Relatives file wrongful death lawsuit in torture killing of 4-year-old Palmdale boy Noah Cuatro

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The great-grandmother of Noah Cuatro, the 4-year-old Palmdale boy who was allegedly tortured and killed by his parents, has filed a wrongful death lawsuit in the case nearly one year after he died.

Eva Hernandez is suing Los Angeles County and Hathaway-Sycamores Child and Family Services, a California non-profit, on behalf of herself and Noah’s three siblings.

The suit was filed in L.A. County Superior Court on Wednesday. It alleges that multiple reports of abuse had been detailed to the county prior to the child’s death on July 6, 2019, and that the conduct of the county’s Department of Children and Family Services — which handled the case — was “egregious and grossly negligent.”

Noah Cuatro is seen with his parents, Jose Cuatro and Ursula Juarez, in an undated photo from Juarez’s Facebook page.
Noah Cuatro is seen with his parents, Jose Cuatro and Ursula Juarez, in an undated photo from Juarez’s Facebook page.

Noah’s parents, Jose Maria Cuatro Jr. and Ursula Elaine Juarez, were indicted on murder and torture charges by a grand jury earlier this year.

Additionally, the father has been charged with assault on a child causing death and sexual penetration with a child under the age of 10, while the mother faces a count of child abuse under circumstances likely to cause death, according to prosecutors.

On July 5, 2019, Noah’s parents told authorities he drowned in a community pool in Palmdale, according to investigators. He was hospitalized and died the next morning.

The boy was found to have suffered trauma that was deemed inconsistent with drowning. His death was ruled a homicide and Cuatro and Juarez were arrested two days later.

According to the indictment, Noah was sexually assaulted on the day the drowning was reported.

Hernandez’s lawsuit alleges that the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services received multiple reports about abuse against Noah and his siblings before the 4-year-old’s death.

“Instead of protecting Noah and his siblings, DCFS continued to place the children with their abusive parents where the children continued to be abused over the course of several years,” the lawsuit stated.

During the course of his life, Noah spent time in foster care and in the protective custody of his great-grandmother. He was first placed with Hernandez at the age of 6 months old, after he was removed from his mother’s custody following her arrest and due to her being “under investigation for fracturing the skull of an infant she was related to,” court documents stated.

DCFS substantiated the claim but placed Noah back with his parents, according to the suit.

He was removed from the home multiple times because of neglect, including once after a pediatrician report filed with DCFS indicated the boy was malnourished, the document said.

Between Aug. 14, 2017 and June 13, 2018 — while Noah was back with his great-grandmother — DCFS sent Noah to an agency it contracts with, Hathaway-Sycamores, for mental health services.

Hathaway-Sycamores was also involved in another high-profile child abuse death case out if Palmdale, that of 8-year-old Gabriel Fernandez. In February 2017, counselor Barbara Dixon, who had been granted immunity, testified in the Fernandez case that Hathaway-Sycamores had a custom of not reporting suspected abuse to authorities as required by state law, according to the lawsuit.

After being granted immunity, Dixon stated in court that the agency’s practice was to first discuss suspected child abuse with a supervisor, but it wouldn’t be reported to law enforcement unless the supervisor instructed that to happen, the court documents said.

The plaintiffs allege that Hathaway-Sycamores “knew of and/or suspected the abuse and misconduct occurring in Noah Cuatro’s home, yet failed to take appropriate action to report the abuse, to take appropriate action to stop the abuse, and to cross-report to appropriate law enforcement agencies, among other mandatory duties.”

Hathaway-Sycamores remains associated with DCFS.

In November 2018, Noah was returned to his parents for what would be the last time, despite objections from the boy himself, his grandmother told KTLA following his death last July.

“I told the social workers, ‘Please, he doesn’t want to leave. He wants to stay here. He begged me,’”  she said. “He would hold on to me and say, ‘Don’t send me back, grandma.’”

The following May, DCFS caseworker Susan Johnson filed a petition to have Noah removed from his parents’ custody. It was granted “due to probable cause to believe there was ‘substantial danger to the safety or to the physical or emotional health of the child’ and ‘continuance in the home of the parent(s) and/or legal guardian [was] contrary to the child’s welfare,'” the lawsuit stated.

But DCFS “willfully” ignored the petition and left Noah with his parents, as well as an order that the child be examined for “medical and/or sexual abuse,” the suit stated. Additionally, “DCFS failed to warn or notify Ms. Hernandez of the May 2019 hearing and afterwards of the May 2019 ruling granting her legal guardianship of her great-grandson, Noah.”

About a month later, an assessment from the agency found the boy’s risk was “very high,” indicating also that there was some concern about the mental health of his mother, according to the documents.

Noah was not removed from the home despite the court order, a decision that family members have questioned. 

The plaintiffs allege that the county failed to take action to prevent the abuse, which ultimately led to his death.

“The acts and omissions of said Defendants caused Noah Cuatro’s death,” the document stated. “Had said Defendants fulfilled their mandated and legal duty of care, Noah Cuatro would not have been harmed and/or continued to be harmed.”

Further, the suit claims that — after Noah’s death — DCFS social workers tried to silence Hernandez; they allegedly warned her that she would lose a request for guardianship of the other three great-grandchildren and wouldn’t see them again if she spoke publicly about the case.

Hernandez is seeking unspecified compensatory damages in her lawsuit.

DCFS is also the subject of a $50 million wrongful death lawsuit in yet another case out of the Antelope Valley, this one involving Anthony Avalos. The 10-year-old boy was allegedly tortured and killed by his mother and her boyfriend in June 2018.

Attorney Brian Claypool is representing the plaintiffs in both lawsuits.

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