OKLAHOMA (July 15, 2021)—A Tulsa man pleaded guilty to two counts of child neglect in Indian Country after he left his two children unsupervised for more than four hours, at which time the children gained access to his parked vehicle and died due to extreme heat exposure, announced Acting U.S. Attorney Clint Johnson.
Dustin Lee Dennis, 32, fell asleep on June 13, 2020, only to wake up and discover his two children deceased in the backseat of his pick-up truck. As part of the plea agreement, Dennis and the United States agreed to a sentence between 36 and 72 months in federal prison followed by five years of supervised release. U.S. District Judge Claire V. Eagan will determine the final sentence at a hearing set for Nov. 10, 2021.
“Dustin Dennis was irresponsible and reckless. He prioritized using cocaine while his young children, Ryan and Tegan, were in his home and failed to protect them from harm,” said Acting U.S. Attorney Clint Johnson. “My office remains committed to prosecuting perpetrators of child neglect and abuse.”
In his plea agreement, Dennis admitted that while caring for his children on June 12-13, 2020, he got high on cocaine and stayed up playing video games. He fell asleep on June 13, leaving his two children unsupervised. The children entered Dennis’s vehicle in the driveway, were unable to get out of the truck and later died from exposure to extremely high temperatures while being trapped in the truck.
In court, Assistant U.S. Attorney Gina Gilmore outlined the evidence against the defendant. Dennis and his brother discussed purchasing and using cocaine days before the death of the children. On June 12, 2020, his brother indicated that he had the “stuff,” referencing cocaine, and the two could play video games at his home. Dustin later texted his brother that he would have to bring his children since his mother could not take care of them. Dennis then wrote that he was headed to his brother’s house.
Surveillance video showed Dennis and the children returning home just before 1 am on June 13. At 1:03 am, Dennis indicated in a text to his brother that he was turning his game on and later texted that he did a couple of lines and that he hated chopping up cocaine when it’s moist. He indicated he was about to do some more.
Surveillance video later showed Dennis leaving his residence alone at approximately noon for 11 minutes during which time Dennis stated he drove to a QuikTrip. When Dennis returned home from the convenience store, he fell asleep. Surveillance footage showed the two children trying to get into Dennis’ truck at 1:22 p.m. when the vehicle’s alarm went off. They attempted a second time at 1:29 p.m. and successfully gained access to the truck. The video later captured Dennis exiting his apartment and searching for his children approximately four hours later, at 5:32 p.m. Within minutes he discovered the children deceased in the truck.
Three-year-old Ryan and four-year-old Tegan were citizens of the Cherokee Nation. The crime occurred within the boundaries of the Muscogee Nation reservation.
Dustin Dennis and his brother, Michael Dennis, were charged in a superseding indictment, with use of a communication facility in committing, causing, and facilitating the commission of a drug trafficking felony. Michael Dennis is presumed innocent until proven guilty in a court of law.
The FBI and Tulsa Police Department conducted the investigation. Assistant U.S. Attorney Gina Gilmore prosecuted the case.