Dayton teachers reported abuse concerns for years before child’s death

Takoda Collins died days before his 11th birthday. Dayton superintendent says staff ‘tried everything that they could do to save that child.’

Takoda Collins was removed from Horace Mann Elementary by his father just days after a school employee reported child abuse concerns to Dayton Police and Montgomery County Children Services in May 2018.

Three Dayton Public Schools employees — Superintendent Elizabeth Lolli, Horace Mann teacher Joni Watson, plus a third employee speaking anonymously — all said school employees reported their concerns about the safety of the boy multiple times over multiple years.

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And Takoda’s mother, in a recorded call with the Montgomery County Regional Dispatch Center in May 2019, told authorities that she believed her son was being abused by his father — including being locked in a room and beaten with a belt.

Takoda’s father, Al-Mutahan McLean, maintained custody of the boy until he died Dec. 13 at age 10 after what police called “extreme child abuse.” McLean faces multiple felony charges.

The Dayton Daily News is investigating the final years of Takoda’s life to determine the circumstances around his death, which came days before his 11th birthday.

Children Services officials did not answer questions about the number of calls about Takoda, the specific concerns listed, or the agency’s follow-up, saying Friday that those records are confidential under Ohio law. Asked about their response to calls about Takoda’s welfare, Dayton Police said they make “every effort to analyze the response to incidents such as this to … identify any areas that can be improved upon.”

Dayton Public Schools employees contend they did everything they could to protect the boy and are wondering why more wasn’t done to ensure his safety.

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“I know that my staff did what they could do, legally and ethically and morally, to try to help this child,” Lolli said. “It’s a tragedy that the system as a whole wasn’t able to save this child. I’m proud of my staff for what they did. But I also know what anguish they’re going through, because I’ve talked to three of them. I know that their hearts are hurting because it wasn’t enough. … They tried everything that they could do to save that child.”

Authorities say Takoda was tortured by his father, including being locked naked in an attic, beaten and emotionally and physically abused. In court records, police say Takoda was forced to stand bent over and cross-legged for long periods of time and received a beating by McLean if he stopped.

The records say Takoda ate his own feces and was either forced to drink a lot of water or was held underwater prior to his death.

McLean faces four counts of endangering children, two counts of felonious assault and a count of rape of a child under the age of 13. He pleaded not guilty and is incarcerated at the Montgomery County Jail on $1 million bond.

A call to McLean’s public defender, Michael Pentecost, was not returned.

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Also, two women who authorities say lived in the same Kensington Drive home — Amanda Hinze and Jennifer Ebert — are charged with four counts of endangering children. They are being held in jail on $500,000 bond.

A message left for Hinze’s attorney Lucas Wilder was not returned and Ebert’s attorney, Jeffrey Gramza, declined to comment when reached.

Takoda’s cause of death has not been announced by the Montgomery County Coroner’s Office. Montgomery County Prosecutor Mat Heck Jr. said the investigation is still open.

‘A lot of our teachers called’

Public records show at least two times Children Services were called to Takoda’s home.

The incident brief report created by Montgomery County Regional Dispatch on May 11, 2018, shows a teacher called law enforcement asking them to check on Takoda — citing that she suspected abuse and feared for the child’s safety.

“Request check on third-grade student Takoda Collins. Complainant advises she had to call Children Services on Wednesday to report abuse by juveniles’ father Al-Mutahan McLean,” the dispatch log says. “Complainant advises today, father called school advising juvenile was sick. Complainant concerned that juvenile may be being abused and not actually sick. Complainant wants contacted upon findings.”

The report says police checked the home, but no one answered. The report lists the status of the incident as “closed.”

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Joni Watson, an art teacher at Horace Mann school who taught Takoda, said the teacher who made that May 2018 phone call wasn’t the only teacher who reached out to Children Services.

“A lot of our teachers did, for years. Yeah. A lot of our teachers called a lot,” said Watson, who is also vice president of Dayton’s teachers’ union.

A school employee went into detail about those phone calls with the Dayton Daily News under the agreement of confidentially because the employee wasn’t given permission to speak with the media.

The employee said multiple reports were made to Children Services about Takoda while he attended Horace Mann. The source said a call was placed when he was in kindergarten.

“The concerns were he sometimes had a stench … urine and even feces, you could smell it on him,” the employee said.

Calls were made when Takoda came into school in the first grade with injuries on his head, the employee said.

“He would come in with his head shaved,” the employee said. “He would have his head scabbed where he was hurt from the razor. He would be hurt. And you could see that it looked infected.”

The employee said school staff called many times during his second-grade and third-grade year.

“The odor again was very strong, and he was really skinny where he was thin, and he would say ‘My dad is going to beat’ (my butt),” the employee said. “And he would say his dad locked him in a bedroom — he would be locked in there for periods of time and not eat.”

Watson said school staff believed Takoda was pulled out of school by McLean because of the numerous calls to protective services.

RELATED: $1 million bond for McLean; $500K for women at house

“I think his father just got tired of us calling him and calling Children Services because people had been calling for years, especially the last year he was there (at Horace Mann),” Watson said. “It wasn’t just one teacher – there were quite a few that called. Then, right before I see he was pulled out, one of our teachers … called the police that she was worried.”

Along with the Regional Dispatch record showing a school official called Children Services, Dayton Police also called Children Services to make a report about McLean and Takoda’s older brother in 2016.

In that case, according to a detective’s investigatory document, Takoda’s brother, then 9, ran away from the same home. When found, he told police that his father made him do squats while holding a heavy backpack. The child was unable to tell officers how long the punishment lasted and McLean told police that the 9-year-old boy’s punishment was standing in a corner.

The child and McLean gave different answers about whether McLean had left the child home alone, and about whether security cameras inside the home were functional.

The officer said he reported all of the statements to a Children Services employee, who the report said made a referral that “would be forwarded to her supervisor.”

The Montgomery County Prosecutor’s Office on Friday, on behalf of Children Services, denied the Dayton Daily News access to records concerning Takoda, McLean or visits to the Kensington Drive address that were part of multiple public records requests filed by the Daily News. The denial says Montgomery County Children Services is “unable under law” to provide the records.

State law does allow for the inspection of records with written permission from the agency’s executive director. Montgomery County Job and Family Services Executive Director Michelle Niedermier has not provided such written permission.

“This is currently an active criminal case. As such, the county will not release confidential case information that could impact the prosecution in any way,” agency spokesman Kevin Lavoie said.

Ohio law also allows for public release of certain information after a child death possibly caused by abuse, neglect or other criminal conduct. This news organization has requested that information, summarizing Children Services’ actions. That request was forwarded to the Montgomery County Prosecutor’s Office, which had not responded by the end of the week.

Dayton Police were also alerted to the possible abuse of Takoda. Along with Takoda’s brother alluding to police that something was wrong and the teacher asking for a welfare check, Takoda’s mother, Robin Collins, called police repeatedly and told them she feared her son was being beaten.

“I’ve been trying to work with (McLean) to talk to my son, and he gave me a bunch of things that are very concerning,” she said to police dispatchers in May 2019. “He locked him in his room. He tried to jump out a window. He sent him to school in a diaper. He pulled him out of school. He whips him with a belt. Just a bunch of stuff that’s very concerning to me.”

In the dispatch logs, Dayton police indicate they spoke with McLean, who assured them that Takoda was being taken care of. A Dayton Police spokeswoman said the case is still under investigation.

Gov. Mike DeWine’s office said in a statement that a state agency is looking into the boy’s death.

“The Ohio Department of Job and Family Services (ODJFS) recently received notice of this incident,” DeWine spokesman Dan Tierney said. “ODJFS will review this case as part of its child fatality review process.”

ODJFS spokesman Bret Crowe said child fatality review procedures are set out in state law, with Children Services required to immediately communicate with law enforcement and the local health department and/or the child fatality review board

Crowe said the department’s Office of Families and Children also does regular reviews of whether Children Services agencies properly fulfill their child protection duties.

Ohio Attorney General’s spokesman Steve Irwin said the AG’s office is aware of Takoda’s death but would not confirm or deny whether they’re involved in the investigation. Irwin said the attorney general has investigated similar cases in the past when asked by local law enforcement or the county prosecutor.

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