Chicago Tribune

FOSTER MOMS DEFEND ABUSE SUSPECT

WOMEN CALL WOODS A ROLE MODEL FOR 8 BOYS IN HIS CARE

By Sabrina L. Miller
Tribune Staff Writer
May 25, 2000
Chicago Tribune

The women who testified on Andre Woods' behalf at a Cook County Juvenile Court hearing on Wednesday described him as a hard-working man who spent virtually all of his free time nurturing his adopted and foster sons.

Their impassioned words were a sharp contrast to the allegations of sexual abuse by four of the eight boys who were in his custody and another boy who frequently visited his home.

Erma Denton, whose foster son often spent the night at Woods' home, said Woods was a good influence on her son and other boys in the foster care system because "he was a man and a policeman."

The Cook County state's attorney's office has not filed criminal charges against Woods, although it is seeking to terminate custody of his three adoptive sons. Associate Judge Michael Brown likely will make a ruling on that matter after a June 1 hearing.

Woods, in a separate matter, also faces the termination of his parental rights.

The allegations have rocked Catholic Charities, the agency through which Woods received his foster parent license, and humiliated Woods, a Chicago police officer who has summarily denied the accusations. Catholic Charities had previously named Woods its Foster Father of the Year.

The fellow foster parents who testified Wednesday, including Woods' sister, said they never saw Woods strike or curse at any of his children. They said they never heard reports about sexual advances or other inappropriate behavior.

LeafieAnn Clark, a foster mother of three whose children spent time with Woods' children, said he always was planning activities such as roller-skating or bowling for all the children.

"Everywhere he went, he had all eight of them," she said.

Prosecutor Bumjoon Park asked Clark if Woods was a disciplinarian.

"I'm not sure what that means, but he kept them in control," she said.

The children who accused Woods of sexual abuse testified earlier this month that Woods molested them in his home, mainly in his bedroom. One boy testified that he did not report the alleged abuse when it began because Woods told the child that his status as a police officer would protect him. Others alleged that Woods gave them gifts to keep them quiet about the abuse.

Some of the foster mothers testified that they believed one of Woods' foster sons who had repeated disciplinary problems triggered the allegations.

Foster mother Katie Atkins said she overheard a June 1999 incident in which that particular foster son allegedly said that "he would say something bad about Mr. Woods or lie on him."

When asked if she ever saw Woods strike any of the children, Atkins said, "Never in my presence."

Woods' sister, Wander Pillers, said the same child broke her car window with a brick after he became angry at her. Because Woods worked nights with the Police Department, Pillers baby-sat the children daily, spending as many as 19 hours a day with them. She was compensated $8.25 per day, per child from the state for baby-sitting. She said her brother, whom she addressed as "Mr. Woods" during her testimony, worked two part-time jobs in addition to his job as a police officer.

When he was home, she said, his full attention was on the children, either watching movies in his bedroom, where the cable television was hooked up, or planning activities outside of the home.

Said foster mother Clark: "He was a good role model for my son."

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