It's been almost two weeks since 4-year-old Noah Cuatro died under suspicious circumstances while in the care of his parents in Palmdale, but there are still many unanswered questions about what the boy dealt with during the time leading up to his death.
Attorney Brian Claypool spoke at a news conference on Tuesday, protesting what he described as a lack of transparency in Noah's case on the part of the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services and law enforcement.
Claypool said he wants to know why no one is being held responsible for the boy's death, which was reported to the Sheriff's Department by his parents on July 5 when they took him to a hospital and said he drowned at their apartment complex's pool.
"We already confirmed that is categorically false, he didn't drown. In fact, when the medical examiner's report comes out, it will show there wasn't a drop of water in that little boy's lungs," Claypool said. "His parents filed a false report. That's a crime, so why hasn't there been an arrest?"
Later on Tuesday, DCFS Director Bobby Cagle spoke at a county Board of Supervisors meeting.
“This death happened on my watch,” Cagle told the supervisors, according to the Los Angeles Times. “I fully accept the responsibility for the work that was done. I also fully accept the responsibility for understanding what went wrong, what we can do better, and to implement that as quickly as possible.”
In a statement, the department promised the implement a series of reforms over the coming months. They include increasing staffing in the Antelope Valley, reducing the number of cases that supervisors oversee, drawing on resources from other county agencies and better training and possibly increasing pay for social workers.
But Claypool says he wants to see a criminal indictment of the DCFS social workers and supervisors who ignored a court order, which indicated Noah was to be returned to his great-grandmother, Eva Hernandez, who cared for him for more than two years.
"His body was badly bruised – that tells us it's likely that somebody beat him up and that might have been the cause of the death. We had to find that out on our own," Claypool said. "If they had returned that little boy to Eva Hernandez, he would be alive today."
Claypool added that DCFS ignored several "red flags" in Noah's case, including phone calls made to the agency to report allegations of sexual abuse and malnourishment.
Speaking to reporters through tears on Tuesday, Hernandez said she is heartbroken that she couldn't do anything to help her beloved great-grandson, who loved to ride trains, sing and sit on her lap every day while she read or told him a story.
"He was so friendly. He would speak to anyone, anywhere we went," Hernandez said. "He would tell people, 'Hi, my name is Noah. What's your name? What do you like to do?'"
But despite his happy demeanor, Noah would sometimes have a hard time at night when he would experience night terrors, Hernandez said.
"There were times when he would wake up screaming. I would hug him and tell him everything was OK. I thought he was probably having a bad dream he would sit up and cry until he would fall asleep again," Hernandez recounted.
Along with not knowing what those night terrors were about, Hernandez said she is still haunted by the last time she saw Noah.
That day, according to Hernandez, Noah clung onto her leg and begged her not to make him go with his mother, Ursula, who was standing nearby and demanding Noah leave his great-grandmother's home.
"'I don't want to go with you, Ursula. I want to stay with my grandmother, leave me here,' that's what he said that day," Hernandez said.
Claypool said he wants DCFS to release Noah's records, including a 26-page report from a social worker stating he should be removed from the care of his parent, and a 10-page court order stating he should be returned to his great-grandmother, all filed before his death.
Meanwhile, Hernandez said she wants DCFS to do a better job at protecting the children who are under their watch.
"This can't keep happening over and over," Hernandez said. " I pray for the kids that are in the system now, that they take better care of them."