Four Social Workers Charged With Child Abuse In Torture Death Of 8-Year-Old
Four Los Angeles County social workers were criminally charged with child abuse and falsifying public records this morning, for their role in the death of 8-year-old Gabriel Fernandez three years ago, according to the L.A. Times.
The case of Gabriel Fernandez is one that speaks to a dramatic breakdown of government social services meant to protect the most vulnerable in our civilization. Gabriel died after significant and protracted abuse by his mother, Pearl Sinthia Fernandez, and her boyfriend, Isauro Aguirre, three weeks after the L.A. County Department of Family and Child Services ordered Gabriel’s case closed.
The social workers being charged, who previously all worked for DCFS, are Stefanie Rodriguez and Patricia Clement. Their supervisors, who face the same charges, are Kevin Bom and Gregory Merritt.
"By minimizing the significance of the physical, mental and emotional injuries that Gabriel suffered, these social workers allowed a vulnerable boy to remain at home and continue to be abused," District Attorney Lacey said in a statement.
Their bail was set at $155,000, and, if convicted, the four could face up to 10 years in prison.
In April of 2013, Pearl Fernandez called 9-1-1 and said her son was not breathing. Paramedics responded to the couple’s Palmdale apartment where they discovered the 8-year-old boy barely alive, with three broken rips, a fractured skull, and two teeth knocked out of his skull. Gabriel’s mother told paramedics that these injuries were self-induced. Gabriel died two days later.
This all happened three weeks after DCFS closed Gabriel’s case, ending home visits, scrutiny and other services provided by DCFS.
Fernandez and Aguirre had been investigated several times by the Los Angeles Department of Child and Family Services. Before closing Gabriel's case, DCFS knew the 8-year-old had written a suicide note, had not been treated BB gun bullet lodged in his chest, and had investigated Pearl Fernandez six times for alleged abuse against Gabriel.
Despite knowing this, Merritt, a DCFS Supervisor, ordered Gabriel’s case closed in Early April of 2013 at the recommendation of Patricia Clement, the social worker who was officially responsible for monitoring Gabriel’s wellbeing.
A performance review indicates Clement had a known history of closing abuse cases prematurely and not properly documenting what she was tasked to investigate.
Merritt, and three other social workers, were fired in 2013 following Gabriel's death for their abject failure to do their job. Yet Merritt was reinstated to his position earlier this year after appealing his firing to the L.A. County Civil Service Commission last April.
When Gabriel was alive, his guardians pepper-sprayed him, forced him to eat feces and vomit, and was locked in a cabinet with a sock in his mouth to muffle his cries. When paramedics first examined his body, they found markings indicating that the boy had been physically restrained and tortured.