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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AmericaBeautiful

Sodomy of a CHILD??? Rape? Repeated lewd acts??? This pervert needs the Death Penalty, and this case better be followed on a Daily basis to be sure justice is actually done to the criminal and if not, then justice needs to be done to the judge.

Every social worker involved in this case must be fired.


CentralcoastRN

Homelessness and smacking your kid in the mouth once does not get kids removed in SLO county. There had to be more to this situation.


Parents have a clearly defined case plan to follow, and if they follow it, they get their kids back. I have personally seen case plans, they are very basic. Some of the requirements are as follows:


1. Parent will remain drug and alcohol free.

2. Parent will take parenting classes as set up and paid for by DSS.

3. Parent will follow up with mental health appontments.

4. Parent will participate in random drug testing and other services through drug and alcohol services.


If parents follow their plan, it is very easy for the court to recognize progress. It is also clear to see NO progress.


I am sorry for the girl who was molested by her foster parent. Social services does background checks and fingerprints all foster parents. Their home is assessed for safety. Sometimes horrible things still happen.


bigfoots

first it was not a foster home they adopted them,and the case plan was followed,and completed,the problem isi just could not find housing


sock8her

Actually, they didn’t follow the case plan and it wasn’t about housing at all. I won’t throw them under the bus but you need to know the whole story before you play into their victim card.


Wanda

From someone who just read this story and is not related to the case at all, it is obvious that there is more to the story. I know in any county it is hard to lose all parental rights and it doesn’t just happen from being homeless. I hope the reporters are doing a thorough job on this series of articles. It would be tragic for these children to be failed again.


CentralcoastRN

Part of the problem when families are homeless is that there are certain requirements. Homeless persons can be assigned a case manager, who I have seen get in action getting people in to low cost and section 8 housing. The caveat is that families MUST turn over a majority of their income to be placed in what is essentially a savings for the family when they move in to a place. 70% is sadly what many of our low income residents pay to live on the central coast. If you earn $2000 a month, and your rent is $1200, that is 60% right there. The homeless will need a deposit, and show they can pay rent. The homeless case managers who work at Prado WANT families housed. People who refuse to turn over their money to be saved for case management (remember, these families are getting their money back when they use that money to move in to a place to live) will not be eligible for case management.


Why case manage a family, find them a place, and then that family NOT have $$ to move in, OR stay in more than 2 months?? You don’t think case management TRIED to allow homeless people to keep their own money to manage? It does not work in crisis. Homeless families with a case manager and money in their fund are about as high as you can get on the totem pole of need when it comes to housing. They WILL get housed before others who are waiting.


I don’t know any of these people; but from what is being said, I can infer that the family was offered case management services at Prado, then balked at having 70% of their cash aid taken for “case management”. This is not uncommon thinking at first. Then people see cased managed people getting HOUSED.


If this family did not find housing because they refused case management, then that was their right. When they did not secure housing because of their refusal to work with agencies, then they were not complying with a case plan.


The adoptive parents were not the foster parents first? Usually, in this situation, chlidren are placed in protective custody and placed in a foster care home. Sometimes, foster parents will adopt the children if parents cannot reunify.


As for Dee Torres-Hill reporting this incident(s) to CPS/CWS, how does anyone know it was her? The mandatory reporting party is usually kept confidential. Are we ASSUMING it was her, or was that information leaked? There are employees at Prado who could have seen things, and they too are mandated reporters.


I am simply asking these questions, because Calcoastnews will take ONE story and make it seem like social workers have nothing better to do than go out and steal people’s kids. Mandatory reporters are REQUIRED to report. Had they not reported stuff seen at Prado, and one of these kids got beaten to death, Calcoastnews would LOVE that.


99% of the time, SLO county children are being removed from TERRIBLE situations, far too late in my not so humble opinion. I have seen kids living in storage units, dry creek beds, crack hotel rooms with pipe burns and testing positive for drugs. It happens. I am sooooo sorry for this 18 year old.She needs, and will probably receive, counseling, monetary support, and maybe housing later to get her through this time. Her BIO parents should not profit off this one iota. If they care, hopefully they would have gotten their lives together by now and let their adult child FINALLY be parented like kids SHOULD be parented, you know- in a house. with food. and a routine.


Yes, this area is painful to me. I have seen too many kids abused. 99/100 parents do not take ownership of their bad behavior. There IS way more to this story. We just aren’t hearing it. And children suffer. I am not buying it, and I am NOT feeling sorry for adults who should have done what needed doing.


miles archer

Now THAT’S a hot, steaming cup of truth.


DragonLady

If memory serves me, during the time this took place- wasn’t there an issue in regards to CAPSLO (at that time E.O.C.) being investigated for one of their case managers embezzling the money that people were giving them? I wouldn’t trust a system being looked at for with my money. While you bring up some valid points on how some parents are, where do you conclude that it is the case here? These reports have looked at the court reports for the case against the parents by CSW (noted in this report as well as where the Bio Father has started in the comments)


CentralcoastRN

I don’t know anything about this case, and I am not affiliated with people in it. I will only speak from my own professional experience. I know families that I have worked with in the past that have reunified with their kids and are doing great. I have known families that simply did not have the functional capability or some were not willing to be a parent full time. These parents lost their kids. Even then, it sometimes took a long period of time in the attempt by the court and CPS to try to give the bio parent every opportunity to parent. Being a parent is the hardest job we can have, and some people do not have the willingness, ability or desire to do this selfless act. In situations that I have seen where parents lose their rights, the parents have a case plan that they cannot or will not follow. They fail drug tests. They won’t get a job. They miss half their parenting classes. The system cannot let kids sit in limbo forever while parents decide if they want to parent or not. Perhaps the parents in this story did not show the court that they were making serious efforts to reunify.


With regard to embezzlement, I cannot remember any stories about this in the past. I would think there was record keeping of what family members gave the case managers in order to prevent this sort of accusation, but I don’t know.


OnTheOtherHand

About a month ago, I decided to stop commenting on CCN articles for various reasons. One of the two big ones was that occasionally article would exhibit highly-biased and one-sided reporting. This is another instance of that and I am glad that you noticed and spoke out. However, I also notice that CCN seems to lack the character to re-investigate based on contradictory information and issue corrections on substantive issues (to say nothing of apologies.)


As more regular commenters find such errors that they can identify from personal knowledge and experience, I think that CCN will slowly either lose its readership or, at most, fail to increase it as former supporters are replaced with new faces. This would be sad because CCN does fill a badly needed role in this community when it addresses controversies and corruption which other local media ignore. I hope that Velie, Blackburn, Friedman, et al will soon figure out that hubris is a disease not limited to politicians and bureaucrats.


Homelessness and homeless people is a VERY complex and difficult subject. Their is more room for error than for successful solutions. Simplistic, one-sided viewpoints don’t help. However, barring a philosophy void of compassion, it is one that we need to address as best we can with realistic expectations.


CentralcoastRN

I would not have responded in such a heated way if there was even a mediocre attempt at non-bias.


This article was over the top and inflammatory, with the potential to incite anger and violence against social workers, homeless shelter employees, and those who work with children in the CWS/CPS system.


Half this story is missing, and yet the tone is scathing against a group of people dedicating to helping others. Prado workers don’t decide which kids get removed. Social services/CPS can temporarily remove until court, at which time evidence needs to presented to justify ripping a family apart and placing children in foster homes.


MaryMalone

QUOTING CentralcoastRN: “Parents have a clearly defined case plan to follow, and if they follow it, they get their kids back.”


Naive or attempt at backing a cover-up….hard to decide.


agag1

These children have been victimized at every turn.

Removed from their family based on the word of Dee Torres.

Untrue allegations repeated by SLO County Social Services even though they had been disproven.

Placed in a home, only to suffer years of abuse from the very people who were supposed to protect them.

These kids are due for a break, and the adults who are responsible for the years of mistreatment they have endured should be held accountable.


miles archer

“…based on the word of Dee Torres.”


Wrong. She didn’t have the power to remove anyone’s children. That was in the hands of SLO county and the court.


“…and the adults who are responsible for the years of mistreatment that have endured should be held accountable.”


True! Yet NO WHERE do I see your contempt for Mr. Bergner.???


You want accountability? Justice? Then let those who are charged with the crime committed suffer the consequences.


MaryMalone

Dee Torres may not have technically had the power to remove children, but since the day she started sleeping with then-married Adam Hill she had the power to LOTS of things she didn’t have the power, technically, to do.


Also, because AGAG1 did not list all of those who, by their avarice and greed, facilitated the rape and sodomization of the teen girl by insisting she be adopted by an unfit father, doesn’t mean AGAG1 does not know that Bergner was likely responsible.


The list of people who failed these children is long, and to include each of the @ssholes whose failures harmed these children would be repetitive.


miles archer

“Dee Torres may not have technically had the power to remove children…”.


True! TECHNICALLY! ;)


“…but since the day she started sleeping with then-married Adam Hill she had the power to LOTS of things she didn’t have the power, technically, to do.”


Uh-oh, now you’re technically just posting speculative gossip…next.


“…facilitated the rape and sodomization of the teen girl by insisting she be adopted by an unfit father…”.


Now you’re claiming that SLO county and the court KNEW Bergner was an “unfit father”. Links to any documented proof of that would be welcome Mary.


Again…if you want accountability and justice, as we all do, then let’s ensure that those who have been charged with these heinous crimes pay the appropriate price.


sock8her

I know the parties involved, this isn’t quite the open shut case everyone is making it out to be. The biological parents are not telling the truth in some instances, and for all intents and purposes be careful who you condemn without knowing the full story. My heart goes out to all the victims in this case and hope that justice is served.


DragonLady

The only things this report that the biological parents said was that there were allegations made by that were false and the reporter stated that there were false ones made. They also claimed that they were to have contact in the form of pictures, letters and calls. So I am confused on what instances they are being untruthful on. Can you clarify since you know the parties involved for us?

Your right that the whole story has not been provided. Hopefully more will become clear in the next part of this story.


sock8her

I think the kids have been victims enough to not throw mud all over the place but if you would like to pm, i’d be happy to let you know what the real story is behind the biological parents.


DragonLady

Please tell us about what the real story is behind the biological parents since there is no way for me to PM you on this site. Have you talked to them to find out why they are doing this story or what they hope to achieve? I am sure these are just a few questions that people have on their minds in regards to this story.


bigfoots

well i have not left anything out,did not lie about anything,gave all court papers to the reporter,every little peice of paper that i ever got,she has.


MaryMalone

Well, since YOU claim to know the ‘parties involved’ and that the “biological parents aren’t telling the truth,” why don’t YOU tell us what you know so we can judge whether you are being truthful or not?


DragonLady

I agree. Share with the group. Cause as far as I know, there is no way to PM someone on here but if there is- please feel free to enlighten me on how cause I would gladly PM to find out what sock8her knows about the “REAL” story behind the biological parents.


Pelican1

Dee, did you have anything to do with this child being placed in the home of a rapist?


miles archer

From the information provided above, we know for sure that:


Fact: Torres-Hill observed Mrs. Carroll striking the girl.


Fact: Torres-Hill is required by law to report any potential situation where a child’s well-being is in danger…whether she is right OR wrong. That’s for the investigators to sort out.


From this point on it’s in the hands of law enforcement, SLO county and eventually the court.


Fact: It was the court’s decision to place them in the Bergner home, not Adam Hill’s or his wife.


Fact: It was Robert Bergner who committed these horrible, criminal acts. Not Adam Hill or his wife.


Will you continue to let the facts get in the way of your truth?


dogeatdog

Miles you state FACT: Torres Hill observed Mrs Carroll striking girl. Where did you read that?


It does not say Torres say that. Get your facts straight


miles archer

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.


If you wanna play semantics, fine. Doesn’t change anything.


unlisted

Actually, someone alleged that Dee reported the incident. Someone reported it, but the identity of that person is supposed to confidential.


DragonLady

If I am reading that right, it is the police report that Torres-Hill reported it. But then again, every one can read the story differently.


Mike Byrd

Torres-Hill “reported”; didn’t necessarily observe. And it appears that’s that as relates to Torres-Hill unless there’s more coming in the second installment. And as for Adam, I’m not seeing his involvement in this one unless there’s something going on behind the scenes that hasn’t been reported yet.


What occurred after that is what both saddens and riles me. Even if the system works well most of the time, that’s not good enough. Though it’s small consolation, I really hope the county learns something from this horrible incident and that future children are better protected.


MaryMalone

Dee Torres used her illicit affair with Adam Hill to build her power base. Adam Hill has gone so far as to threaten others if they did not bend to Torres’ will.


Torres has been shown to do many illegal things, such as giving her children gift cards meant for CAPSLO’s child clients to use at Christmas. She has skated on all of them, and she would not have been able to do that if it was not for her relationship with Adam Hill.


miles archer

Focus here Mary.


This isn’t about what you believe to be true…or should I say, what you HOPE to be true about Hill and his wife.


She never had any “power” to remove those kids, period.


The investigation and systematic process to place them in another home was conducted by SLO county and the court…NOT Hill or his wife, period.


Mr. Bergner is being charged with these crimes, NOT Hill or his wife, period.


Honestly, you think being with Adam Hill gave her “power”? Uh-uh…you give way too much credit to Hill…there’s nothing “powerful” about being married to him I assure you.


But thanks anyway, the thought made me laugh!


Geoffrey

This is just one side of this story obviously, but I don’t think these people are innocent homeless people that just lost their kids. There has to be more to it. Parents don’t lose all parental rights and their kids go up for adoption very easily. I feel so sorry for this poor girl that she went from bad to worse but to me the birth parents are claiming foul now in order to hit the lawsuit jackpot. The problem is that ultimately that money comes from us the taxpayers. So sad for the kids. Hope they can get the help they need to get past this nightmare.


DragonLady

For the reporter to have Quoted the judge, they must have the case sitting in front of them. I know I have seen kids taken from Good parents as well as bad ones in this county. SLO has been know to take kids for no real reason and yet return kids to battered homes in the past.


justbeware

Follow the $$$. The county receives $$ each time a child is adopted out.

The more children are removed from their parents the more are available to be adopted out.

Dee knows this, and so does her husband.


Mike Byrd

I know of a case where a child was arbitrarily removed and placed for adoption without any effort to work with the birth parents to resolve their problems and reunite the family. In this instance it was probably best for the child and for the parents in the long run. Just understand that this rush to judgement does, in fact, happen sometimes.


AGStrong67

This is an awful story, sounds like the system failed everyone. I hope your facts are accurate here, I would hate for these kids to be hurt any more than they already have. Did you even consider the repercussions on these kids when you decided to post this picture? I think it was very unwise to put the picture up of these kids without their consent.


Wanda

I totally agree. First thing I thought when reading this story. It sounds as though the kids have been through so much. I really hope the kids approved/consented with the release of their story.


Bluebird

Dee Torrres made the referral to CPS. The “government” as one writer posted is responsible for investigating. Who is the “government?” The head of the department then and now is Lee Collins. Also involved is the juvenile court. The public cannot observe these hearings. In this county this is a circular self-serving system including the public defender who is supposed to represent the children but is paid by the system (often their only source of income).


CASA, the organization that presents itself as the children’s advocate does little other then buy the children nice “things.” The members are comprised mostly, of well positioned people in the community who don’t want to rock the boat. (My opinion)


Lee Collins apparently is not concerned with losing his job. No poster even mentioned his name. He was around before Adam Hill and Dee Torres were on the scene


DragonLady

I find it interesting that Dee Torres-Hill has said in past articles that she has never called CPS (now CWS) on anyone yet more and more people are coming forward saying she has in fact been the one who made the calls. I don’t think to many people know who Lee Collins is and that is the reason he is never mentioned. That and the fact that he may not have been directly involved in the cases coming forward at this time.


miles archer

What does ANY of what you say have to do with Mr. Bergner’s assault on an innocent girl?


Don’t lose sight of the real victim (and criminal) that are presented by the facts.


MaryMalone

This is a message board/debate environment.


When one makes a comment, others respond to it. It is not always “on topic” in a strict interpretation, but it is related in a more round-about way.


In addition, if a comment is made and not challenged, it is assumed by some participants that the statement was true. That is another reason for replying to comments.


Kevin Rice

I mentioned Lee Collins. Scroll down.