Parents fighting to prevent child abuse deaths hit hurdles across state, legal system

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Photo outside the Cuyahoga County Dept. of Jobs and Family services during a protest of kids dying while being investigated by Child Protective Services in 2018. (Contributed photo/Sistas Against Abuse Facebook Page)

HUBBARD, Ohio (WDTN) – Teddy Foltz was put on a dog leash and chain by his mother’s boyfriend and kept in the family’s yard as punishment. He was made to shovel snow barefoot in the driveway when the temperature was below freezing. According to his father Shawn Tedesco, these were some of the abuses he endured before the 14-year-old was beaten to death on Jan. 26, 2013 in front of his twin half-brothers. 

His murderer Zaryl Bush was sentenced to 33 years to life in prison for Foltz’s murder. His mother, Shain Widdersheim, is serving 15 years. 

Tedesco said neighbors reported the abuse, so did teachers who called the Mahoning County Department of Jobs and Family Services. When neighbors, family and teachers notified the agency Bush told his mother to pull him from the Struthers City School District and homeschool him. 

Tedesco told WDTN.com the case of his son and Dayton boy Takoda Collins are tragically similar. 

Like Foltz, Collins was homeschooled after teachers made abuse complaints to Montgomery County Jobs and Family Services. Before Collins was taken out of Horace Mann Elementary School in 2018, the staff filed 17 complaints. After receiving news of Collins’ death in December, teachers began contacting local representatives to push for legislative changes to prevent similar deaths to Collins.  

“I’m proud of the (Dayton) teachers for that,” Tedesco said. “I talked to my wife today and if we could have taken a different angle and reached out to the teachers to push, we wonder if that kind of backing if things could have been different.” 

Montgomery County Commissioners announced a local investigation into the death of Foltz in January. In late February Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine announced the Ohio Department of Jobs and Family Services would review Collins’ case along with that of a 2-month old who died in 2020.

Parents pursue activism, legal action to reform system – to mixed results 

Teddy Foltz was murder by his mother’s boyfriend in 2013 at the age of 14. Contributed Photo

Following the death of his son, Tedesco tried to push legislation through the State Senate and filed a lawsuit against the interim director of Children’s Services at the time of his son’s death. Tedesco said it was a disappointing experience for the father who received threats over Teddy’s Law, the legislation he tried to push the Senate into making law to close loopholes in the homeschool and children’s services system. 

Teddy’s Law was introduced as Ohio Senate Bill 248 in 2013. Senate Minority Leader Capri Cafaro took up the bill and pushed to implement reforms. Tedesco said news of the bill got to Alex Jones, the controversial internet conspiracy show host, who saw it as a government invasion into homes. Tedesco said he eventually took down a website dedicated to Teddy’s Law because of all the internet harassment generated from Jones’ radio show and asked Cafaro to remove the bill. 

“If you listen to Jones, he’s very against the government taking any rights away,” Tedesco said. “I had a Democratic State Senator (Capri Cafaro) going after it and they automatically think if it’s a Democrat they’re trying to take your rights away. It was nuts, there were all these conspiracies. There was some really nasty stuff.”

He said homeschool parents protested because it would have required annual interviews and more regulation of the homeschooling process. He said he took down several websites in honor of Foltz and in support of Teddy’s Law because of the negative reaction on the internet because he didn’t want a black cloud surrounding the name of his dead son.  

“They think you’re trying to violate their rights, but we’re just trying to protect these kids who get yanked from schools into homeschools or e-schools. It was crazy,” Tedesco said.   

Tedesco wanted more rights for parents seeking information from the agencies on their children. He said he still hasn’t seen any of the files Mahoning Department of Jobs and Family Services has on his son because the files include information on Foltz’s twin half-brothers. Since Tedesco isn’t the birth parent for the twins, he’s been denied access to all of the files even if they had information on his son.   

“They said they couldn’t release them to me because of privacy,” Tedesco said. “The information for the twins was in there and I wasn’t their dad.” 

Cafaro pushed for systemic reforms until the end of her term through 2018. She wanted county sheriff’s departments, children’s service agencies and schools to share the same database. She told WDTN.com in January the efforts failed due to the lack of compatibility between agency systems and the confidentiality risk of files.  

Tedesco’s effort at pushing for legislative reform came to an end when Cafaro was term-limited. He said he believes some reforms would have been made if Cafaro had more time. He said local politicians haven’t picked up the effort of pushing the legislation. 

Other parents who have faced the same tragedies have found results in different ways 

Ta’Naejah McCloud died in 2017 after being beaten by her mother and her mother’s girlfriend. Her death sparked protests against children’s service agencies in Cuyahoga County. Contributed Photo

Sierra Giles’ adoptive son was living with his half-sister, Ta’Naejah McCloud, when the 5-year-old girl was beaten to death by her mother’s girlfriend in March 2017.  

The murder happened while Giles’ son was at the home. Giles was splitting custody with the boy’s biological mom Ursula Owens, who killed McCloud. According to Cleveland.com, McCloud was beaten for wetting her pants.  

Giles told WDTN.com she called Cuyahoga County Jobs and Family Services eight times after her son told her about the abuse McCloud suffered.  

“I had called child protective services myself,” McCloud said. “(My son) said she wasn’t getting food or water and was getting burned with cigarettes. Even while he was telling me about all of this abuse he still had to go over to their house because it was court-mandated.”  

According to FOX8.com, Tequila Crump – McCloud’s biological mom – was sentenced to 13 years for reckless homicide and endangering children in 2018Owens received 25 years to life for reckless homicide, felonious assault and murder. Giles saw the sentencing trial as a beginning and not an ending. She wanted to reform the system in Cuyahoga County in memory of McCloud.  

She started by helping found  SISTAS Against Abuse, an activist group.  

“We went on a mission,” Giles said. “We started contacting higher-ups. We slept in front of the Cuyahoga Child Protective Services building for 24 hours. We wrote the names of children who had died under CPS care on the sidewalk outside the building.”  

Giles said the group was active when another the death of 4-year-old Aniya Day-Garrett came to light. According to Cleveland.com, the girl was killed in March 2018 after a beating from her mother and her boyfriend. Both were found guilty of aggravated murder. Giles said the circumstances were similar to McCloud’s. 

The Garrett case led to an independent review of Cuyahoga County CPS. According to Cleveland.com, a four-person panel recommended a series of reforms, including a sheriff’s deputy on staff at all times at the building, hiring more caseworkers to ease workloads and hiring 10 retired law enforcement deputies to help in investigations.  

Parents have few options to fight agencies after 80s Supreme Court Case 

Dayton boy Takoda Collins was beaten to death by his father in December 2019. His father and two other adults in his home were are currently awaiting trial. Contributed photo

Attorney David Engler represented a number of clients in cases against local children services agencies. He represented Tedesco in a federal civil suit against the Mahoning County Children Service Board’s interim director David Arnold. The case was dismissed because Arnold didn’t play a part in the actual murder of Foltz. 

“There are no facts alleged in the Complaint that would support a claim Defendant Arnold,” Federal District Judge Sara Lioi said. “Instead, the sole allegation against Defendant Arnold is that (Foltz) had been identified to Defendant Arnold as an abused child, that Defendant Arnold concluded that (Foltz’s)  prior injuries had been the results of an accident and that no further investigation was taken. The facts alleged fail to state a claim against Defendant Arnold and should be dismissed.” 

Finding children’s services employees negligent in civil court is difficult due to precedent in the Supreme Court decision in the case DeShaney v,. Winnebago Co.  

Joshua DeShaney was 4 years old in 1984 when his father beat him severely and left him mentally ill. According to the court summary, Winnebago County Social Services in Wisconsin had taken steps to protect DeShaney after numerous reports of his abuse but didn’t physically remove him from the home. His mother sued on the basis the social services agency, in not acting to remove him from the home, had violated his 14th amendment due to process rights leading to his severe beating.  

In a 6-3 decision, the court ruled in favor of Winnebago Co. Social Services, stating the state isn’t required to protect private citizens if the state didn’t have a hand in creating those harms.  

Engler told WDTN.com the controversial 1989 case has made it nearly impossible to hold children services employees responsible outside their employee disciplinary structure. Engler said in Tedesco’s suit against the interim head of the Mahoning County Children Services Board, it was ruled he owed no special duty to Foltz because he was not the person who inflicted the injuries on him that caused his death, despite all the phone calls and reports made to the agency. 

   “They can screw up on the job, they can be completely derelict in their duties and it comes down to the law. If that child is not under the care or custody of the agency, then there’s not much you can do.”

David Engler, Children’s Rights Litigator and Attorney

Engler said because the agencies owe no special duty to children, not under its custody or care, it incentivizes agencies to not respond to cases.  

“The legal definition of special duty is by their actions or by their operation of law, they are responsible for the safety, health and welfare of that individual,” Engler said. “How agencies get out of that, they may say we haven’t responded. This rewards the agencies that do nothing because the kids aren’t part of the system. You have to have the child in the system first, and that becomes a problem because so many local agencies are understaffed.”  

Engler said the addition of the Ohio Victim’s Bill of Rights (referred to as Marsy’s Law) to the state constitution in November 2017 could be a gamechanger in court. It might lead to Ohio children having more due process protections in court. 

“I think it creates a new opening,” Engler said. “All victims of crime are now owed certain rights. (They) have rights afforded to them now by the Constitution of the State of Ohio.” 

Engler said agency employees who commit “gross malpractice” could be held responsible under Marsy’s Law. 

Tedesco said he has continued to follow child abuse deaths across the country. He hopes the case of Collins can lead to changes in the system where kids are currently falling into the cracks. He hopes some legal changes are made in memory of his son and Collins.  

But dealing with the death of his son the last seven years, and the aftermath of trying to reform the system in his memory has taken its toll.  

“As you go through a lot of these cases, it tugs at your heart,” Tedesco said. “It makes you hate people if that makes sense. You are always looking for the good in people, but it’s overbearing. I sometimes believe there are more bad people than good and that’s sad.”  

For more information on reporting an abused or neglected child, visit the Ohio Department of Jobs and Family Services website.

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