Prosecutors Accuse Four Social Workers Of Child Abuse In Connection With Gabriel Fernandez’s Death
Negligent child welfare workers may face prison time in connection with the death of 8-year-old Gabriel Fernandez. Prosecutors are holding four Los Angeles County social workers criminally responsible and have charged them with child abuse.
On March 28, an arrest warrant was issued for Stefanie Rodriquez, Patricia Clement, Kevin Bom, and Gregory Merritt. In addition to child abuse, the four are also accused of falsifying public records.
If found guilty, they could be locked away for up to 10 years. Their first court appearance is scheduled for April 21.
— Los Angeles Times (@latimes) April 7, 2016
Last year, the Department of Children and Family Services fired the four after an internal investigation into the 2013 death of Gabriel Fernandez.
In a statement put out by the agency on Thursday, the department’s director, Philip Browning, explained the reason they were terminated.
“In our rigorous reconstruction of the events surrounding Gabriel’s death, we found that four of our social workers had failed to perform their jobs. I directed that all of them be discharged.”
A court has overturned Merritt’s termination, and he has gone back to work. However, the agency is appealing the decision.
According to county prosecutors, the social workers did not properly perform their assigned duties to protect Gabriel while his case was open from October 31, 2012, to May 23, 2013, the day he died.
As previously reported by the Inquisitr, Gabriel Fernandez’s death was caused by numerous physical injuries after a brutal beating at the hands of his mother, Pearl Fernandez, and her boyfriend, Isauro Aguirre. The boy was also drenched with pepper spray and forced to eat cat feces and his own vomit.
During a recent press conference, family members said the abuse of Gabriel did not start until he moved into Pearl’s home. Up until age 7, the boy lived with his grandparents.
Relatives of murdered 8/yo Gabriel Fernandez applaud arrest of 4 LA Co social workers: "They aren't above the law". pic.twitter.com/7xq7QFP7OA
— Conan Nolan (@conanNBCLA) April 7, 2016
Both Pearl Fernandez and Isauro Aguirre have been charged with capital murder and could receive the death penalty if convicted. They have pleaded not guilty to the crime and are currently awaiting trial.
District Attorney Jackie Lacey announced the charges against the social workers on Thursday, saying they need to be held accountable for their carelessness in Gabriel’s case.
“Social workers play a vital role in society. We entrust them to protect our children from harm. When their negligence is so great as to become criminal, young lives are put at risk. We believe these social workers were criminally negligent and performed their legal duties with willful disregard for Gabriel’s well-being.”
While rare, prosecuting social workers for abuse caused by another person is not unheard of. A similar case happened in New York five years ago involving the death of a 4-year-old girl. Two child welfare workers were charged with negligent homicide in the case but eventually pleaded guilty to the lesser crime of child endangerment.
Prosecutors believe Rodriquez and Clement forged reports that should have indicated that Gabriel suffered from increasing physical abuse and failed to note the family was failing in efforts to stay together.
Bom and Merritt, both supervisors, should have recognized the reports were fabricated and conflicted with evidence of Gabriel’s declining health. By not properly documenting the boy’s emotional and physical injuries, the social workers willfully allowed him to remain in an abusive situation, which ultimately led to his death.
Gabriel’s father and several other family members filed a wrongful death lawsuit in 2014 against the county departments of Children and Family Services and Public Social Services, the Sheriff’s Department, and the Palmdale School District. Also named in the lawsuit were Fernandez and Aguirre.
According to the court filing, family members, neighbors, and teachers made over 60 abuse complaints to the county. Despite this, county officials made no effort to remove Gabriel from his mother’s home and permitted his abuse to continue.
A spokeswoman for the DA’s office said holding the four social workers criminally responsible for the death of Gabriel is the first case of its kind in Los Angeles County and probably the first for the state of California.
[Photo by Nick Ut/AP]