Elderly man found handcuffed to soiled bed; niece arrested

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by Jennifer Thomas

Video reports by Stacey Delikat

Posted on June 1, 2012 at 1:44 PM

Updated Saturday, Jun 2 at 10:08 PM

SUN CITY WEST, Ariz. -- Maricopa County sheriff's deputies arrested a 56-year-old woman on suspicion of elder abuse after her uncle was found handcuffed to a bed.

Tara Ann Bergland-Hugo Von Rothlisberg was taken into custody Thursday afternoon on one count each of elder and child abuse. The charges stem from the treatment of her uncle and the decrepit conditions of the home where Von Rothlisberg's 14-year-old daughter also lived.

MCSO responded to the family's Sun City West home after a solar panel installer reported a foul odor emanating from inside.

Deputies and volunteer posse members found the 87-year-old man terribly underweight and handcuffed to a soiled bed wearing a diaper that appeared not to have been changed for a very long time, according to MCSO spokesman Jeffrey Sprong.

He said the victim's hands were cuffed to the bed for more than 15 hours.

"It's sickening, it breaks my heart that someone could do that to another human being," said neighbor Cindy Obrzut.

According to court documents, Von Rothlisberg told authorities that she keeps her uncle handcuffed to the bed because he gets up and falls a lot and she had to leave the house to run errands.

Deputies said the home was filled with trash and animal feces from the nine cats and four dogs living inside.

"What a sad and disgusting way for anyone to live, with that much filth," Sheriff Joe Arpaio said. "The suspect is the victim's power of attorney and as such, had a legal responsibility to properly care for her uncle, which she clearly did not do."

The elderly man was taken to a local hospital for medical treatment. Von Rothlisberg, who is her uncle's caretaker, said he suffers from dementia.

Sprong said temperatures reached over 90 degrees in all the home's rooms except for the suspect's bedroom where there was a working air conditioner unit.

Von Rothlisberg's daughter is in the custody of Child Protective Services.

She denied the charges at her initial appearance in court Friday morning. She is being held on $4,000 bond.
 

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