Broken Arrow family’s legal saga, separation from child subject of documentary
By John Dobberstein, Editor
Nearly 5 years ago, the Woolley family of Broken Arrow was swept up in a whirlwind of legal trouble that turned their lives upside down.
On March 30, 2018, 14-month-old Elijah Woolley was found dead in his crib. Police, social services caseworkers and a medical examiner descended on the home of William and Lisa Woolley, Elijah’s grandparents and guardians.
Elijah’s 5-year-old brother, Clayton, was abruptly scooped up from his home the next day by the Oklahoma Department of Human Services and taken to Muskogee for forensic interviewing.
The grandparents were jailed and accused of heinous crimes against Elijah, including first-degree murder and child abuse and neglect.
But the case built by Wagoner County sheriff’s investigators and the Wagoner County District Attorney’s office fell apart, as medical experts who reviewed autopsy results for Elijah found no signs of child abuse and no indication of homicide. This contradicted the Tulsa County autopsy findings.
The Woolley family, including the children’s biological mother Desiree, looked forward to being reunited with Clayton with the legal cloud hanging over their heads dissipating – except that it never happened.
Clayton is still in foster care, and the Woolley’s say DHS, the Wagoner County courts and Thorp’s office are not taking appropriate action to return Clayton to them. So the family is fighting for a return of Clayton through the media instead.
A website, “Rescue Clayton” has been launched that describes their case in depth.
Project 46 and Red River TV produced a documentary, “Saving Clayton” for which you can see a preview here. The documentary will be shown March 25 at Geaux - Jack of All Shows Theater, 3812 S. Elm Pl. in Broken Arrow at 5 and 7 p.m. Tickets can be purchased here. The documentary will also be shown at 1 p.m. the same day in Tulsa at the Circle Cinema Tulsa.
Project 46 describes itself as a conservative news and information service that was “created to combat censorship and circumvent the chokehold Big Tech has on entry to the public square.”
Janelle Batts, co-founder and host of Red River TV, says she believes the documentary will allow the public to “experience the emotional roller coaster the entire family was taken on. A lot of people were very loud when (Bill and Lisa) were arrested and very quiet when charges were dropped.
“Many people saw things from one perspective and didn’t get to hear the rest of the story. And that’s what we hope the documentary will do - tell the full story from the perspective of the entire family.”
'Appalling case of misjustice'
Things started going wrong for the prosecution in the case against Lisa and William Woolley with allegedly flawed autopsy findings for Elijah Woolley by the Tulsa County Medical Examiner’s Office – which lost its accreditation with the National Association of Medical Examiners in 2009.
“At one point our office, relying on the findings of the (Office of the State Medical Examiner), believed that they committed murder. We cannot say that now, thus I had to dismiss,” said Wagoner County District Attorney Jack Thorp after all charges were dropped against Lisa and William on March 26, 2021. Thorp reportedly said charges could be re-filed later if more evidence emerged, but he doubted that would happen.
Among the most embarrassing revelations, in addition to the rebuke by outside medical experts, came from Wagoner County Sheriff’s Lt. Kyle Johnson. In a notarized statement dated July 29, 2021, Johnson alleged bias during the investigation of Elijah’s death by the lead investigator, Danny Elliott.
Although Johnson told Elliott that nothing unusual had been noted at the scene, Johnson said Elliott, “made a comment to the effect of, ‘Well kids don’t just die, I’m going to a homicide scene. Someone in that house killed him.’ ”
“In my opinion,” Johnson wrote in the statement, “this type of demonstrated pre-judgement and assumption of guilt creates increased likelihood for the misconstruing of facts regarding law enforcement investigations. I do believe the Wooley (sic) case specifically was nothing more than a ‘dog and pony show’ to generate desired political image. I personally find these types of actions to be reckless and disgusting acts.”
Wagoner County and DHS received further unwanted attention in 2021 when Gov. Kevin Stitt’s father, the Rev. John Stitt, said the ordeal with Clayton and his guardians was an “appalling case of injustice.”
'Wise up, I'd say'
This past week, during a Facebook discussion about the documentary, Lisa said when charges were dropped against her and her husband she called DHS to ask what the process was to reunite with their grandson and a staff person told her abuse charges had been substantiated by DHS.
Lisa says when she asked the DHS worker how that was possible if criminal charges were dropped, there was no response to her question.
William and Lisa are calling on state lawmakers to consider legislation that would strengthen the family rights of grandparents serving as guardians, and to ensure rights are restored swiftly when allegations against a guardian are proven untrue.
“This can happen to you, especially if you have a biased investigator on scene or something like that. We need to be so careful and knowledgeable of who we elect and put into positions of authority,” Lisa said during the live stream this week.
Added William, “If you have any authority over children, be wise enough to know that DHS and Child Protective Services is unaccountable to anybody. They operate in the guise of everything is sealed and there’s no open forum, so they can do whatever they want. Legislators are too afraid or too weak to pass the laws necessary to empower the families but still have accountability for whatever their actions are.
“They have no due process in their courts. The judges are always siding with (the state) and will do whatever they can to keep those kids in their system, regardless of the facts. 'Wise up' is what I say.”
DHS told Fox News 23 in a past statement, “We do not make decisions in a vacuum. Every child welfare case is different and the specific details in those cases impact decisions made by OKDHS, the courts, district attorneys and others who participate in any case. OKDHS is dedicated to protecting the safety and well-being of Oklahoma’s children.”