Girl paralyzed in Mesquite attack caught in custody dispute

LAS VEGAS -- The 10-year-old girl now paralyzed from the waist down after a butcher knife attack outside a Mesquite casino last month has been caught in a four-year custody battle punctuated by violence, alcohol, drugs and allegations of child molestion.

Police and court documents in California reviewed by the Las Vegas Review-Journal reveal the world of a little girl entrusted to the care of parents who provided anything but a model home.

"She was kind of being used as a weapon by the parents, and you see that a lot in ugly divorces," said Ellen Phelps, a Riverside County Superior Court investigator who handled the custody case for years.

Brittney's story came to light after the death of her 3-year-old sister Kristyanna last month. Both girls were stabbed repeatedly inside their trailer. Brittney remains in a Las Vegas hospital in fair condition. At the time of the attack, Tammy Bergeron had custody of the girls.

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. Police say the attack was over a drug deal gone bad that involved Tammy Bergeron's boyfriend, Robert Schmidt.

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.

But a couple of years later the marriage fell apart.

In a restraining order against him, Tammy Bergeron claimed that her husband beat her after accusing her of having an affair.

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

After the couple separated, Kevin Bergeron was convicted of two DUI convictions, records show. Tammy Bergeron feared for her daughter's life because of the drinking.

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

In March 2002, Brittney couldn't take anymore and asked authorities in a letter if she could live with her mother.

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

But court documents suggest Tammy Bergeron also had trouble providing an ideal life for Brittney.

In early 1999, Bergeron 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.

"My wife has moved in with suspected drug users, and I want my daughter to live in a safe, stable and loving environment," the father wrote in court papers filed in December 1998.

The judge also ordered Tammy Bergeron to attend Narcotics Anonymous meetings weekly and to enroll in a drug treatment program. But she was eventually thrown out of the drug rehab program, court records show.

Later she was picked up by police in Beaumont, Calif., the next year on a felony charge if 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 time, Brittney accused a young cousin of raping her. Brittney underwent therapy with licensed clinical social worker while Child Protective Services investigated her claims.

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

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."


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