By Camilo Smith
By Craig Malisow
By Jeff Balke
By Angelica Leicht
By Jeff Balke
By Sean Pendergast
By Sean Pendergast
By Jeff Balke
They call him the boy born without a throat. That's shorthand for an esophagus that wasn't hooked up right. Born in Galveston to a juvenile diabetic mother, at age four he weighed 29 pounds and would throw up or choke at meals.
His mother died that year. His father is in the penitentiary. His grandmother tried to take care of him, but she was increasingly frail with medical problems of her own. His entry into foster care was as dramatic as his existence. Grandma Wiggins had collapsed in a diabetic coma. Trase ran out of the house naked, looking for help.
Eventually, Trase Ray Wiggins-Frederick ended up at the country home of Gloria and Kenny Rogers, in Damon near Alvin, placed there by Children's Protective Services of Brazoria County. He attached to his foster parents, a couple in their fifties and ten-year veterans of dealing with special-needs children. Kenny Rogers was president of the Brazoria County Foster Parents Association; he'd held the same position previously with the foster parents association in Fort Bend County. He and his wife were licensed for eight kids at a time. Usually they had boys.
Roberta Wiggins wanted her grandson, Trase, back. He's her only living relative. She hired Brazoria County legend Jimmy Phillips Jr. as her attorney, and one of the first things he did was run out to the Rogers home, convinced the family already had too many special-needs kids.
"I couldn't find anything wrong," Phillips says.
So Phillips picked up the Rogerses in the suit as well. He proposed to the court that Gloria Rogers and Roberta Wiggins be named permanent managing conservators of Trase. The five-year-old would have parents and a grandmother, too. On November 8, the request was granted. According to Phillips and the Rogerses, though, this didn't sit too well with Brazoria County CPS, which had been counting on the federal dollars it gets for every child it adopts out. And with Trase's special-needs status, he would be worth even more. Bonuses available through the Adoption and Safe Families Act are up to $4,000 per child and $6,000 for every child with special needs.
Things started going wrong, Gloria and Kenny say. Although Kenny says he'd always had a good working relationship with CPS in Fort Bend, that did not carry over to Brazoria. CPS caseworkers who came to their home to check on the kids did not treat Gloria and Kenny with any respect, the couple says. "They act like the foster parents are the enemy," Kenny says. He took over his new job as head of the foster parents association only to find there were no records. He decided to move the foster parents out of the building it shared with CPS, feeling that CPS was trying to run his organization. CPS didn't like that, he says, and he and Gloria say that's when they became marked for retaliation.
CPS continued placing foster children in their home, but instead of the younger boys they were used to getting, they were housing teenagers, who brought more complicated problems with them, Gloria says. By late February all but three of the boys they had were teenagers.
Their latest addition, a 15-year-old boy, brought their world crashing about them starting on February 26. He alleged physical and emotional abuse by the Rogerses. In the next day's roundup of all eight kids, according to CPS worker Cheryl L. Harvick, the children accused Gloria and Kenny Rogers of hitting some of them in the head with a rake used to clean horse stalls. Other allegations: The children weren't fed for the entire weekend of February 22-23, Gloria threw a bottle of bleach at one of the children, Gloria and Kenny pushed a child to the floor and began kicking him, and the children were emotionally abused.
Gloria was home alone when the children were taken. Kenny was in Austin as part of a group attending a ceremony honoring the first black Texas legislator.
In its sweep, CPS did leave behind two of the Rogerses' sons: Michael, 18, who is adopted, and 14-year-old Kenneth Jr., their biological son. Oldest son Jeremy Filer, a U.S. Marine with eight years of service, is in the Middle East now.
The Rogerses went to court on March 6 and state District Judge Randy Hufstetler ordered Trase returned. Phillips argued successfully that the district attorney's office hadn't filed the right paperwork in the case. The judge agreed but immediately told CPS and Assistant District Attorney Lori Rickert that the case could be refiled. Mark Jones, the court-appointed attorney for Trase, said the boy insisted there had been no abuse and he wanted to go back to the Rogerses. The seven other boys remained in other locations.
Gloria says the 15-year-old had his own private agenda, as a ringleader doing anything he could do to get what he wanted, which was out of their home and on his way to live with a brother in California. She says the boy is six foot two, and she wants to know how much physical abuse she was supposed to be able to hand out to someone that size.