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Foster Parent, Nephew Arrested on Child Abuse Charges

Detectives have identified nine victims and are seeking more information on the suspects

A state-licensed foster parent from Orcutt and her nephew are facing several felony counts of child abuse after an investigation into reports that children in the woman’s care were severely mistreated.

Bertha Mae Savoy
Bertha Mae Savoy

On June 29, detectives with the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Department began the investigation with Santa Barbara County Child Welfare Services after CWS had removed four children from a home in Orcutt.

For about the past four years, the four foster children, ages 10 to 16, had been in the care of Bertha Mae Savoy, who is licensed through the state. They reported that during that time, Savoy had beaten them with plastic hangers and had denied them food and shelter. Two of the victims said that on at least two occasions they were forced to sleep outside on the backyard concrete.

The victims also disclosed that Savoy would call her nephew, Duane Patrick James, to her residence in order to enforce punishments by physically abusing them. James also reportedly threatened to kill the victims and bury them in the backyard if they did not do as they were told.

On June 30, detectives obtained arrest and search warrants for Savoy and James at their residences, which are next to each other in a residential section of Orcutt. During the search, sheriff’s detectives, district attorney investigators and CWS personnel removed four more (nonfoster) children ages 8 to 17 from James’ home. Further investigation revealed that the two of the children also had been the victims of child abuse.

During the past six weeks, sheriff’s detectives expanded their investigation by identifying and interviewing other juveniles who had been in foster care under Savoy within the past three years. Four juveniles ages 12 to 16, who were former residents in Savoy’s foster home, were able to corroborate the statements made by the first four victims. The investigation also revealed that three of the former residents also were the victims of child abuse.

At this time, the sheriff’s department has identified nine victims of child abuse; seven who lived with Savoy and two who lived with James next door. Santa Barbara County Child Welfare Services has placed all the children in protective custody.

Duane Patrick James
Duane Patrick James

Savoy, 71, was booked into the Santa Barbara County Jail on June 30 on six felony child abuse charges. She was released July 1 after posting $100,000 bail. The District Attorney’s Office has since filed two misdemeanor charges of dissuading a witness.

James, 38, was booked into the Santa Barbara County Jail on June 30 on six felony child abuse charges. Bail was set at $100,000. He was released July 20 after posting bail. The District Attorney’s Office has filed another misdemeanor count of child abuse in addition to the original six felony charges.

Detectives are seeking any additional information on Savoy or James. Those with information are asked to contact the Santa Maria Sheriff’s Station at 805.934.6170 or the Sheriff’s Anonymous Tip Line at 805.681.4171.

— Drew Sugars is a public information officer with the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Department.


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