LA County

DCFS Supervisor in Gabriel Fernandez Case Can Return to Work: Judge

An LA County Department of Children and Family Services supervisor who was fired in the wake of the torture death of 8-year-old Gabriel Fernandez will be reinstated, a judge ruled Tuesday.

Gregory Merritt, a DCFS supervisor, decided to close the Fernandez case after he was reunited with his mother, along with social worker Patricia Clement. Four people involved in the handling of the little boy’s case were fired after his May 2013 death.

A civil service commission previously voted to bring Merritt back to work.

Fernandez was found not breathing in his mother’s Palmdale home May 22, 2013. He never regained consciousness and died the following day. The boy had suffered a fractured skull, several broken ribs and had been burned with cigarettes, among numerous other injuries.

His mother, Pearl Sinthia Fernandez, 31, and her boyfriend Isauro Aguirre, 35, are awaiting trial, charged with his murder.

The case sparked widespread outrage and a move to overhaul of the county’s social services, which many felt had failed Gabriel.

The boy had been repeatedly removed from his mother’s care in the years before his death, and more than 60 abuse reports were made by family members, neighbors, teachers and others.

He has been removed from his grandparents’ care and returned to his mother’s home before his death, despite objections.

DCFS did not immediately respond to request for comment.

The outcome of a separate trial to reverse the commission's ruling could ultimately impact Merritt’s long-term employment position, but Judge James Chalfant ruled Tuesday that in the meantime, he should be reinstated.

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