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.

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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Perspicacious

This story makes me so mad and sick to my stomach I can’t even post a coherent thought about it right now…except to say that I sincerely hope this poor girl and her birth family bankrupt SLO county in a lawsuit.


slojustice

Another fine example of government employees destroying the very people they claim to want to help. Government employees have forgotten who they work for. They also neglect to remember who pays their checks with their hard earned money.


Rawhide

Dee Torres and her husband Adam Hill are both “Money Gruber’s” just like Kelly Gearhart…Doesn’t matter to them who they hurt.


“two youngest children and the Bergners’ 10-year-old child have been placed with a friend of the Bergners in Nipomo”…


Imho, close friends of abusers might also be abusers…


TacomaRose

Lets see how Dee Torres, Adam Hill, Lee Collins and CAPSLO try to spin this nightmare.


What will come out of their pie holes will be self serving for sure. For all the harm they have caused, these rotten apples need to be thrown into jail.


My heart goes out to the family. How will they ever heal?


Wanda

Obviously, these children were let down by the system. But, I do know that in order to go from foster to adoption the parents are given MULTIPLE chances to make changes and better the circumstances so they are able to get their children back. Seems like a lot of blaming going on here. It is tragic they were put into a home where horrible things allegedly happened to them. But all parties including the birth parents needs to take responsibility for this happening. One major question is….if the birth mother claims her daughter told her about this months ago WHY didn’t she get her help then? Why is he just getting arrested. Finally……what about victims’ rights? They have never said on the news who the victim was and now her parents choose to expose her. Hopefully she was consulted to see if she wanted this story out. So sad any of this ever had to happen at all.


TacomaRose

@Wanda: Dont minimize and play the blame game against the parents or kids. I am sure that Velie and Blackburn will fill in alot of the gaps in the next part of the series


Geoffrey

I hope so, there seems to be quite a few gaps.


Mike Byrd

The article says the adoptive mother was told, not the birth mother. It appears the birth mother found out from media reports about the arrest. If that is true, wouldn’t the adoptive mother have been arrested also for covering up such horrible crimes?


Wanda

Sorry, I misread that part. The adoptive mother should be held responsible and in jail too if she knew anything at all.


DragonLady

Sadly at this point in time, there is no grounds for the adoptive mother to go to jail. It states that she didn’t believe or want to believe that this was happening. But then again- if it didn’t happen.. they wouldn’t have had a reason to take the 3 younger kids out of the home which included her daughter. Not just the adopted kids. There are gaps in this story that I am sure will be brought to light.


justbeware

How Dee Torres and her husband Adam Hill can sleep at night is beyond me.

I hope these two end up in jail, locked away from the rest of us.

Without a doubt they are criminals!


AmericaBeautiful

Dee Torres has been trouble for a long time; lots of reporting about her on the internet.


LOVESLO

Dee Torres needs to be held accountable for her part in this family’s demise. Bet it never happens.


Kevin Rice

Not reelecting her husband, Supervisor Adam Hill, would be a great start. Then, replace Social Services Director Lee Collins.


racket

Hill needs to be un-reelected because he’s a pompous, blowhard jackhole. But that has nothing to do with this. This story is just too heinous for politics.


pcag

This is horrible. If there is a way to help these parents please post how to help information. By the looks of that photo, and the fact they stayed married for 20 years, they must have been trying and couldn’t find help or convince the courts to give them a break. Heartbreaking situation that apparently still exists.


dogeatdog

Homelessness does not equal bad parents, molesting a child does make a bad parent.


I think we have a real problem with children services in this country, stories like this are happening to often. Children are taken away because the government thinks they know better and the kids pay the price. It can take parents years to get their children back, when they never should have been removed to start with.


Why am I not shocked to see Dee Torres name in this article. And she is now running another program like she did prior.


The charges weren’t found to be true, so why were the kids not given back to the family.


Yet the story continued to be told to the courts and ultimately this child paid a very high price.


This article breaks my heart and makes me sick to my stomach. The system failed another child because of lies and money.


Parents give your kids a big hug and kiss and pray the government keeps their hands off of them.


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