DA’s of­fice eyes re-hear­ing for so­cial work­ers

Antelope Valley Press - - FRONT PAGE -

LOS AN­GE­LES (CNS) — Los An­ge­les County pros­e­cu­tors are ask­ing a state ap­pel­late court panel to re­con­sider its rul­ing that di­rected a lower court to dis­miss charges against four so­cial work­ers who were ac­cused of fail­ing to pro­tect an eight-year-old An­te­lope Val­ley boy who was killed in May 2013.

Pros­e­cu­tors pe­ti­tioned the three-jus­tice panel from Cal­i­for­nia’s 2nd District Court of Ap­peal to ei­ther re-hear or mod­ify its opin­ion in the case of so­cial work­ers Ste­fanie Ro­driguez, 34, and Pa­tri­cia Cle­ment, 69, and two su­per­vi­sors, Kevin Bom, 40, and Gre­gory Mer­ritt, 64. The four were charged in March 2016 with one felony count each of child abuse and fal­si­fy­ing public records in con­nec­tion with Gabriel

Fer­nan­dez’s death.

Isauro Aguirre — the boyfriend of the child’s mother — was sen­tenced to death in June 2018 af­ter be­ing con­victed of first-de­gree mur­der. Ju­rors found true the spe­cial cir­cum­stance al­le­ga­tion of mur­der in­volv­ing the in­flic­tion of tor­ture.

The boy’s mother, Pearl

Sinthia Fer­nan­dez, was sen­tenced to life in prison with­out pa­role af­ter plead­ing to first­de­gree mur­der and ad­mit­ting the tor­ture al­le­ga­tion.

In Septem­ber 2018, Los An­ge­les Su­pe­rior Court Judge Ge­orge G. Lomeli de­nied a mo­tion to dis­miss the charges against the so­cial work­ers, call­ing the young boy’s death “fore­see­able.”

In a Jan. 6 rul­ing, the ap­pel­late court panel found that there was no prob­a­ble cause to hold the two so­cial work­ers and their su­per­vi­sors on the charges and ruled that the trial court should have granted the de­fense’s mo­tion to dis­miss the case against them.

As­so­ciate Jus­tice Vic­to­ria Ger­rard Chaney con­curred that the four could not be charged with child abuse, but wrote a dis­sent­ing opin­ion ar­gu­ing that they could be pros­e­cuted as public of­fi­cers un­der the rel­e­vant gov­ern­ment code sec­tion.

“Al­low­ing a so­cial worker to evade li­a­bil­ity for fal­si­fy­ing a public doc­u­ment would in­cen­tivize so­cial work­ers to put their own in­ter­ests in avoid­ing li­a­bil­ity for their mis­deeds above the pur­pose of the state’s child wel­fare statu­tory scheme, which is child safety,” Chaney wrote.

“The pe­ti­tion­ers’ ac­tions here pre­vented the sys­tem from work­ing in what­ever way it might have had they done their jobs hon­estly, and of­fers no in­cen­tive for ei­ther DCFS or in­di­vid­ual so­cial work­ers to work to re­form and re­pair the parts of the sys­tem that may fail the chil­dren it is in­tended to pro­tect,” she added. “We have, in ef­fect, en­cour­aged DCFS and its so­cial work­ers to cover their tracks if they stum­ble on the cracks in the sys­tem.”

In their pe­ti­tion for re­con­sid­er­a­tion of the de­ci­sion on the so­cial work­ers’ case, pros­e­cu­tors wrote: “If facts known to pe­ti­tion­ers sug­gested Gabriel’s care­tak­ers would harm him, pe­ti­tion­ers had a duty to con­trol Pearl and Isauro, to pro­tect Gabriel and to pre­vent Pearl and Isauro from mur­der­ing him. If pe­ti­tion­ers weren’t sup­posed to pro­tect Gabriel from his killers, who was? … It was their duty to su­per­vise and con­trol Pearl and Isauro’s con­duct when it came to how Pearl and Isauro treated Gabriel.”

An au­topsy showed that the boy had a frac­tured skull, sev­eral bro­ken ribs and burns over much of his body. His teacher tes­ti­fied that she called Ro­driguez mul­ti­ple times to re­port that Gabriel told her that his mother punched him and shot him in the face with a BB gun.

De­fense at­tor­neys ar­gued that the abuse and tor­ture es­ca­lated months af­ter a file on the boy had been closed and that there was in­suf­fi­cient ev­i­dence to take him away from his mother.

A Feb. 18 pre­trial hear­ing is sched­uled in the case, which was ef­fec­tively put on hold dur­ing the ap­pel­late court pro­ceed­ings.

G.FER­NAN­DEZ

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