John Cádiz Klemack
Protesters gathered outside the headquarters of LA County's Department of Child and Family Services on Friday to call for changes following the death of 8-year-old Gabriel Fernandez of Palmdale. There is hope that a state audit of the DCFS will lead to reform. John Cádiz Klemack reports from Mid-Wilshire for the NBC4 News at 5 and 6 p.m. on June 21, 2013.
A rally was held on Friday in memory of 8-year-old Gabriel Fernandez, a Palmdale boy who was beaten to death, allegedly by his mother's boyfriend as she stood by.
Protesters used the case as a rallying cry for the failures of the child welfare system because his family was being monitored by the agency and failed to act on prior reports of abuse.
"The neighbors of this little child who witnessed this said they watched the social workers come and five minutes they watched the social workers walk out," said Tammi Stefano of the National Safe Child Coalition as protesters picketed outside the Los Angeles County Department of Child and Family Services' LA office. "This is a disgrace to our nation."
Gabriel died May 24 after suffering from multiple injuries, including a fractured skull, several broken ribs and burns, officials said. He had BB gun pellets in his chest and groin, documents said. The boy's mother told a deputy that his bruises were from self-mutilation, documents said.
His mother, Pearl Sinthia Fernandez, 29, and her boyfriend, Isauro Aguirre, 33, were charged with one count each of capital murder and a special circumstance allegation of torture, according to the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office.
Both were in jail without bail. Pearl Fernandez has a July 2 court hearing, according to the LA County Sheriff’s Department’s Inmate Information Center. A court date for Aguirre was set for Aug. 13.
Child protective case workers responded to the home at least eight times after repeated abuse reports, according to several people who knew the child and from department documents obtained by NBC4.
Their visit before his death was for an allegation of sexual abuse, documents said.
The case prompted supervisors for LA County to call for a task force to recommend reforms in the troubled department.
California Assemblyman Tim Donnelly, R-Hesperia, called for a state audit of the department.
"You can't exercise this much power and hide behind a shroud of secrecy," Donnelly said.
In Gabriel's case, the pattern of abuse should have been noticed, Donnelly said.
"This was something that was a no-brainer," Donnelly said. "Any rational person would take Gabriel away from his parents."
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