By Amy Silverman
By Olivia LaVecchia
By Monica Alonzo and Stephen Lemons
By Chris Parker
By Michael Lacey
By Weston Phippen
Rodriguez's home life wasn't serene, but it wasn't bad, either, he says. His mother, Yolanda Granado, supported Rodriguez and three younger children by working minimum-wage jobs -- as a seamstress, a convenience-store clerk, a day-care worker. The disappointments in her own life -- two divorces and poverty -- rarely stopped her from trying to encourage her son.
"I always told Jimmy that everyone has some kind of handicap," Granado says.
She let him feel comfortable in his own skin. It was okay to be in a wheelchair; he could still have fun with his friends and excel academically.
"It was a very loving home," Whitney would later testify in a deposition. "Despite all the problems, his mom loved him very much and that's always been very, very obvious."
Although Rodriguez qualified for attendant care at home, overworked DDD caseworkers could not always find part-time caregivers to stay with him when his mother worked.
Most professional caregivers preferred to work full-time in institutions. And Jimmy Rodriguez preferred to live at home.
Because the state failed to provide attendants for months at a time, Granado relied on her daughter, Maria, who was two years younger than Jimmy, to care for the boy when she worked.
Occasionally, Maria would hit Jimmy -- one such incident was reported to Child Protective Services (CPS) by the school counselor.
But Rodriguez is quick to forgive his little sister. After all, he says, she was just a kid.
"She had to take care of me, and it's hard because I have a lot of needs like going to the bathroom and eating and changing," he says.
Often, Granado herself would be so exhausted from working it was all she could do to get dinner on the table. She did not have the strength to carry her spastic, full-grown son to the bathtub and bathe him.
"She needs to learn to take better care of her kids," Rodriguez says of his mother, but first Granado must learn to "take care of herself."
In the fall of 1995, the family had fallen on particularly hard times. Their west-side apartment building was infested with roaches. It was not unusual for Rodriguez to come to class in need of a bath, with roaches crawling on his Liberator and wheelchair. Whitney and a teacher's aide donned rubber gloves, plucked off the roaches, crushed them with their shoes. They insisted Rodriguez keep his Liberator at school because the roaches at home clogged up the device and broke it. Whitney tried to make light of the insects, and of Rodriguez's body odor, but Rodriguez recalls, "It was embarrassing."
Rodriguez and his mother were relieved when DDD finally found Joseph Suire as a part-time caregiver in November 1995. Although they both claim they were somewhat taken aback when Suire kissed Rodriguez on the cheek after an initial meeting, they say they were not unduly alarmed. After all, Suire had been sent by Full Health Care, a company licensed by DDD. (Full Health Care has denied wrongdoing.)
When an attorney later asked Rodriguez why he allowed Suire to care for him even after the reported kiss on the cheek, Rodriguez answered: "I wanted a bath."
Joseph Suire arrived at Granado's apartment to bathe Rodriguez on November 19. Carrie Ortiz, a family friend, happened to be visiting the apartment that day. Granado left her son with Suire and Ortiz to get her truck repaired.
Jimmy Rodriguez cannot talk about what happened next, because he is a witness in Suire's upcoming criminal trial. But in depositions and police reports, Rodriguez claims Suire and Ortiz carried him into the bathroom and put him in the bathtub. There was about an inch or two of water in the tub. After Ortiz left the bathroom, Suire allegedly performed fellatio on Rodriguez, whispering to the terrified boy: "Do you like it?"
When it was over, Suire washed Rodriguez's hair and dressed him.
Because of the roach infestation in the apartment, the Liberator had been left at school. Suire later said he thought Rodriguez had no way to communicate.
But when Rodriguez arrived at school that Monday, he told Whitney what had happened to him. The case was reported to CPS.
According to CPS records, in six years the agency had "substantiated" four instances of "neglect" of Jimmy and the other children. The neglect amounted to Granado's leaving her children alone while she worked.
"Mrs. Granado has been neglectful in the past in using Maria as a babysitter of the younger siblings and Santiago," a CPS report says.
"It appears that Mrs. Granado tried her best to meet Santiago's special needs, and at the same time care for her three younger children. However, there appears to be a pattern of neglect and lack of supervision in the home."
CPS concluded that "to prevent further neglect or abuse," Rodriguez should be immediately taken from his mother's home and placed in temporary foster care. The irony, of course, is that the event that prompted the state to remove Rodriguez from his home had nothing to do with Yolanda Granado. A state caregiver allegedly abused Rodriguez, not his mother.