Exclusive: County put children into hands of man accused of rape

July 27, 2015
The Carroll family before the court terminated Richard and Elizabeth Carroll's parental rights.

The Carroll family before the court terminated Richard and Elizabeth Carroll’s parental rights.


Editors Note: This is first in a three-part series on how three children were taken from their parents and placed in the home of a man now accused of sexual assault.

A child allegedly raped and sodomized for more than six years at a Nipomo home was placed there by San Luis Obispo County officials who concluded the foster home was safer and more stable than lodgings her birth parents could provide.

The girl, now 18, was allegedly sexually assaulted by her adoptive father at the home where she was placed after she and two of her siblings were pulled from their parents’ care in 2002. The abuse began when the girl was 12, the SLO Sheriff’s Department said.

Last Friday, the San Luis Obispo County District Attorney’s Office charged Robert John Bergner, 51, with 126 counts of sexual abuse.

The childrens’ birth parents, Richard and Elizabeth Carroll, told CalCoastNews that false allegations manufactured by former Prado Day Center manager Dee Torres-Hill resulted in their three children being placed in the home of an alleged child rapist. This occurred, they said, after the family refused to hand over 70 percent of their income. CAPSLO required the homeless to turn over 70 percent of their non-Social Security income to remain in case management.

“I couldn’t protect my children because I was homeless,” Elizabeth Carroll said. “And then they put them in a house with this monster.”

On Dec. 11, 2001, a San Luis Obispo Police officer arrested Elizabeth Carroll after Torres-Hill reported she had punched her 5-year-old in the nose. However, police investigators later determined Elizabeth Carroll had not punched her child, though she had smacked her child with an open hand for cursing, according to police reports.

Even though several of Torres-Hill’s allegations were eventually deemed untrue or unsubstantiated by law enforcement, the allegations continued to be repeated in statements provided to the courts by San Luis Obispo County Social Services employees, court records show.

In Aug. 2003, Superior Court Commissioner Sidney B. Findley terminated parental rights of the Carrolls in favor of a request for adoption of the three children by then-foster parents Robert and Valerie Bergner, who had more financial wealth than the birth parents. Findley noted the birth parents’ homelessness comparing it to the stability the Bergners could provide.

“I am convinced these children need permanency and that is what the law requires,” Findley said in his ruling. “All decisions that I make, I make because I believe they are in the best interest of the children.”

Richard Carroll responded to the loss of his children first by picketing the Prado Day Center, the San Luis Obispo County Courthouse and the Maxine Lewis Homeless Shelter with a sign that read, “Stop the onslaught of abuse on lower class people.”

After three months of picketing with no results, Richard Carroll attempted to hang himself from the walking bridge near the San Luis Obispo train station. A police officer stopped the despondent parent, who was then placed for a short time in a county mental health facility.

The Carrolls, who have been married for more than 20 years, said that they were told in county facilitated mediation that they would have contact including photographs, phone calls, and letters with their children after the adoption. However, shortly after the 2003 adoption, the Bergners refused to let the Carrolls speak with or visit their children and sent back unopened letters and cards, they said.

Nevertheless, the parents kept track of their children, daughters now 18 and 14, and a 16-year-old son.

Elizabeth Carroll said she knew immediately that the 18-year-old alleged victim in news reports about Bergner’s arrest was her daughter. Since the discovery, Richard Carroll has repeatedly called County Social Services to ask for information about their birth children, though his calls have not been returned, he said.

According to several sources involved in the foster care system, the Carrolls’ two youngest children and the Bergners’ 10-year-old child have been placed with a friend of the Bergners in Nipomo because the county is insisting that the children remain together.

For years, Robert Bergner showered his alleged victim with expensive gifts including a new car, family sources said. Nevertheless, several months ago the victim informed her adoptive mother about the abuse.

The adoptive parents rebuked the teen’s claims and took her car from her, family sources said. The teenager is currently staying with friends.

After six years of alleged abuse, the oldest daughter went to law enforcement authorities, who discovered pornographic pictures of the teenager in the adoptive parents’ home. The teen’s disclosure resulted in the arrest of Robert Bergner and the removal of her siblings from the Bergner’s home.

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  1. tabatha bergner says:

    None of you really know what’s really going on. You need to be in the situation to understand it.

    (-3) 5 Total Votes - 1 up - 4 down
  2. Lilylu says:

    This story is absolutely disturbing on so many levels. First of all, why is there a picture of this family with the children’s faces showing. I don’t know if the victim of the horrible abuse is one of the children in the picture, but if she is, as a victim of sexual abuse she has an absolute right to her privacy. As for the other children, they have a right to their privacy also. What a stigma for them when they return to school in a few weeks! ( I saw your picture on the news is not what kids need to hear on the first day of school. ) Secondly, if this man did commit these acts he deserves to be incarcerated for the rest of his life. Having the run of Coalinga State Hospital is way too humane for those who commit harmful acts to children. Thirdly, I hope law enforcement does a thorough investigation into these crimes. If indeed pictures have been found that may go a long way but children and teenagers have been known to make false allegations to further their own agendas. Also, teenagers have been known to take pictures that are sexually explicit and exploit themselves. Adding in the whole CAPSLO/County of SLO not doing everything they can to reunite families is another whole dimension. This being billed as part 1 of a 2 part series seems to me like turning a 1200 page book into a 30 minute TV show. There are a multitude of unanswered questions and in my opinion this entire story has depths and layers that cannot be covered in two new articles.

    (17) 25 Total Votes - 21 up - 4 down
    • Cindy says:

      That is a 10 year old photo. The children look nothing like that today. As to the girl who was abused and reported the incident, I know someone who knows her and she is glad that the truth about what CPS did to her is coming out in the open. I agree that there is far more to this story than what can be covered in a two part series. I have no doubt that there will be more follow up stories after this series. Hopefully, this is just the beginning to exposing the truth behind the abuse wielded against families and children by CPS.

      (4) 34 Total Votes - 19 up - 15 down
  3. choney says:

    You guys are getting off track. Bergner needs to rot in a jail cell and have done to him what he did to this girl. Let us not forget that.

    (26) 32 Total Votes - 29 up - 3 down
    • obispan says:

      Let’s sentence him to be Adam Hill’s campaign manager. Speaking of which, I made a comment on CCN favorable to Debbie Peterson, to which someone responded, “no, Dan Carpenter would be better”. I just want whatever candidate is best equipped to beat Hill, not the one I most agree with. The district is pretty much moderates of both sides. If those who lean Hill’s way in policy want to hold on to this seat you HAVE to knock him off in the primary. A lot of people who didn’t vote for Ed Waage last time very much regret not doing so. And he’s really wasn’t very conservative as conservatives go around here.

      (1) 3 Total Votes - 2 up - 1 down
  4. Rainflower says:

    Big Kudos to the brave girl for reporting. I wish her the best and hope she has a good support system to help with her recovery.

    (53) 57 Total Votes - 55 up - 2 down
  5. unlisted says:

    “Even though several of Torres-Hill’s allegations were eventually deemed untrue or unsubstantiated by law enforcement, the allegations continued to be repeated in statements provided to the courts by San Luis Obispo County Social Services employees, court records show.”

    This paragraph, like much of this article, needs to be parsed and analyzed to be fully understood. Let’s start with “several … allegations were … untrue or unsubstantiated…” That’s the essence of what is said. Now think about it. If only SEVERAL of the allegations were untrue or unsubstantiated, then the MAJORITY of the allegations were both true and substantiated.

    Since MOST of the allegations were true, they needed to be reported to the courts. In addition, the substantiated allegations must have been very bad in order for a judge to terminate the couple’s parenting rights.

    (5) 45 Total Votes - 25 up - 20 down
    • justbeware says:

      Seems to me that when the county receives money each time a child is adopted out there is incentive to do so.
      How many times have we watched a snowball of half truths morph into something that is so out of control it makes no sense when tying it back to the original incident?
      This seems to me to be a situation gone out of control, and the county has the power to keep the ball rolling, and rolling, and rolling along.
      Think about how often we hear about people who have been incarcerated for YEARS and have fought for YEARS to get their cases reviewed. Only herculean efforts seem to be able to stop the madness, then the government says, “oops, don’t blame us—you should be happy we finally listened.”
      In the mean time these children suffer, and those responsible continue to move up the public food chain–its disgusting.

      (31) 49 Total Votes - 40 up - 9 down
    • Vagabond says:

      Didn’t do too well in Logics I see.
      The fact that the sworn testimony had untruths invalidates the ENTIRE thing. You can’t imply that a majority of the allegations were true because you don’t know what ALL the allegations were.

      (9) 25 Total Votes - 17 up - 8 down
      • MaryMalone says:

        What is your reference for the claim that one untruth negates all claims?

        (3) 13 Total Votes - 8 up - 5 down
    • MaryMalone says:

      If ONE of the allegations was true, and the allegation was about sexual abuse by an adoptive father, then all of the complaints needed to be turned over to authorities.

      I wonder how many other children have been abuse of power by Dee Torres, CAPSLO and the County CPS, as well as the court system.

      (17) 35 Total Votes - 26 up - 9 down
    • CentralcoastRN says:

      THANK YOU.

      I can personally tell you that no matter how detailed a child abuse report may be, it is VERY difficult, next to impossible to have a child removed from a single child abuse report. I have been a nurse for close to 20 years. I have personal experience in this area. My goal/mission is to help families stay together and thrive whenever possible. I will have taught families about parenting, routines; about what the family needs to do to NOT have their kids removed. I will have coached the parents, all the while telling families I am documenting their progress (or lack thereof). Thankfully, many parents pull it together enough to keep their kids. There are a few that will not, or cannot, parent. I am the type of nurse that would report when all else had failed. Parents would stay up all night long, letting their kids run around unattended, answering the door to whomever knocked. Leaving open beer bottles sitting around for their kids to potentially drink. 13 month olds eating dog food because they could not reach food. I would CLEARLY document what was happening, what I had done to try and help the family, and why it failed. I helped hoarders clean their houses. I taught mothers who could not even make a grilled cheese sandwich learn to make simple meals. Even then, CPS/CWS more often than not said they needed “more documentation”. Not even joking. I would simply tell them that when the kid got hit by a car or shaken to death, or drowned by a crazed parent, it was on THEM. CWS is MANDATED to follow a “pathway” so they CANNOT discriminate. Don’t believe me if you don’t want, but it is true. Only when abuse reaches a certain level can they step in, and THEN the parents are in SERIOUS trouble.

      DSS LOSES money on these kids. ARE YOU KIDDING ME? These kids often times have not been to a doctor, or a behind on EVERYTHING, are drug exposed, and are developmentally delayed. The bio parents have medi-cal and they cannot get up and take their kid(s) to the FREE doctor. WTF?!??!

      You guys and gals need to go hug a social worker. That job will make you cry. hard. for you momma. that you now realize was a SAINT compared to the parents out there.

      (25) 43 Total Votes - 34 up - 9 down
  6. SLOBIRD says:

    This is a very sad story and certainly not the first we have encountered involving CAPSLO, Dee Torres, San Luis Child Protective Services and its social workers, and Lee Collins.

    This has become a national problem throughout the United States and if you google: fighting child protective services you will find an abundance of stories of kidjacking, legally kidnapping, abuse upon abuse and way to fight the system. This has become a major issue in our Country that no one is talking about with the legal system. There is money and power to be earned by using this legal abuse of children and so it is everyday in our communities.

    Our County Social Services involving Protective Services and certainly CAPSLO under the leadership of Dee Torres has a history of abuse for homeless wanting services and not abiding by rules of engagement and in some cases even working with the rules of been tested by the abuses of power of these people. There is a reason Dee Torres is no longer with CAPSLO and it is not just the stealing from the homeless. I know several people that have worked in the past at CAPSLO and talk about her abusive and punishing demeanor if you didn’t play her game. She is a very sad person and should not be involved in this type of compassionate work. Rules are made to protect people, Dee, not abusive them!

    (23) 57 Total Votes - 40 up - 17 down

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