Los Angeles

Social Workers in Gabriel Fernandez Case Ordered to Stand Trial

Two former social workers and their supervisors were ordered Monday to stand trial on falsifying records and child abuse charges involving the death of an 8-year-old Palmdale boy whose mother and then-boyfriend are charged with his murder.

The boy, 8-year-old Gabriel Fernandez, died on May 24, 2013. Prosecutors said he had a fractured skull, several broken ribs and burns over his body. His mother, Pearl Fernandez, 33, and her then-boyfriend, Isauro Aguirre, 36, are awaiting trial on a murder charge stemming from her son's death.

The District Attorney's Office plans to seek the death penalty against the two. Gabriel's death prompted a firestorm of criticism of the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services over reports that social workers repeatedly visited the family's home in response to allegations of abuse, but the boy was left in the custody of his mother.

Two social workers and two of their supervisors --- Stefanie Rodriguez, 31, Patricia Clement, 66, Kevin Bom, 37, and Gregory Merritt, 61 -- were fired from their jobs following an internal investigation into the case. Merritt appealed his firing and was temporarily reinstated by order of the Civil Service Commission, but that order was vacated last May by a judge who cited errors by the commission.

All four are charged with one felony count each of child abuse and falsifying records.

A Palmdale elementary school teacher testified in the preliminary hearing that she called a county social worker -- charged alongside three colleagues with child abuse and falsifying records -- multiple times to report that one of her students said his mother punched him and shot him in the face with a BB gun.

Prosecutors allege that Rodriguez and Clement falsified reports that should have documented signs of escalating physical abuse and the family's lapsed cooperation with DCFS.

Prosecutors also contend that Bom and Merritt knew or should have known they were approving false reports that conflicted with evidence of Gabriel's deteriorating physical health, allowing the boy to remain in the home until he died.

An investigation revealed that at times over an eight-month period preceding his death, Gabriel -- among other instances of violent abuse -- was doused with pepper spray, forced to eat his own vomit and locked in a closet with a sock stuffed in his mouth to muffle his screams, authorities have said.

Copyright CNS - City News Service
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