I-Team: 5 months after Takoda Collins-inspired bill passed House, law change has not happened

MONTGOMERY COUNTY — Former Montgomery County Sheriff and current State Representative, Phil Plummer tells the News Center 7 I-Team he fears children in Ohio have been harmed because more than five months after passing the Ohio House, his child welfare reform plan is not yet a law.

Plummer, a Republican from Butler Township, says the I-Team reporting system failures that played a role in the murder of 10-year-old Takoda Collins in December 2019 prompted him to introduce the legislation.

Collins’ dad, Al McLean, is in prison for raping and murdering his son after years of torturing the little boy in his own home. McLean’s girlfriend, Amanda Hinze, and her sister, Jennifer Ebert are also in prison for their roles in Collins’ death – knowing about the abuse but doing nothing to stop it. A Montgomery County judge sentenced all three last month after they agreed to plea deals.

>> RELATED: ‘What you did was pure evil’ Father, 2 others sentenced for the death of Takoda Collins

Today, the I-Team’s John Bedell continued his nearly two years of reporting on this case by pushing for answers about why the bill supporters say will prevent deaths like Collins’ has not been signed into law. Wednesday, the I-Team got answers that provide new context.

News Center 7′s search for answers started weeks ago, first calling Plummer in September, then asking him in person at the Statehouse on October 12, why his bill requiring public agencies, like those that failed to communicate in Takoda Collins’ child welfare case, to share information appeared to be stalled?

“I called the chairman (of the Ohio Senate Judiciary Committee) last week after we spoke,” Plummer told the I-Team on October 12. “And he says, ‘alright, I got it. I’ll get on it and talk to the Senate President.’ They’re good people (in the Senate). They want to protect children, so we’ll get it going.”

The I-Team checked Wednesday, and Plummer’s bill, known as House Bill 4, is currently in the Ohio Senate Judiciary Committee. Miami Valley State Senator, Niraj Antani, R – Miamisburg, is a member of that committee. News Center 7 asked Antani for his reaction to Plummer saying he’s sure kids across Ohio have been harmed because the bill has not become law.

“Well, I’m sure there are,” Antani said. “What happened to Takoda Collins is a tragedy and an unfortunate situation.”

>> PREVIOUS COVERAGE: Prosecutor: ‘This case shocked and horrified,’ change happening because of Takoda Collins’ murder

Antani said House Bill 4 had its second committee hearing last week and added that, traditionally, a House bill needs a third hearing in a Senate committee before it can be voted to the Senate floor for a vote from the full chamber to send to the governor’s desk for his signature to become law.

In the Takoda Collins case, there was no go-to outside agency. So now, advocates are pushing for the creation of an ombudsman as a part of Plummer’s bill to investigate cases like Takoda’s and keep them from falling through the cracks.

“I fear this bill doesn’t go far enough, quite frankly,” Antani said. “This bill is only effective if someone reports a complaint to the ombudsman. We know that while that may have happened with Takoda, that multiple complaints from teachers and others around the child filed complaints – what we need is to hold children services workers accountable. They fell down on the job in Montgomery County and need to be held accountable.”

Antani told the I-Team he does not think the bill goes far enough because he’d like to see children services workers held accountable, either criminally or civilly.

Both of those things have either already been reviewed or have already happened in connection with the Takoda Collins case.

In July 2020, Montgomery County Prosecutor Mat Heck told the I-Team his office looked at everyone involved in Collins’ welfare case and found nothing anyone did, or did not do, was criminal.

>> RELATED: I-Team: Who gets money from $3.25M settlement in Takoda Collins’ wrongful death lawsuit filed against Montgomery Co.

“All I can tell you is that the Dayton Police Department investigators and detectives and my office looked at everyone who was involved in this case, went into the background of what happened and looked at everything that was involved and everyone who was involved,” Heck said in July last year. “There were no other felony criminal charges available for anyone involved in this case.”

Heck then said last year, it would be up to the Dayton Police Department to pursue any lesser, misdemeanor charges through the Dayton City Prosecutor’s Office. A Dayton Police spokesperson told the I-Team in July 2020 that the department was not pursuing any misdemeanor criminal charges against anyone involved in Takoda Collins’ child welfare case.

And, as the I-Team reported two weeks ago, Collins’ estate settled a civil wrongful death lawsuit against Montgomery County and its Children Services agency for $3.25 million. The estate also has a second civil wrongful death lawsuit currently pending against Dayton Children’s Hospital.

Wednesday, the I-Team asked both Plummer and Antani why House Bill 4 has taken so long to get to the governor? At the same both said children could be harmed without this law, Plummer and Antani both say the slow pace is part of the normal legislative process.

Plummer told News Center 7 he’ll keep pushing his colleagues in the Senate to meet his goal of passage by the end of the year.

“I’m sure there’s situations where we could protect more kids,” Plummer said. “There’s abuse that’s going on every day. There’s neglect that’s going on every day. So we have to get this passed.”

WHIO asked Antani Wednesday if Plummer’s goal can be met by December? “Yeah, I think that’s feasible,” Antani said.

The I-Team will continue to follow the progress of House Bill 4 at the statehouse in Columbus. We’ll let you know if it passes the Senate and gets sent on to Governor Mike DeWine for his signature.