Social workers will be tried for felony child abuse following the murder of 8-year-old Gabriel Fernandez at the hands of his mother, Pearl Fernandez, and her boyfriend, Isauro Aguirro.
Social workers Stefanie Rodriguez and Patricia Clement and supervisors Kevin Bom and Gregory Merritt are said to be to blame and will be tried for felony child abuse following the murder of 8-year-old Gabriel Fernandez at the hands of his mother, Pearl Fernandez, and her boyfriend, Isauro Aguirro. The boy had been tortured for months leading up to his death, but his caseworkers and law enforcement hadn’t pursued abuse charges. Following the child’s death, Aguirre and Pearl Fernandez are charged with capital murder and have pleaded not guilty.
Paramedics arrived at Gabriel’s home in Los Angeles County in May of 2013 to find the boy not breathing, with multiple broken bones and BBs in two parts of his body. A paramedic who was at the scene testified that “it was just like every inch of this child had been abused.” Two of Gabriel’s siblings testified that the adults had forced Gabriel to eat cat feces and rotten vegetables, beat him with household objects, punished him when he played with dolls, called him gay and made him wear girls’ clothes to school. Gabriel had even written a suicide note at one point.
Aguirre and Pearl Fernandez had allegedly lied about the situation to social workers to hide their crimes and had forged doctor’s notes. Pearl has a history of mental illness, and for ten years, there had been a total of six child abuse investigations against her, but all of them had been closed “unfounded”. Prosecutors are saying that the social workers are to blame, even though this is highly unusual in such a case. One of the workers had found Gabriel to be at “high risk” for abuse instead of “very high risk” because Pearl’s known mental health issues had been left out of the report. The supervisors signed off on those evaluations, so the entire checks and balances system had failed.
The social workers argued that there wasn’t any way they could have predicted the swift escalation of violence that led to Gabriel’s death. They contend that the homicide occurred when the family was not under county supervision. They also believe the sheriff’s deputies who visited the home a number of times should be to blame for the child’s demise and can’t understand why they’re not being prosecuted. The workers indicate their office is notoriously understaffed and they’ve been subjected to working extensive hours, making it impossible to perform proper follow up.
Monday’s ruling in Los Angeles came after a preliminary hearing in which Gabriel’s first-grade teacher, Jennifer Garcia, along with other witnesses for the prosecution testified about their concerns with the signs of apparent physical abuse, including facial bruises, scabs, missing tufts of hair, and broken lips. Garcia said she noticed a facial bruise the size of a half-dollar on the boy at one point, and after he said he was beaten with a belt buckle she immediately called a county child abuse hotline. She also indicated Gabriel had told her “my mom shot me in the face with a BB gun”. These were just two examples of the many times the witnesses voiced their fears but felt their complaints fell to deaf ears.