Sisters claiming abuse win $2.3 million. Lawsuit was act of love, women say. Two believe family now can face reality.
By Brian Weber
DENVER – A graphic courtroom airing this week was a “terrible act of love” needed to break “the conspiracy of silence and denial” that protected Edward J. Rodgers, Jr. for 46 years and emotionally crippled his daughters.
That’s how Sharon Simone and Susan Hammond explain their motivation for filing an unprecedented lawsuit against their father. They accused him of sexually, physically and emotionally abusing members of his family, the effects of which linger today, 25 years after it ended.
“It may sound awful, but I feel this was a terrible act of love for ourselves, first, for our brothers and sisters and for my father and mother,” Hammond said. “We can be real now.”
Rodgers led a highly public life, one of a role model: as an FBI agent for 27 years, then as a chief investigator for the El Paso County District Attorney’s Office for another 19, specializing in child abuse cases.
The irony and hypocrisy of their upbringing finally became unbearable, said Simone, the oldest of seven children. Private reconciliation never materialized.
“The way it was being handled in the family was a conspiracy of silence and denial,” she said. “The legal system is the way to go because he respects it. he’ll show up. He’ll fight. It’ll be fair. “It’s the only arena where he may engage.” But he didn’t. Through three days of often tearful and disturbing tales of incest and beatings, the defense table was empty. With no rebuttals, a six-woman jury took 90 minutes to award the two sisters $2.3 million in damages.
But money was never the motive for her, Simone said. “I wanted to get out of the position of colluding with my father,” she said during an interview after the trial.
“I had sanctioned (his abuse) by my silence. the lid is completely off the system we all participated in.
“If I had not pulled out of that, I would have been ill the rest of my life,” said Simone, who has been in therapy for four years and expects to continue for some time. Initially, Simone’s counselors worried that the lawsuit would be too unsettling for her. But, Simone said, “it has moved me enormously in recovery.” The court process she has been involved with for a year “forced me to deal with him.”
Catharsis was not Hammond’s motive; money to pay medical bills was. And she wanted atonement before it was too late.
“I was angry at the thought of my father dying and facing his God and receiving his judgment,” she said. “I wanted some justice and some judgment now, in this life. I wanted that for me.”
But her three brothers did not want it. They said their father beat them and that the house was filled with tension. but they adamantly denied, as had their father, that the girls were sexually assaulted.
The trial seems to have severed the relationship between brothers and sisters. As Hammond and Simone got on the elevator to leave the courthouse Wednesday, the second-oldest son, Steve rodgers said, “This is it for us.”
Hammond and Simone say they regret their brothers’ anger and estrangement. But they insist it’s because the men refuse to face the painful reconstruction of their youth.
Besides, they asked, how would they know what went on in their sister’s beds, late at night, when their father came home drunk? “It didn’t happen to them,” Simone said, adding, “the family had been fractured in a different
“I wanted some justice and some judgment now, in this life.”
and more lethal way underneath. I feel that the boil has broken open and there’s pus everywhere, and it’s better than a festering, hidden pus.”
The lawsuit’s timing seemed odd. the abuse occurred between 1944 and 1965. Why wait so long to act?
Their mother, whom Rodgers divorced in 1968, was an obstacle, Hammond said. She feared the publicity would cost rodgers his job. The family would be financially ruined, she said, urging them to wait until he retired.
“The message was overt and covert throughout. This was survival,” Hammond said. These are your parents. This is all you have. As bad as it is, you don’t know how bad it is, and where was I going to go?”
Maintaining the image of forthright cop with an overachieving Catholic family was another reason to keep quiet, the sisters said.
Rodgers and his family at times genuinely enjoyed themselves, they said. And in those years, child abuse and incest were taboo subjects.
“One reason I repressed it so long was the terrible chasm between the public image and my father and the family” in private, Hammond said.
When they reached adulthood, the children rarely visited with their father. When there was contact, “there was a lot of pretend,” she said.
And their father still is making believe, the sisters said. he has entered treatment for alcoholism that he admits prompted some of his brutal behavior. But, “he’s denying it (the sexual abuse), Simone said. “He will not acknowledge his wrong.”
They hope the family can bond again, though a family reunion seems a remote possibility. “A lot of time has to happen. I do have hope,” Hammond said.
Both women seem to have gained a perspective from their public cleansing. Despite the split family, they say it was worth it. And they seem willing to eventually forgive.
“My father did shameful and horrible things to me and my brothers and sisters. I don’t feel my father is a shameful and horrible man,” Simone said. “I feel like he has to be accountable for what he has done.
“I hope for him that he looks at the truth of his life, accepts himself and goes on, just as I intend to do.”