State officials Wednesday began a probe into an adoption agency that was tricked into letting a man and his burly transvestite male "wife" adopt a 14-month-old boy, whom they later were accused of beating to death.
"It is a very unusual situation," said Liz Brady of the state Department of Social Services. "I can't remember anything even remotely like this in all the years I've been here, and that's a considerable number of years."
The probe is focused on the Black Adoptive Placement Research Center, which last April approved the adoption of Nathan Moncrieff, then 1 year old, by Greg Rogers, 29, and Alvin Woodard, 24, both of Oakland.
Despite at least four personal interviews, a check of their marital status and several medical tests, Rogers, dressed as a woman, and Woodard apparently were able to convince the agency that they were legally married four years ago.
The two men were arrested June 12 after doctors at Children's Hospital in Oakland decided that the baby, who was admitted after suffering a "seizure," was actually the victim of abuse.
Police said that during an interview with the couple, "Rogers admitted to investigators that he beat the baby with a shoe and handed the baby to Woodard, who then shook the baby and slapped it across the face."
Police investigators also discovered that Rogers, who was wearing a dress and calling himself Jean, is actually a man. Police said that when Rogers and Woodard were confronted, they acknowledged that they had actively tried to deceive the adoption agency into believing they were husband and wife.
The two men initially were booked for willful cruelty to a child; after the youngster died June 13 of cardiac arrest, the men were ordered held on charges of murder.
Oakland Police Lt. Richard Brierly said that during the questioning Rogers and Woodard claimed they had been married in Nevada four years ago this month.
Jane Moore, the adoption agency's lawyer, said she was not permitted to talk specifically about any one case, but she did say that she believes her clients have complied with state regulations on all of the "24 or 25" adoptions they have arranged--including mandatory checks on applicants' marriage status.
"If they approved it . . . I can only assume they must have seen some documentation that satisfied state requirements," she said.
Alice Washington, the agency's executive director, and members of her staff declined to discuss the case. "They're very upset about this," Moore said.
Moore said Washington has worked in the social service area since 1966 and earned a social worker's certificate in 1978 from Atlanta University.
Moore acknowledged that the agency, which is housed in rented office space at the Beth Eden Baptist Church in West Oakland, was cited by state inspectors for several violations last year.
However, she discounted the violations as minor paper work infractions, such as failing to post its fees and taking too long to obtain birth certificates.
Adoption specialists in the Bay Area--noting that the two men are black, as was the baby--said the bizarre circumstances of this case may help point out the shortage of people willing and able to adopt black babies.
"The range of homes available for (black children) is not as wide as it is for healthy Caucasian babies," said Marsha Popper of Catholic Social Services in San Francisco.
However, state officials would not comment on whether the difficulty experienced in placing black babies might have played a role in the adoption agency's decision.