The Dayton Daily News’ best investigative reporting of 2018

Our reporters in 2018 exposed wrongdoing at the highest level of our institutions, from the legislature to the Catholic Church, and also showed the harm caused to our community and our citizens by individuals who violated our trust.

What emerges from reading through the list below is how many of these situations could have been prevented. It is our sincere hope that by shining a light on our problems we provide a framework for solving them.

Here are the top 10 investigative stories of the year.

1) FBI investigates former Ohio House Speaker

Dayton Daily News reporter Laura A. Bischoff in April revealed that the FBI was investigating Ohio House Speaker Cliff Rosenberger, R-Clarksville. Rosenberger, a Wright State University graduate, subsequently resigned.

Ohio House speaker hires defense attorney over FBI questions

Bischoff’s stories on Rosenberger showed that:

  • A representative of the payday lender Advance America made three international trips with Rosenberger and that payday lenders helped underwrite his visits to China, Normandy and London.

Payday lender made 3 international trips with ex-Ohio House speaker

  • The FBI raided Rosenberger's home and offices.
  • Advance America employed lobbyists to influence legislation, including House Bill 123, an industry-opposed payday lending reform measure that had been stalled for months in the Ohio House. After Rosenberger resigned, the bill was approved.
  • Bischoff also reported that Rosenberger received $43,000 in free travel in 2017 and that he owed money to a company controlled by wealthy GOP donor Virginia Ragan, who had allowed him to use a luxury condo she owned.

Former Ohio House speaker received $43K in free travel in 2017

Rosenberger says his activities were ethical and lawful, and no charges have been filed.

Big money, political muscle on display in payday lending clash

FBI investigation: List released of items removed from ex-House Speaker Rosenberger’s office

2) Two year old boy beaten to death after failure to pursue earlier abuse

The heartbreaking story of Brayden Ferguson’s beating death at the hands of his mother’s boyfriend, Ryan “Luke” St. John, was even more horrifying after the newspaper’s investigation in April found critical mistakes made by authorities after he was sent to the hospital in November 2015 covered in bruises suggesting child abuse.

Critical mistakes led to two-year-old’s death from beating

St. John was arrested but never formally charged in the 2015 case. Brayden died in February 2017 of blunt force injuries. In April of this year St. John, 23, was convicted of murder and other charges. He is incarcerated in the Warren Correctional Institution.

The Dayton Daily News investigation by reporters Josh Sweigart and Mark Gokavi found Dayton Police Det. Lindsey Dulaney took a year to log interviews in the 2015 incident, prosecutors and police supervisors did little about her repeated failure to follow-up in the case and case workers ignored evidence that the boy’s killer lived for months in a home with Brayden even though he was barred by court order from having any contact with him.

Dayton officer disciplined for investigation involving child who later died

3) Five dead women found in blighted North Main neighborhood

Five women were found dead in the hollowed out neighborhoods off North Main Street in Dayton between June 2017 and January 2018 — all of them linked to drugs and none of them residents of the neighborhoods. Killed or dumped in the blighted, crime-ridden neighborhoods, three of the women’s bodies lay undiscovered long enough to be partly eaten by animals.

The deaths of five women in Dayton linked by drugs, possible foul play

An investigation by reporters Lynn Hulsey and Jim Otte found that little had been done to resolve the neighborhood’s escalating problems, even as activists prowled the streets and alleyways, cleaning up trash, reporting open vacant buildings and calling police about criminal activity. Absentee, tax-delinquent owners let buildings decline, go vacant and become havens for drug users and other criminal activity in a part of the city that was ground zero for the foreclosure crisis.

The mother of one of the women said she has now lost two daughters to drug overdoses.

Two drug deaths from one family. Says mom: ‘It was like living in hell’

No arrests have been made, though police say the deaths are still under investigation. Following the story, neighborhood activists Victoria McNeal and Lynn LaMance, were honored by The League of Woman Voters of the Greater Dayton Area for their effort to clean up and take back their neighborhood from drug dealers.

Vacant houses add to blight, slow recovery efforts

4) Teachers lose licenses at record levels in Ohio

Reporters Jeremy Kelley and Josh Sweigart were the first to report on data showing an unprecedented number of educators in recent years had their professional licenses permanently taken away for misconduct, including actions inside the classroom.

A Xenia elementary school teacher convicted of assaulting a 7-year-old boy, a Huber Heights teacher accused of improper contact with a high school student and a Kettering middle school athletic director who was convicted on a drug charge were among those whose licenses were revoked.

The story also raised questions about why some educators are allowed to remain in contact with students after complaints are filed against them.

Nearly 600 disciplinary actions were taken against education licenses in 2017, including 127 permanent revocations, the investigation found.

Teacher misconduct: Nearly 600 teachers disciplined; 125 had licenses revoked last year in Ohio

5) Cincinnati Archdiocese continues payments for abuse allegations

As abuse allegations against Roman Catholic priests in Pennsylvania roiled the nation, the Dayton Daily News analysis of records of the Cincinnati Archdiocese found it spent at least $17 million since 2003 on allegations against priests and efforts to protect children. Reporter Will Garbe found that in the last two fiscal years, the church spent nearly a half-million dollars on the allegations — including life-long counseling for around 20 victims — and child protection expenses. Since 1950, the cost is nearly $20 million.

Garbe’s reporting revealed that the Archdiocese of Cincinnati has settled or litigated multiple sex abuse allegations since 2003, when then-Archbishop Daniel Pilarczyk established a review board and $3 million compensation fund as part of a plea bargain with the Hamilton County prosecutor’s office. The agreement involved Pilarczyk pleading no contest on behalf of the archdiocese as an entity to five fourth-degree misdemeanor counts of failing to report felony sex crimes against children. No individuals were charged.

Investigation: 15 years after settlement, Cincinnati archdiocese still receiving new abuse allegations

6) Pepper-spraying of restrained inmate

Reporters Mark Gokavi and Josh Sweigart have closely followed the case of a jail inmate who was pepper-sprayed while restrained in the Montgomery County Jail in November 2015. An internal investigative report obtained by the newspaper earlier this year shows authorities found a “clear breakdown” in the reporting of the pepper-spray incident but no cover-up in the investigation of Judith Sealey, then a Montgomery County Sheriff’s sergeant.

A video and use-of-force report on the pepper-spraying of inmate Amber Swink by Sealey disappeared after they were sent to Maj. Scott Landis, who was then in charge of the jail. Swink’s attorney posted a copy of the video online when Swink sued Sealey and the sheriff’s office in September 2016.

Complete timeline of pepper-spray incident at Montgomery County Jail

Swink reached a settlement for $375,000. Gokavi and Sweigart have subsequently reported on other alleged excessive use of force incidents involving jail inmates.

7) Arrests made in Pike County killings

Documents obtained by the Dayton Daily News show prosecutors believe a child custody fight may have role in the killings of a Pike County family on April 22, 2016, perhaps the biggest mass-murder in modern history in Ohio. Reporters Will Garbe and Swiegart used custody documents and other records to learn that a fight over over the 5-year-old daughter of victim, Hanna Rhoden, was at the heart of a fierce dispute that prosecutors believe escalated to murder.

Pike County investigation: 8 deaths and multiple arrests were tied to one key factor — child custody

Edward “Jake” Wagner, the child’s father, and Jake’s brother, George Wagner, are charged with eight counts of murder along with their father George “Billy” Wagner III and mother Angela Wagner. Billy’s mother, Fredericka Wagner, and Angela’s mother, Rita Newcomb, are charged with trying to cover up the crime. All have pleaded not guilty.

The reporters revealed that Jake Wagner filed for custody of his 5-year-old daughter Sophia just six days after the murders. In the custody documents Wagner indicated that his break-up with Hanna mirrored that of many other young couples. “In late March 2015, Hanna decided I worked too much and that I did not have enough time for her,” he wrote.

In addition to Hanna, the victims were her father, Chris Rhoden Sr.; mother Dana Manley Rhoden; brothers Chris Rhoden Jr. and Clarence “Frankie” Rhoden; her uncle Kenneth Rhoden; cousin Gary Rhoden; and Frankie’s girlfriend Hannah “Hazel” Gilley.

How big was the Pike County murders investigation?

8) Minorities denied loans at higher rates than whites

An investigation by reporter Katie Wedell found large swaths of West Dayton and Trotwood impacted by a modern version of “redlining,” resulting in few people even applying for mortgage loans and more than half of those who do getting rejected. That inability to get credit puts those neighborhoods at great risk for foreclosure and blight, the newspaper’s reporting showed.

Modern redlining: Racial disparities in lending persist in Dayton

Wedell used data from a national study that found Dayton is one of 61 metro areas in the U.S. where minorities are denied mortgage loans at higher rates than their white counterparts.

In 2016 black applicants in the Dayton metro area were 2.1 times as likely to be denied a conventional home mortgage as white applicants, even when controlling for applicants’ income, loan amount and neighborhood, according to data analysis by Reveal, the online platform of The Center for Investigative Reporting.

Redlining is an outlawed practice of denying credit to home buyers in minority neighborhoods. Banks are required to conduct fair lending under the Community Reinvestment Act. But the newspaper’s analysis found that in much of West Dayton and Trotwood, federal loan data shows the law hasn’t made much difference.

20 Dayton neighborhoods where it is hardest to get a home loan

9) Police firings over alleged lies challenged

Dayton police have fired at least eight officers since 2003 after they were accused of providing false information to a supervisor or in a report, reporters Cornelius Frolik and Josh Sweigart found. But such allegations can be difficult to prove, their reporting revealed. Two of the fired employees were reinstated, including one who still works in the department.

Recent cases show how tough it is to prove that cops lied on the job

Tonina Lamanna, a former Dayton police sergeant, filed a lawsuit seeking reinstatement after she was fired for allegedly lying when questioned by supervisors about accessing Dayton Police Chief Richard Biehl’s personnel records. Lamanna admitted she accessed the file shortly after Biehl’s gun was reported stolen out of his unlocked car at his

home but says her answers were misrepresented or misunderstood by investigators. Her case is pending.

In a separate case, Det. Lindsey Dulaney was cleared of lying about her actions involving allegations of child abuse against Ryan “Luke” St. John, who was later convicted of murdering 2-year-old Brayden Ferguson. Dulaney received a five-day suspension for her handling of the case but was allowed to keep her job.

5 Dayton police officers accused of lying, fired

10) Local tax bills vary greatly

An investigation by reporter Jeremy Kelley found wide disparities in the tax bills people pay in area communities. Those disparities — as much as $3,000 per year for similar middle-class households — are the result of many factors that are often misunderstood, Kelley’s reporting showed. Aside from the value of your property or the amount of money you earn, your bill depends on where you live, where you work and what school district you’re a part of.

In showing the reasons for the disparities, the newspaper sought to give voters information they can use the next time they are asked to approve a school levy or other tax measure. Kelley showed that a family that lives in a $100,000 home in the Northridge school district but earns $50,000 from the city of Dayton can pay $5,250 in local income and property taxes. That same family earning the same income, only in Beavercreek, and living in a $100,000 home, this time in the Xenia school district, could pay as little as $,120.

Local tax bills vary as much as $3K for similar households depending on where you live

Reporters Laura A. Bischoff, Josh Sweigart, Cornelius Frolik, Katie Wedell, Jeremy Kelley, Will Garbe and Mark Gokavi contributed to this report.

Other stories by Lynn Hulsey

Suspended Ohio drivers can get reinstatement fee amnesty

These top 5 companies drive Dayton-area economy. Are they ready for the future?

Major disconnect: Jobs unfilled despite thousands of unemployed

Jocelyn Smith, former statehouse candidate, enters plea to extortion charge

Our commitment

You’ve told us you want us to dig deeper and investigate wrongdoing in our community and we listened. These are just a small sample of the stories this year that dug beneath the surface in hopes of making our community a better place to live.

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