The case against four former social workers who were charged in connection with the 2013 torture death of 8-year-old Gabriel Fernandez is expected to be dismissed in court on Thursday morning, according to the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office.
Social workers Stefanie Rodrigez, 35, and Patricia Clement, 59, as well as their respective supervisors, Kevin Bom, 41, and Gregory Merritt, 64, had each been charged with the felony count apiece of child abuse and falsifying records.
The dismissal would come six months after a California appeals court threw out the charges against them in the case.
In a 2-1 decision, justices from the 2nd District Court of Appeal ruled that the social workers couldn’t be charged because they “never had the requisite duty to control the abusers and did not have care or custody of Gabriel,” the Los Angeles Times reported.
The DA’s office first announced charges against the four on April 7, 2016, after arrest warrants were filed the previous month.
At the time, prosecutors argued that the social workers had a “legal duty” to protect Gabriel once an abuse case was opened by the L.A. County Department of Children and Family Services.
“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 had said in a statement.
Prosecutors believed the four were “criminally negligent” and showed “willful disregard” for the Palmdale boy’s well-being while performing their duties, according to Lacey.
Gabriel died in May 2013 after enduring months of abuse and torture at the hands of his mother and her boyfriend because they believed he was gay, prosecutors said at the trial.
He was beaten, whipped, burned with cigarettes, shot multiple times with a B.B. gun, forced to eat cat feces, and locked in box for days, according to prosecutors and witness testimony.
His mother, Pearl Fernandez, was sentenced to life in prison in 2018 after pleading guilty to first-degree murder. Her boyfriend, Isauro Aguirre, was sentenced to death after being convicted in 2017 of first-degree murder with an allegation of torture.
L.A. County Superior Court Judge George Lomeli, who presided over both murder trials, is expected to dismiss the charges against the social workers at 8:30 a.m Thursday, according to the DA’s news release.
Lomeli had previously denied a motion to drop the charges in September 2018.
“I have spent a lot of time, needless to say, on the case,” he said at the time. “This isn’t something I did by the seat of my pants.”