Four Los Angeles County social workers charged with child abuse in connection with the 2013 death of 8-year-old Gabriel Fernandez were due to appear in court Thursday for their arraignment, but the hearing was postponed.
Stefanie Rodriguez, 31, Patricia Clement, 65, and their respective supervisors, Kevin Bom, 36, and Gregory Merritt, 60, have each been charged with one felony count of child abuse and one felony count of falsifying public records.
They face up to 10 years in state prison if convicted.
At a downtown Los Angeles criminal courtroom, their arraignment was postponed till June 2.
Fernandez died May 24, 2013, after he was taken from the Palmdale home where he lived with his mother and her boyfriend. He had been 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 died of multiple injuries, including a fractured skull, broken ribs and burns over his body, prosecutors with the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office said in a news release announcing charges against the social workers earlier this month.
The four social workers were employees of the county Department of Children and Family Services, which had an open case for Gabriel beginning Oct. 31, 2012.
The social workers “had a legal duty to protect Gabriel,” the DA’s office said in the news release.
“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 are accused of falsifying reports that should shown escalating physical abuse against Gabriel, along with the family’s “lapsed participation” in county efforts to help them, according to the DA’s office.
Bom and Merritt allegedly knew or should have known they were approving the false reports.
Mother Pearl Fernandez and her boyfriend Isauro Aguirre have been charged with capital murder in the boy’s death.