Exclusive: County put children into hands of man accused of rape
July 27, 2015
By KAREN VELIE and DANIEL BLACKBURN
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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