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October 30, 2014

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A city wrestles with its silence

For years, Charles “Rick” Rogers was a volunteer police officer, teacher and soccer coach. Though some suspected he was taking advantage of youngsters, no one spoke up, not even the boys.

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Leila Navidi

The soccer field at Garrett Junior High School in Boulder City on Friday, Nov. 13, 2009.

Boulder City

A sign on U.S. 93 welcomes travelers to Boulder City on Friday, Nov. 13, 2009. Launch slideshow »
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Charles Richard "Rick" Rogers

It is possible none of the 16,000 residents of Boulder City knew anything about it, except for some of the young boys. Certainly, for years, no one in town tried to do anything about it.

Then, in the spring, someone dropped an anonymous package in the mail. Only then was Rick Rogers arrested; only then did the police search his home. And only then did the people of Boulder City realize that for the past 15 years or more, someone at some point should have said something.

Charles Richard “Rick” Rogers had been a popular figure in Boulder City. Many young boys flocked to him as the soccer coach at the town Rec Center. In middle school, students seemed to love his science class. He invited them into his home. He took them camping in California and boating on Lake Mead. Parents knew he had served as a volunteer policeman. He had served in the Coast Guard; he was a foster parent for teenage boys.

To the people of Boulder City, he was an all-around community leader.

And that is why even after Rogers was led handcuffed from his classroom and police reported turning up reams of child pornography in his home on Dorothy Drive, and videos too, videos he allegedly took of himself with some of the young boys, some still did not believe it.

”I was very, very surprised,” said police Sgt. Slade Griffin, who rode with Rogers when he was a volunteer cop. “I wouldn’t think he’d be a person to do this kind of thing.”

“Who knew? Who knew?” said Toby Frye, a parent who lives a couple of doors up from the Rogers home. “He was so involved in the community. A cop, and everything.”

“Kids talk, and that’s what boggles your mind,” said Bruce Woodbury, a 30-year resident of Boulder City and former seven-term member of the Clark County Commission. “You would have thought some kid would have said something to somebody.”

Rogers’ mother, in Las Vegas on Thursday night to visit him at the Clark County Detention Center downtown, said no one in Boulder City would have suspected wrongdoing because her son is not guilty.

“He is innocent,” she said. “I have stayed with him for weeks on end at his home. The children were always there. They were on his computer or playing games. And I never saw anything going on. Am I just stupid?”

But telltale signs were there.

An older single man, never married, never with a girlfriend. The sleepovers with the young boys from at-risk homes, and the gifts and his king-size water bed.

Yet “the adults didn’t see it or chose to ignore it,” complained a woman who adopted one of the boys after the youngster allegedly spent several years with Rogers. “It’s disgusting.”

And Terry Stevens, a young reserve fireman in Boulder City, said that when he was in school, everyone knew that Rogers “was always hanging around with the soccer boys way too much.”

Thinking back on it, Stevens said, “he was a creepy dude.”

•••

Motorists arriving in town on U.S. 93 are greeted with this warning: “Patrolled By Citizens In Private Vehicles.”

Indeed, Boulder City is a proud, singular town, beyond the sprawl of Las Vegas and exceptional by Nevada standards. Born as a company town during the construction of Hoover Dam, it banned gambling and tightly controlled growth. It is a quaint, charming place.

Boulder City boasts an old-fashioned downtown and tidy neighborhoods, and when people are abuzz with chatter, it’s usually about City Hall politics, their financially stressed hospital and golf course, and rising electricity rates.

Crime is measured by the occasional drunken driver here, the break-in there.

But it turns out that Boulder City isn’t as vigilant as it thought it was.

Rogers was arrested in the spring. He has pleaded not guilty. But the evidence against him is ghastly. Seventy-five charges of sexual assault, lewdness with a minor and producing and possessing child pornography. Some 10 victims, all boys, all under 14.

The case erupted in late March when the package arrived at the Henderson Police Department. Instead of a return address, someone wrote “he’s a pedophile” on the front and listed Rogers’ address in Boulder City. The package contained two video and photo storage cards and a thumb drive. And a letter. The letter said:

“His name is Roger? or Rogers. He is a junior high boys coach and he coaches boys soccer as well as river rafting. He is a sick man and he needs to stop hurting little boys or stop promoting it by watching it. Please take care of this. Please!!!”

The pictures and videos were mixed in the package along with Rogers’ school lesson plans and welcome letters to his new students. Other photographs were of Rogers’ family holidays, such as Christmas with his parents from Illinois. And photos of his Suburban and his tan BMW. One was of a group of boys at a bowling alley, and the boys were naked.

And then more pictures, of boys 7 to 12 years old, naked in the Rogers home, several blocks from the city golf course. And more videos, of boys the same age, and of an adult identified by police and some of the alleged victims as Rogers sexually abusing them.

Boulder City Police Chief Thomas W. Finn was horrified when he viewed the material at police headquarters next to the Recreation Center. “I’m watching this and I just want to reach through the screen and strangle him,” Finn said.

Finn cannot fully explain why no one tipped off his detectives, or why the package was sent to an outside police agency. He believes the tipster was one of the victims, or someone who had access to the small house on Dorothy Drive, white with the gray trim and with a swing out front hanging from a tree. He thinks it was mailed to Henderson because the sender feared Boulder City would cover it up because Rogers had once been a policeman there.

“They might have felt we might sweep it under the rug,” Chief Finn said.

But he stressed that a police department in a small town is only as good as the vigilance of its citizens.

“I’m disappointed it went on so long and there were so many victims and so many clues. He’s a coach. He’s a teacher, and he has sleepovers? I see red flags in that kind of behavior.

“Maybe citizens don’t see the threat, and people are hesitant, but we’re never too busy to investigate,” Finn said. “It’s hard to get people to talk. But they need to talk to us. And we would have checked school rosters and talked to parents and teachers. We could have stopped this.”

Bob Ferraro, who served for more than 20 years as the Boulder City mayor, said if he had known that townspeople were reluctant to report even a hint of sexual abuse, he would have immediately met with the city manager. He would have called a special session of the City Council. He said he would have set up a communitywide meeting with teachers and parents, and started a program to educate and encourage adults to watch for hints of abusive behavior.

He said he is surprised that even still, city and school officials have not done that. Officials say they cannot discuss the matter now — whether to talk about what they should have done, or what they should do now — because of a lawsuit filed by one of the victims. Chief Finn said he thinks it best now to wait until the trial is over and not jeopardize the judicial process.

The former mayor still can’t make sense of how the alleged crimes went on for so long. “People watch out for each other here,” Ferraro said. “Rick Rogers? That one stunned us. That one was a sleeper.”

Mark DuBois, a Boulder City police detective, was so sure the allegations were unfounded that even as police were marshaling to arrest Rogers and search his home, he warned his boss that it would be a wasted effort. “This is absolutely not possible,” DuBois told the chief. “We won’t find anything.” And then DuBois was the one who helped locate more material in a drawer in the side of the water bed, and on a TV stand in the master bedroom.

A teacher said she sometimes watched the soccer games, and she thought things seemed fine. “The children liked him a lot, very much so,” she said.

Another teacher who worked closely with Rogers for a dozen years, and who also asked not to be identified, said “when it all came out, suddenly, he was a different Rick Rogers than we ever knew.”

Residents did not suspect anything either. Not Dib Campbell, who has lived there 33 years and seems to know just about everyone, nor Alan Stevens, who runs the “world famous” Coffee Cup cafe in the old section of downtown.

“There’s no way you could detect it,” said Stevens, who put two children through the local schools. “No way.”

•••

Fear kept the boys quiet.

The Clark County grand jury began hearing from them in May and June. All were nervous when they were called to testify, especially when they said Rogers insisted they join him on the water bed, and how he drugged them with adult sleeping pills.

“Now, when all this stuff was going on,” asked James Sweetin, a deputy district attorney, “did you ever think about telling anyone about what was happening?

“I was scared to,” one boy said.

“Why is that?”

“I didn’t think anyone would believe me. And since he worked for the rec department and he was a retired cop and teacher, I was ... like everyone liked him and everything, so I just didn’t think anyone would believe me.”

Where did this fear come from? Sweetin asked.

“I thought he would kill me if I said something.”

Then why did you keep going to his house?

“I was a little kid.”

Another boy described how Rogers warned him not to talk.

“That if I told anybody he can get in trouble and that I’d be in trouble with him if I said anything.”

“Did he tell you that one time, or more than one time?” Sweetin asked.

“He told me that once. But there was like a couple other times that he said, ‘Don’t say nothing.’ ”

•••

One of the boys said he was 10 when the abuse by Rogers began. By the time the Rogers story broke, the victim was 19.

He watched the TV news about the coach being arrested, and he threw up. Then he passed out. He was rushed to the hospital and placed on a 72-hour suicide watch. At 1 a.m., he finally called his therapist. And then it all came out.

He had never told his mother, or teachers, or the police or even his counselor during four years of therapy for a stress disorder. Even when his behavior turned erratic — he could not sleep, could not interact with other children; he was moody and shy and withdrawn — still he said nothing.

When he was 10, his father, an itinerant car salesman, died of alcohol poisoning. His mother was an alcoholic too, and she took him down to the rec center and signed him up for sports. According to the alleged victim, what his mother really wanted was a babysitter.

“She was never at home,” he said in an interview with the Sun. “She was at a bar or a friend’s house. So Rick became just like a dad to me. He was different to be around. He was like a family, and that seemed good.”

He said Rogers bought him toys, action figures and a paintball gun. He bought him new clothes. “I thought he was cool. He runs the rec center and I’m really into sports, so that’s cool. And he let me pick whatever teams I wanted and who I wanted on my team. So I picked all my friends.”

He said Rogers took him to California and the beach, to the Magic Mountain theme park and Universal Studios. He said Rogers took him on trips to Colorado. For nearly three years it went on, even to the point where he said Rogers left the key to his gun locker on top of the shelf, and the boy would play with the shotguns and the pistol and the MP5 submachine gun.

“He started to touch me while I was sleeping. And I was awake and I acted like I was asleep. I was afraid he would kill me.”

So he kept silent. “I just blocked it out. People would think I was weird if I told them. They would make fun of me.”

But now he is dealing with yet another guilt — that had he said something long before the arrest, other children might have been spared. “I know a little kid he did this to, too. If I would have said something, a lot of children, about 10 at least that I know of, wouldn’t have had to go through this.”

He is now 20, a handsome young man with black hair and dark eyes. He is a sophomore in college; he wants to run his own small business someday.

He wears a blue-and-white T-shirt that says, “Obey.”

And he hates Rick Rogers.

“If he was here right now, I’d punch him in the face. I’d say, ‘Mom, let me have your gun.’ ”

•••

Experts say the 10-year-old fit the profile of the perfect victim for a pedophile — a child who is vulnerable, from a broken home, preferably where the parents either do not care about him or they want someone else to raise him. And where even if the child did come home and say something, the parents would be too embarrassed or too unbelieving to discuss something like deviant sex.

That, they said, is how a victim is “hand-selected.”

Kathy Jensen runs the Boulder Counseling Center in town. She opened her practice just under 10 years ago. She is a licensed clinical social worker.

“Boulder City is a small community with a lot of moral fiber,” she said. “But people don’t talk to their children enough. They don’t listen to them and talk to them. That’s the biggest problem with why this happened.”

As a parent, she said, she would never allow her children to stay all night with an adult, not a teacher or a coach. Slumber parties should be group affairs, closely monitored. Trips out of state should include groups of parents and teachers.

“Parents rely too much on the system to raise their children,” Jensen said. “They ought to be involved with their children, asking them what they do, did they have fun, is there anything you want to tell me.”

She added, regrettably, “it fits a pattern if nobody is talking to them.”

Terri Miller of Las Vegas helps runs a group that provides support and guidance to abuse victims and their families. It’s known as Sesame, an acronym for Stop Educator Sexual Abuse, Misconduct and Exploitation. Soon after the arrest, she spoke with Police Chief Finn about some programs the city might want to consider, but said she has heard nothing back from city leaders.

Miller said she got her start in the advocacy field after helping bring to justice Joseph Peterson, a teacher in Pahrump now serving life in prison for sexually assaulting a student.

“Education is empowerment and empowerment equals prevention,” Miller said. “When children know what to do and what kinds of signs to look out for, and what an inappropriate comment or a touch or a joke is, then they can detect when they are being groomed for sexual abuse or sexual assault.”

Scott Senjo, an associate professor in sex criminology at Weber State University in Ogden, Utah, said it is equally important to teach the adults. He said that even in today’s television and Internet culture, adults still shy away from discussing sex, among themselves and certainly among children.

They may feel something is wrong, but keep it inside for fear not just of wrongly offending someone but of making themselves look mischievous.

He described a “panicky feeling” that comes over parents when the family is watching television and suddenly a sex scene appears on the screen. The child asks what that is and the parents quickly dismiss it, hoping to gloss over the sex and help their child forget. But what the parents are really doing, he said, is telling the child they should not talk about sex either.

When it comes to Rick Rogers, Senjo said, “the citizens of Boulder City may have suspected something. But there was just no orientation for a healthy discussion of what might have been going on.”

•••

The Bartons moved to Boulder City 30 years ago, from Huron, S.D. Bob worked for the Bureau of Reclamation. Judy taught art at the local high school. They have been married 49 years, and they raised six children.

When they came to Boulder City, their daughter wanted to play soccer but there were no soccer leagues, they said. So they helped start one. They coached and they set up boys and girls teams, and over the years they figure they had about 110 teams and soccer clinics.

And Rick Rogers showed up and assumed much of the work in running their soccer organization.

Bob: “We saw some warning signs. We heard about some children he was living with, and they were acting strange. It didn’t look good to us.”

Judy: “They were acting like they had psychological problems. They didn’t interact with the other children.”

Bob: “You work with children long enough, you can tell. And the parents didn’t seem to mind, and you can’t just say ‘these are warning signs, so lock him up.’ ”

Judy: “That’s why it goes on so long.”

Bob: “Those are the warning signs I’m talking about. A guy alone with all these children. I coached girls for a while, and I always made sure my wife or daughter was there. When you work with children for long, you see things but you don’t know what they are.”

Judy: “If you bring it up, the parents, sometimes, they get very upset. I’ve said that to the parents, and they just laugh it off.”

Bob: “We tried to be diplomatic and not say anything bad and not say anything good, either. You can’t go out and bad mouth somebody right off.”

Judy: “I feel bad for all the children. A lot of them, we knew. He picked on the insecure children.”

Bob: “But you can’t go spreading rumors about somebody if you have no proof.”

Judy: “I’m totally ashamed of what he’s done.”

Bob: “I wouldn’t even talk to him now.”

•••

Mrs. Charles W. Rogers was sitting Thursday night in the crowded waiting room at the Clark County jail, in line to chat with her son at the 8:30 p.m. visiting hour. The room was crowded with families — parents, spouses and children, and girlfriends too, each jockeying for turns at a phone and a video screen, and the chance to see and hear their loved ones from the jail corridors up above.

She was tired. Her eyes were red, and she had just driven in from Illinois. She is a small woman with silver hair. She does not waver in defense of her son. “I believe in him,” she said. “I believe in his innocence. I have to. This is what mothers do. I don’t know anything else to do.”

She would not give her first name, but she talked about her son. Rick was the first of her three sons; he was born in 1962 in rural Salem, Ohio. Growing up in the Midwest, he decided at age 14 he wanted to be a teacher. From that moment on he never considered another career.

Even when he was a teenager he kept busy tending horses and mowing grass. “The last 10 or 15 years he’s had several jobs too,” she said. “Teacher, coach. Even as his health gave out, he still wanted to hold down several jobs.”

Some years ago his kidneys shut down, and Mrs. Rogers donated one of her kidneys for a transplant operation. But he is not well today, she said. He suffers from skin lesions and melanoma. He has high blood pressure.

So she worries about his care in the jail. She worries the guards read his letters and listen to their phone calls. When they talk, she said, “you have to be very careful what you say.”

She has tried to have him freed on bail, only to see him turned down as more charges were brought against him. Now she hopes that at the end of his criminal case, he will be released on probation.

“He’s my No. 1 son,” she said. “He takes care of mom. And I take care of him.”

Suddenly she glanced up at the clock, gathered her purse and rose quickly. It was 8:30 — time for her video chat with Rick. Hurrying off, she tried one last smile. “My spirit,” she said, “is with him.”

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