Four DCFS Workers to Be Fired Over 8-Year-Old's Death

At least eight complaints had been filed alleging abuse at the boy's family home

Four Los Angeles County workers will be fired after an investigation into the death of 8-year-old Gabriel Fernandez, whose mother and her boyfriend have been charged with his murder, officials said Tuesday.

The employees will be discharged from the Department of Children and Family Services, which had case workers who examined repeated complaints of abuse in the household.

DCFS Director Philip Browning recommended the "discharge" of the employees after an internal investigation, Los Angeles County Chief Executive Officer Bill Fujioka said on Twitter Tuesday.  He tweeted that the county intended to discharge the employees.

"I don’t think there was any ill intent on the employees part, but then again, we all have to be accountable," Browning told NBC4 on Tuesday.

The upcoming firings were initially announced at a county Board of Supervisors meeting on Tuesday.

Letters of reprimand were given to an unknown number of other employees, according to a memo sent from the department's director to DCFS staff on Tuesday.

"I pray to God that these social workers that got fired learned their lesson," said Michael Limon, Gabriel’s great uncle.

Paramedics responded to Gabriel’s mother’s Palmdale home in May, finding him unconscious and taking him to Children’s Hospital Los Angeles.

Gabriel died at the hospital 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.

Eight separate investigations into possible abuse were opened for the family -- which includes two siblings to Gabriel -- starting in 2003, according to count documents. The investigations examined alleged physical abuse and neglect as well as sexual abuse. Some allegations were determined to be "unfounded" after DCFS examined them.

The case became a rallying cry for those seeking reform in the trouble Department of Children and Family Services.

The four workers had been sent to desk duty during the investigation, Browning told NBC4 in June, when he warned that disciplinary action would be taken if the facts warranted.

"This is something that should have never happened," Browning said of Gabriel's death. "It keeps me up at night."

Two social workers and two supervisors were going to be fired and had already been sent letters on Tuesday, Browning told the Los Angeles Times. A spokeswoman for the department confirmed to NBC4 that four letters had been sent out notifying the employees.

"A number of DCFS staff associated with Gabriel's case performed far below expectations," Browning wrote in an internal staff memo sent out Tuesday and released to NBC4.

He said "lessons learned" will be "incorporated into future training," and added that grief counseling support had been made available to the disciplined staff and all staff at the Palmdale office.

As public employees, the workers are entitled to written notice and have 10 days to respond and request a hearing. They may also choose to appeal their termination.

Gabriel's great-uncle Michael Limon, who cared for the boy when he was very young, said he felt justice had begun to be served.

"I pray to God that these social workers that got fired learn their lesson and do their job," said Limon said.

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