In Harm's Way

Cerebral palsy left Jimmy Rodriguez unable to speak or control his limbs. The state allegedly left him with a series of molesters.

"I begged them [CPS] not to take him away from his mother," Whitney recalls. "I said, "You don't understand. You are taking him from what he loves most, his home and his school.' But CPS said, "You don't know anything, you are just his teacher.'"

Whitney couldn't help Rodriguez. She couldn't help his mother.

Rodriguez wept when he was taken from his mother, removed from Glendale High and placed in two foster homes where he stayed several weeks. In one home, he says, the caregiver refused to toilet him, put him in diapers and left him alone in an empty room. Finally, DDD placed Rodriguez in a group home in west Phoenix. He was once again able to attend Glendale High.

Jimmy Rodriguez's attorney, Larry Tinsley
Paolo Vescia
Jimmy Rodriguez's attorney, Larry Tinsley
Yolanda Granado taught her son self-confidence
Paolo Vescia
Yolanda Granado taught her son self-confidence

But he was not the happy-go-lucky Jimmy Rodriguez he'd been before.

"He never felt sorry for himself until all this happened," says Whitney.

Rodriguez returned to his classroom subdued and red-eyed from crying, a kid who realized for the first time in his life exactly how vulnerable he was.

And in the following eight months, Rodriguez would report being sexually molested three more times while under the care of the State of Arizona.

Yolanda Granado will never forget the day 21 years ago when her son Jimmy was born. Yolanda and her husband, José Rodriguez, a laborer from Mexico, had no health insurance. But they wanted their unborn baby to receive the best medical care possible, so they prepaid $2,000 to a Phoenix hospital so that Yolanda could have a safe delivery.But the first-time mother had an unusually long labor. And she wonders now why the doctors let it go on so long.

"After about 12 hours of labor, the fetal monitor began going off," she says. She knew something was wrong with her unborn child. But she says hospital personnel delayed in performing a Caesarean delivery.

"They should have operated right away," she says tearfully. "Maybe then Jimmy would have had cerebral palsy, but a more mild form."

She knew something was wrong, but no one would explain what had happened. She was devastated. Her pregnancy had been normal. She had expected to take home a happy, healthy baby.

Jimmy Rodriguez was not officially diagnosed with cerebral palsy for months. Like so many of the approximately 500,000 people in the United States who have cerebral palsy, Rodriguez's brain was deprived of oxygen during his mother's difficult first-time labor. Certain areas of his brain were damaged, preventing him from speaking or controlling his limbs.

Granado vowed to take care of Jimmy and his kid sister Maria even after she and José divorced when Jimmy was 3.

Granado's own mother had died when Granado was 14; there was no grandmother to help her with the kids when she worked. Her job prospects were limited. She had dropped out of school in the 10th grade, but later earned her GED.

Despite her struggles, Granado actively participated in Jimmy's special education classes. She taught her son both English and Spanish.

"He has been a smart boy since the get-go," Granado says.

Beyond making sure her son got regular medical care, Granado heeded the advice of "curanderas" who said their folk medicine would cure Jimmy.

"Every time you hear something, you try it," she says.

She massaged coffee grounds and honey into the boy's useless legs. She sprinkled a powder made of dried rattlesnake on his food "just like salt and pepper."

But nothing could fix Jimmy, and the family accepted his disability as something that was meant to be.

"I can handle the cerebral palsy, if that was meant to be," says Granado. "But if I could change anything, it would be CPS taking my son out of his home."

Although she is Latina, she does not think racism factored into the state's decision to take her son away from her. It was instead a certain arrogance toward the poor.

She remembers CPS caseworkers chastising her for having an empty refrigerator. She remembers they rebuked her for not having wheelchair access. She remembers they informed her after the Suire incident that her home was "inappropriate" for Jimmy.

"I will never forget that word "inappropriate,'" she says.

Now she ponders bitterly how "inappropriate" the state's care turned out to be.

On March 20, 1996, just four months after the Suire incident, Jimmy Rodriguez was found in his bed at a group home with his underwear pulled down below his knees. Since Rodriguez could not control his arms or legs, there was no way he could pull his own briefs down. He said he'd been fondled by a male caregiver employed by Developmental Systems Incorporated, which ran the state-licensed group home where he'd been placed by the state. The male caregiver refused to talk to officials and resigned. CPS could not "substantiate" Rodriguez's allegation. Phoenix police were unable to establish that the abuse took place because of "an absence of physical evidence and/or supportive evidence."

DSI denied wrongdoing. Later, attorneys for the state and DSI would imply that Rodriguez made up the story so that he would be moved to a different group home.

Whitney contends that Rodriguez was showing signs that he had been abused. He brooded, was less enthusiastic about school, dropped classes and no longer seemed interested in making friends. And he missed his mother.

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