January 10, 2009

BRITTNEY BERGERON: Girl's life a tale of sorrow

timelineThe recent attack in which a knife-wielding assailant severed her spinal cord was one of many tragedies Brittney Bergeron has endured in her young life.

Hundreds of pages of police and court documents reviewed by the Review-Journal in Riverside County, Calif., indicate her parents fought a bitter custody battle over the girl, now 10.

Repeatedly, each parent won custody, only to forfeit that victory through transgressions that included drug abuse and drunken driving convictions.

As matters stood this past summer, Tammy Bergeron had custody of Brittney and her younger half sister, Kristyanna. But separate legal developments threatened to change that.

Child Protective Services in California was investigating Brittney's allegations that a cousin repeatedly had raped her. And Kristyanna's father had signaled his intention to seek custody of the toddler.

Tammy Bergeron left California in August and soon settled in a trailer park behind the CasaBlanca hotel-casino in Mesquite.

Early on Jan. 22, screams filled the trailer park as Tammy Bergeron returned home to find both children bleeding from dozens of stab wounds. The attack left Kristyanna dead and Brittney paralyzed from the waist down.

"Tammy'd been hiding for about five months, so we didn't know where Brittney was," the girl's grandmother, California resident Grace Bergeron, said in an interview last week. "We were always a step behind. We never caught up before finding out what had happened, and then I just cried and cried and cried."

Two teenage siblings, Beau and Monique Maestas, face murder and related charges in the attack. They remain jailed in Utah, where they are fighting extradition back to Nevada.

Beau Maestas told police he and his sister stabbed the girls after Tammy Bergeron's boyfriend, Robert Schmidt, duped him into paying $125 for a bag of table salt that he claimed was methamphetamine.

Court documents disclose that a California judge more than two years ago ordered Tammy Bergeron to keep Brittney away from Schmidt.

"This guy was bad news," said Ellen Phelps, a Riverside County Superior Court investigator who handled the Bergeron case for years. "We did order that the mother was not to be around the boyfriend, Schmidt, because he was causing problems."

Police reports and court documents from Brittney's custody case provide glimpses into the world of a child entrusted to the care of adults whose own behaviors landed them in jail.

When asked why Brittney never was placed in state custody, Phelps said such action had been considered during the four-year custody battle.

"But we try not to put them in foster care because the system is already overloaded," Phelps said. "We try to get aunts and grandmothers and other relatives involved so the child can stay with family."

Both of Brittney's parents refused to be interviewed for this story. In previous statements, both Tammy Bergeron and Kevin Bergeron have vowed to prevail in their custody battle for the girl.

As detectives continue their investigation into the stabbings, they next will focus on whether Tammy Bergeron, 33, should face felony neglect charges for leaving her two girls at home on the night of the stabbings.

To determine whether the grieving mother should be criminally charged and lose custody of Brittney, detectives say they will examine the living conditions Tammy Bergeron provided for her children before the attack.

Those conditions are disclosed at great length in the court documents.

Brittney was born to Tammy Bailie and Kevin Bergeron in Riverside County on April 6, 1992. The couple married when Brittney was 4 years old and lived in Banning, Calif., about 80 miles east of Los Angeles.

In an interview, Grace Bergeron portrayed her 40-year-old son as a good father who worked hard building mobile homes to provide for his daughter. Grace Bergeron said Tammy Bergeron worked as a waitress and in a shoe store before a drug addiction caused her to lose jobs and created problems in the marriage.

The court records indicate both parents struggled with substance abuse and the law.

About two years after they were married, Kevin Bergeron was arrested on a battery charge for beating a man. He was sentenced to one day in jail and three years' probation.

A few months later, Tammy Bergeron described her husband as a belligerent and violent man in an application for a restraining order against him. She wrote that Kevin Bergeron had battered her after accusing her of having an affair with a co-worker.

"When he got home, there was a very big fight," she wrote. "He hit me in the eye and was pushing me around."

The couple separated soon after, obtained restraining orders against one another and began what would become a more than four-year battle over control of their child. Riverside County authorities shuffled legal custody of Brittney between her warring parents five times in about three years.

"She was kind of being used as a weapon by the parents, and you see that a lot in ugly divorces," Phelps said.

The documents indicate Kevin Bergeron has had at least two DUI convictions since the separation, including an arrest that came after he crashed into a vehicle. He was sentenced to brief jail terms and probation in both cases.

According to court records and police, he has a bench warrant out for his arrest because he failed to complete an alcohol rehabilitation program that was a condition of his probation in the second DUI conviction.

"I feel there is child endangerment circumstances because he has taken her to a bar and is drinking with her," Tammy Bergeron wrote in March 1999 court documents in which she sought custody of her daughter. "(He) leaves her in a bad environment."

Months after authorities revoked his license for drunken driving, a judge ordered Kevin Bergeron to stop driving Brittney around without a valid license.

Brittney herself asked to be allowed to go live with her mother in a three-page, scrawled letter submitted to the judge in March 2002.

The girl, then 9, wrote that her father often left the house saying he had to buy car parts but would return with only a beer in his hand.

"I cry," the girl wrote. "The reason I cry is I do not want to go back with my Dad."

Tammy Bergeron also filed a letter complaining about her ex-husband's supervision of Brittney.

"My daughter has cut her hair, shaved her eye brows & cut her eye lashes. These are all signs of problems," Tammy Bergeron wrote to the judge. "Having Brittney live with me she would be in a clean & safe home."

But the court documents suggest Tammy Bergeron also had trouble providing an ideal home life for her daughter. 

In early 1999, during one of the periods Tammy Bergeron had custody, she asked the judge to halt Kevin Bergeron's weekend visits with Brittney because of his drinking.

The judge denied her request and instead awarded full custody to Kevin Bergeron after drug abuse allegations arose against the mother.

"My wife has moved in with suspected drug users, and I want my daughter to live in a safe, stable and loving environment," Kevin Bergeron wrote in court papers filed in December 1998. "My daughter, Brittney, has not been in school this week, and I am unable to find her."

The judge ordered Tammy Bergeron not to visit her daughter until she passed a drug test. The judge also ordered her to attend Narcotics Anonymous meetings weekly and to enroll in a drug treatment program.

Grace Bergeron, with whom Brittney often stayed, also sought and received a restraining order against her son's wife around this time. Grace Bergeron said she sought the order because her daughter-in-law constantly harassed her.

In August 1999, Kevin Bergeron's attorney filed a complaint with the court, stating that Tammy Bergeron had repeatedly violated this restraining order.

The attorney said Tammy Bergeron approached the girl when she was with her grandmother in a bank and refused to leave despite being reminded of the restraining order.

"(Tammy) then proceeded to lie down on the floor of the bank and continued to visit with Brittney," the documents state.

Just two weeks later, Tammy Bergeron was thrown out of a drug rehab program for noncompliance, court records show. She was picked up by police in Beaumont, Calif., the next year on a felony charge of possessing methamphetamine.

In October 2001, Tammy Bergeron's visits with her daughter were restricted to weekends until she could complete a drug rehab program. She finished the program in early 2002, prompting authorities to dismiss the drug charge.

Around that same time, the tale of tragedy told in the documents culminates with Brittney alleging that a young cousin raped her.

The girl underwent therapy with licensed clinical social worker Vivian Dunipace while Child Protective Services investigated her claims.

Brittney told Dunipace that the boy who raped her "threatened to kill her, chop her up in little pieces, then do the same to her family if she told," according to a letter Dunipace wrote to the judge in the case. "(Brittney) is afraid to go to her Dad's or even talk to him because Dad always took her to (the cousin's) house."

After their first session, Dunipace recommended the girl immediately be temporarily placed with her mother until the CPS investigation was completed. The judge complied.

Phelps, the Riverside County employee who tracked the Bergeron case, said CPS finally was preparing to place Brittney in the juvenile foster care system.

But after Tammy Bergeron had her daughter back, she stopped showing up for mandatory child custody hearings.

In court documents filed late last year, Kevin Bergeron's attorney asked to be excused from the case after his client also stopped attending court hearings.

"All attempts to locate Petitioner, Tamara Bergeron, have failed," attorney Keith Briley wrote by way of explanation.

Source: Review Journal

1 comment:

Bryan said...

The world of foster care examined through the eyes of very young kids has stayed unspoken until now. Invisible Kids (www.InvisibleKidsTheBook.com) adds these experiences to light, makes a compelling case for providing resources and support to this vulnerable population and inspires each of us to make a difference in the lives of foster kids.