check would not have revealed the DHS complaint against Pellebon anyway.
Several young girls testified against Pellebon at his preliminary hearing in June, including a mentally disabled 16-year-old girl who told the court how the defendant took her to his bedroom and removed her clothes.
“He started touching me … where he’s not supposed to,” the girl testified.
The 16-year-old also described taking a shower with Pellebon, saying that the older man was naked.
She said the former professor urged her not to “tell my mom.”
Another witness testified Pellebon liked to watch her while she used a massage chair and would give her massages where he would undo her bra and rub her back.
Pellebon described himself to police investigators as an “affectionate, sensual man who liked to hug, kiss, cuddle and stroke young girls that he felt close to,” according to court documents.
The former Norman police officer who filed the initial 2001 complaint against Pellebon said he could see the “red flags” even then.
The former officer, whom The Oklahoman is not identifying to protect the identity of his daughter, said he and his wife and children became friends with Pellebon through church, during a “vulnerable time in our lives.”
Court documents associated with Pellebon’s current criminal charges show the former professor would lie in bed with the former police officer’s daughter, who was 11 at the time, with the door closed when the officer wasn’t home.
The former officer said his children never admitted to DHS investigators that anything inappropriate had happened between them and Pellebon, but he decided to end the friendship because of his overpowering suspicions.
“I saw the way he was with the other girls at church … and that was enough for me,” he said.
The former officer told investigators the suspect’s ex-wife, Champa Pellebon, called his family shortly after the 2001 investigation and told them she had found child pornography on her then-husband’s computer.
As for the DHS investigation, which never yielded charges, the former officer said he was told by a Norman police detective working on Pellebon’s current case that getting information from DHS wasn’t easy.
“It was like pulling teeth,” he said. “DHS did not want to give it over, it seemed like.”
DHS’s contract with OU called for the university to provide clinical specialists to lead quarterly, four-hour sessions with child welfare officials.
Pellebon and the other clinical specialists provided training on child welfare issues and facilitated discussions on how to manage difficult child welfare cases.
Records obtained by The Oklahoman show Pellebon conducted training classes in Lawton in recent years, training 15 to 17 DHS child welfare supervisors at a time. The supervisors came from Comanche, Jackson, Stephens, Caddo, Washita, Kiowa and Jefferson counties.
Pellebon’s latest contract shows he was to be paid $900 for each of the four case management group sessions he was scheduled to lead that year. The contract called for him also to receive up to $2,400 for “county specific mentoring.” Those payments were to be made at the rate of $100 an hour for on-site participation and staff briefings, and $50 an hour for travel time and off-site preparation and telephone mentoring.
The effectiveness of the training sessions presented by Pellebon and the other clinical specialists was measured by surveys filled out by the child welfare supervisors who attended.
Pellebon generally received fairly high ratings, although not as high as the combined ratings for Pellebon and his colleagues.
For example, in July 2011, about 60 percent of the child welfare supervisors rated the overall effectiveness of their clinical specialists as excellent, but only 40 percent of Pellebon’s trainees gave him the highest rating. However, the remaining 60 percent of Pellebon’s trainees gave him a “very good” overall rating.
The surveys solicited written comments about the value of the sessions taught by the clinical specialists, but the report filed with DHS did not present them in a way where a person could tell which specialist’s class the supervisor had attended.
The remarks ranged from, “I think they are very beneficial,” to “my only recommendation is to make the sessions voluntary and not mandatory. I waste my time going to them.”