The family of a 10-year-old boy who died after allegedly being tortured by his mother and her boyfriend is calling for a criminal investigation of the social workers involved in the victim’s case.
Brian Claypool, an attorney representing Anthony Avalos’, family held a news conference Tuesday morning in front of the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services where he revealed “shocking" details from agency records that show abuse allegations in the home.
Anthony was found unresponsive after his mother called 911 saying he had suffered a fall in their apartment in the 1100 block of East Avenue K on June 20. The boy died the following morning.
Anthony’s mother, Heather Barron, 28, and her boyfriend, Kareem Leiva, 32, have been charged with murder and torture in the boy’s death. Seven or eight other children were removed from the home since the boy died. Family members said the other children are also Barron's.
Claypool said the DCFS documents, shared with him by a news agency, reveal Barron had been declared “unable or unwilling to protect the child from serious harm, including physical and sexual abuse,” in May 2016.
Claypool said the DCFS documents show that social workers visited Anthony's home 18 times and noted 88 investigations into child abuse, physical abuse and sexual abuse. He said of those cases, 15 of were substantiated instances of child abuse, and at least two were substantiated claims of sexual abuse.
"This is not a case of negligence. This is not a case of 'the social workers are overworked.' This is a case of flat out, deliberate indifference toward the life of Anthony Avalos," Claypool said during the news conference.
He added that the death reflects a "systemic failure" of the the agency, and wants answers into why certain matters of Anthony's case were not further investigated.
"I have never seen more red flags of an impending death of a child than in the case of Anthony Avalos," he said.
According to DCFS, only a judge could remove a child from a home. Social workers, however, do have the power to temporarily remove a minor from a residence prior to a hearing if they think there's an immediate threat to the child.
DCFS Director Bobby Cagle said the agency was cooperating with the investigation and that it was thoroughly reviewing what happened in Anthony's case.
At the press conference, Claypool compared Anthony's home as a "prison" because other family members were not allowed to visit.
"The only human beings who could really access Anthony to save him were social workers," he said. "We're talking about a child's life. You have to make time and be logical and be compassionate if you want to be a social worker."
Maria and David Barron, Anthony's aunt and uncle, said during the news conference that the boy lived with them for a time before DCFS deemed Heather Barron fit to take care of him. They said Anthony did not deserve to die the way he did.
"A system was supposed to be in place to protect him and they didn't do their jobs," David Barron said. "They signed a death warrant by putting him back in that house."
They called Anthony a hero, because the other children were removed from the house after he died.
Anthony’s father, Victor Avalos, said during the news conference that he spoke to his son through FaceTime regularly from his home town in Mexico. While Avalos suspected something was wrong, he felt the boy was unable to open up because his mother was always looming over him.
Avalos said in Spanish that he met Heather Barron when the two were in high school and that they had Anthony at a young age. They had problems after Anthony was born and he said Heather Barron often pushed him away and threatened to have him deported.
He said he still can't believe that his son is dead, that he couldn't move, think straight or work when he found out the news.
"We’re all angry, and we want to make sure none of this happens to any other children anywhere," Avalos said.
Claypool said the family is working on getting Anthony buried. He added that the family has not seen an official autopsy report on how Anthony died, but that they plan to move forward with a civil lawsuit in the future.