Four social workers have been charged in connection with the torture death of Gabriel Fernandez, the 8-year-old Palmdale boy who died in 2013 after he was allegedly beaten by his mother and her boyfriend, the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office announced Thursday.
Stefanie Rodriguez and Patricia Clement, along with their respective supervisors, Kevin Bom and Gregory Merritt, have each been charged with one felony count of child abuse and one felony count of falsifying public records, prosecutors said in a news release.
The arrest warrant was filed on March 28, the release stated.
Gabriel died on May 24, 2013, after being doused in pepper spray, forced to eat cat feces and his own vomit, and locked in a cabinet with a sock stuffed in his mouth, according to court records obtained by the Los Angeles Times.
He sustained multiple injuries, including a fractured skull, broken ribs and burns over his body, the release stated. Court records indicated that BB pellets were found embedded in his lung and groin.
“It was just like every inch of this child had been abused,” L.A. County Fire Department paramedic James Cermak said when he testified in court, according to the Times.
The abuse didn’t begin until Gabriel move back with his mother, Pearl Fernandez, relatives and a friend of the family said at an early afternoon news conference.
Previously, he had been staying with his grandparents as late as the age of 7. During that period, Fernandez did not have access to her son.
“As soon as Pearl got him, that’s basically when she started torturing him,” said Amanda Nevarez, who co-founded the Facebook page Gabriel’s Justice with the boy’s cousin, Emily Carranza.
The abuse took place over a period of “several months,” she said.
Fernandez, and her boyfriend, Isauro Aguirre, are awaiting trial after being indicted by a grand jury on charges of capital murder and a special circumstance of torture.
They have pleaded not guilty to the charges.
In filing the new charges against the four social workers, prosecutors stated that they had a “legal duty” to protect Gabriel once the L.A. County Department of Children and Family Services opened a case on Oct. 31, 2012.
“By minimizing the significance of the physical, mental and emotional injuries that Gabriel suffered, these social workers allowed a vulnerable boy to remain at home and continue to be abused,” District Attorney Jackie Lacey said in the release.
Rodriguez and Clement allegedly falsified reports that documented signs of the escalating physical abuse to the little boy, as well as the family’s lapsed participation in the department’s efforts to help them, according to the release.
Bom and Merritt knew — or they should have known — that they approved falsified reports which conflicted with evidence of Gabriel’s deteriorating physical condition, as documented in the child’s case file, prosecutors said.
As a result, Gabriel was allowed to remain at home until his death, according to the DA’s office.
“We believe these social workers were criminally negligent and performed their legal duties with willful disregard for Gabriel’s well-being,” Lacey said. “They should be held responsible for their actions.”
Arraignment for the four defendants was postponed at a hearing Thursday until April 21.
Their bail was lowered from $155,000 to $100,000 each, and they were all expected to bail out Thursday, according to a spokeswoman for the DA’s office.
Each faces up to 10 years in state prison if convicted as charged.