DCFS Foster Care LASD

Should LA Sheriff’s Deputies be Criminally Charged or Fired for Failure to Act in Torture Death of 8-Year-old Gabriel Fernandez?

Celeste Fremon
Written by Celeste Fremon


WHAT ABOUT THE DEPUTIES?

The torture death of 8-year old Gabriel Fernandez in May of 2013 continues to haunt Los Angeles County and the two agencies whose personnel arguably could have saved the little boy from the horrific slow-motion murder at the hands of his mother and her boyfriend.

Gabriel’s mother, Pearl Fernandez, and her boyfriend have been charged with murder.

And in early April of this year, in a controversial but entirely necessary move, the LA district attorney’s office also charged social workers who reportedly investigated multiple alerts, complaints and other red flags that Gabriel was being abused.

“We believe these social workers were criminally negligent and performed their legal duties with willful disregard for Gabriel’s well-being,” District Attorney Jackie Lacey said at the time of the charges.

Reportedly none of the series of Los Angeles County Sheriff’s deputies called in at various critical moments to investigate reports of abuse did anything at all to intervene, nor it seems did any of the deputies write up official reports. Yet, it appears that none of these same deputies have received serious sanctions by the LASD, much less been slapped with criminal charges.

Los Angeles Times reporters Richard Winton and Cindy Chang, and others, have reviewed grand jury testimony, child welfare records, and recently filed court documents, which show that as many as nine Los Angeles County Sheriff’s deputies visited Gabriel’s home at different times during the eight month period during which, according to prosecutors, he “was being tortured and beaten,” to an almost unimaginable degree.

Out of all the visits, the deputies “found no signs of abuse,” nor did they file any relevant paperwork that “would have led specially trained detectives to do more investigating.”



HELL BEGINS

According to court documents, Gabriel had lived with his mother’s parents since he was one month old, after his mother, Pearl Fernandez, who struggled with drug addiction, signed over custody of the boy after declaring that she didn’t love or want him.

Then, in October 2012, when he was seven, Pearl decided she wanted him back under her roof after all.

The two grandparents, Robert and Sandra Fernandez, worried about sending the boy to live with Pearl who had a history of abusing and neglecting her other three children, one of whom had already been removed from her care. But Pearl went to LA’s Department of Children and Family Services to help her get Gabriel back, and DCFS workers—allegedly without ever interviewing any of the children, or examining the notarized documents in the grandparents’ possession—sided with Gabriel’s mother.

The trouble began almost immediately after Gabriel moved in with Pearl, her boyfriend, and two school-aged older brothers in Palmdale. Shortly after the move, Gabriel’s school teacher at Summerwind Elementary School, Jennifer Garcia, began noticing troubling signs of abuse in her new student. For example, the day before Halloween of 2012, Gabriel told the teacher that his mother had hit him with the metal part of a belt until she drew blood.

According to the LA Times, sheriff’s deputy Imelda Rizo was dispatched to Gabriel’s house, and wrote an entry in her computer log that she had observed no injuries on Gabriel and saw no indications of child abuse.

More than 800 pages of grand jury testimony drew a picture of ongoing and severe abuse over an eight month period that caused Garcia and others to report their concerns to DCFS on repeated occasions, such as when Garcia noted the child had a bloody lip, black eyes and bruises on his face.

On another occasion, a school counselor called DCFS because Gabriel had written a suicide note.

On still another instance on January 29, 2013, Garcia called authorities after Gabriel came to school after a week away and told his teacher that his mom shot him in his face with a BB gun. Garcia noted his eye was swollen and there were tiny bruises all over his face.

And there were more incidents.

Then when, less than week before Gabriel’s death, he failed to show up at school for several days, Jason Lee Lasley, a sheriff’s deputy at Summerwind Elementary, was sent to investigate on May 16, 2013.

Lasley told the grand jury that he could not find Gabriel’s home as he was given the wrong address, but called Pearl Fernandez who told him the boy had gone to live in Texas.

Lasley did not visit Gabriel’s home to check, nor did he follow-up in any other way or file a report, according to James Wilkerson who wrote an extensive report for the Daily Mail.

Six days later, on May 22, 2013, Pearl called 911 and said that her son was not breathing. When paramedics arrived at the Palmdale apartment the found Gabriel with a fractured skull, three broken ribs, two teeth knocked out, from what turned out to be blows with a baseball bat, burns to his skin, and BB pellets embedded in his lung and groin.

Isauro Aguirre later admitted to punching Gabriel as many as 10 times that day and scrubbing the boy’s face and neck with such force that it ripped his skin.

Two days later still, Gabriel died at Children’s Hospital of his injuries, which included a deviated septum and a lacerated liver.


DEPUTIES FAIL TO CONDUCT SIMPLE INVESTIGATIONS OR WRITE OFFICIAL REPORTS

In the months prior to his death, deputies were reportedly despatched to Gabrial’s home after multiple crucial incidents.

For example, after Gabriel’s suicide note Deputy Federico Gonzalez visited the Palmdale apartment at 2am and was told by Aguirre that the boy was fine. Gonzalez neither saw or interviewed Gabriel, but nevertheless concluded that Gabriel did not have a specific suicide plan, so the matter was dropped.

Later in 2013, sheriff’s detective, Vanessa Reddy, investigated a report that Gabriel had been sexually abused by an uncle. In this case, Reddy interviewed Gabriel, but she did not interview the uncle. Most importantly, she did not filed the report necessary to further the investigation.

On April 26, in a particularly alarming and perplexing incident, a security guard at the county employment office called 911 and reported seeing Gabriel with burns on his face and head.

LA County sheriff’s deputy Robin Soukup reportedly “screamed” at the guard that a burned child was “not an emergency” according to a deputy district attorney.

Deputy Jonathon Livingston then interviewed Gabriel and Pearl Fernandez’ boyfriend, Aguirre, at their home, but logged only that the boy had fallen off a bicycle and there was no evidence of abuse.

Again, no police report was filed, so no further probe by more expert investigators took place.

“It is unclear why a child being burned all over his body is not an emergency,” Deputy District Attorney Jonathan Hatami wrote later.

In May 2013, Gabriel was photographed for a Mother’s Day project. Those photos, shown to the grand jury, show him with a bloodshot black eye; the skin peeling from his forehead; and what appeared to be bruises on his neck. These may or may not have been the injuries that caused the security guard to call 911. But, in any case, again no action was taken.

And then there was the critical non-visit six days before Gabriel Fernandez’ death.

Retired LASD sergeant Dan Scott who is a veteran child abuse investigator, told the LA Times that Gabriel’s case highlights a wider problem in the way patrol officers approach child abuse allegations.

Patrol cops often treat child abuse calls as a low priority, especially when social workers are already involved with the family, he told Winton and Chang.

“’Law enforcement treats these crimes like second-class crimes,’ Scott said. ‘Cops believe it is a social worker’s job. They are looking for a reason to clear the case, and as a police officer, you have got to treat child abuse like any other crime.'”

All of the nine deputies who were called out for Gabriel’s case still work for the Sheriff’s Department, although some received some kind of departmental discipline. None were criminally charged. Due to state law, the LASD was unable to be more specific about who received what discipline.


WHAT IS TO COME

On January 17, four DCFS workers, Stefanie Rodriguez, Patricia Clement, Kevin Bom and Gregory Merritt will face a preliminary hearing on one count each of felony child abuse and falsifying public records.

The trial of Pearl Fernandez and Isauro Aguirre will begin in March of this year. Both are charged with capital murder and a special circumstance of torture.

25 Comments

  • If the IAB investigation was complete with no stone left unturned, then the focus has to be directly on the Station Commander and the Division executives as they and they alone are responsible for discipline recommendations and final imposition. If it can be established that the evidence in the IAB cases clearly warranted substantial discipline such as a thirty day suspension, demotion or discharge and yet wrist slaps were issued, then it will be the responsibility of Sheriff McDonnell to investigate and discipline the decision makers for Performance to Standards, etc. for failing to properly discipline the patrol deputies. That is where the media needs to focus their attention at this point, right on the Sheriff and his Sr. Command Staff. Let’s how far that goes.

    One cannot help but look at the picture of that little boy and just wonder of the literal pain and suffering he endured, the literal torture imposed upon him. How many times did he scream, cry, who did he tell, who did he ask for help. It is heartbreaking to think about the pain and suffering he endured before he was finally murdered. Did those patrol deputies kiss those calls off? Their captains and above know for sure. I would say this is definitely a case for Max Huntsman to get deeply involved with. Let him lay it all out. If the brass turned a blind eye and minimized this, then expose it Max. If everything is on the up and up, then Max should issue a statement that he has reviewed the case and feels the discipline is appropriate. The DA better take a second look at all of this as well.

    I’m just waiting for the executives to issue their 100% standard bullshit excuse of, “We need additional monies so we may provide additional training for our personnel. This is really just a training issue and nothing more.” Just watch for it, it is a bullshit line they have used forever.

  • If Max Huntsman went after the deputies, then that would conflict with ALADS agenda which would continue to put money in ALADS Attorney Richard “Dick” Shinee’s pocket.

  • Imagine, are you serious?!?! A kid is tortured and then murdered while the ENTIRE system was failing him miserably, and you turn it into a fucking union issue?!?! Grow the fuck up!!!

  • Another sad and tragic ending because of the systemic and problematic culture of the Los Angeles Sheriff Department.

  • What a great start to a new year. Yet another opportunity to seek vengeance upon LASD deputies who “failed to do their job”. There were many systems within the county that failed but let’s put the blame where it truly lies…the scumbag family the poor kid had to live with. Society wants their freedom and never wants law enforcement prying into their personnel lives, telling them how to live or holding them accountable for anything EXCEPT when it suits them it would appear. Imagine if law enforcement had intervened in this case and there was a simple explanation for the kids injuries. Everyone would be complaining how the families civil rights and liberties were violated, suing the County and deputies and commenting how the family was discriminated against for one reason or another. Witness LA…I hope you find some POSITIVE stories to report about LASD for 2017. If the sheriffs department continues to be ran so badly, I hope it’s taken over and ran by a President Trump appointed, Senator Jeff Sessions lead Justice Department. Maybe they can finally bring some sanity to the corrupt and poorly ran department.

  • Witness LA, I must agree with Conspiracy. I hope you find some positive stories about the LASD because I have yet to see one or hear of one, with the exception of the kitten they rescued about 1 year ago. Many are overpaid security guards, who run roughshod over poor communities and do their jobs in a half-ass way. Every single officer who had an opportunity to do his job, but did not and failed to get this kid out of there, should face criminal charges just like the social workers are facing. If they worked in McDonalds, they would have been fired long ago. But, alas, they will not. The social workers have a poor ass union, but not the sheriff. Their union will keep them from facing criminal charges, and if they do face charges, their union will provide a defense and they will keep their pay. Unfortunately, I think bringing in the narcissistic, dumb-ass Trump or the racist good ole southern boy Sessions will not solve the problem. How about some true civilian oversight?

  • They should just fire, dis-band, dissolve and just get rid of all law enforcement agencies across the country. Many of their members joined so they could abuse their power, beat inmates and kill with immunity. Why have any type of organization in place to enforce laws or work in the places were law breakers are held. We have reached a Utopia where everyone is respectful of each others rights, personal property and the rules of common decency abound. Let’s just get ride of laws, jails/prisons and law enforcement all together. The judges, courts and criminal lawyers will soon follow since they will no longer be needed. I say, let’s just fire them all…there all just corrupt and bad. I’m sure McDonald’s and all the other fast food places will have jobs waiting, but maybe these “over priced security guards” won’t even meet their high standards and have to get on welfare/gr. Hey the taxpayers can now foot that bill along with all the deadbeats. It might even be cheaper than all the lawsuit payouts. Sounds like a plan worth serious review.

  • Let’s see if Max Huntsman provides the transparency to apply to ALL INVOLVED. The arrogance and willful neglect of the deputies involved is appalling and embarrassing. At their deposition, the first question should be giving an explanation between “Kiss Off” & “Handle To Completion” regarding calls for service

  • Where were the “supervisors” who reviewed these investigations? Seeing that an investigation was incomplete, not “handled to completion,” or “KISSED OFF” a supervisor should have directed, on at least one of these occasions, for follow-up investigation be conducted until handled to completion and all avenues had been exhausted.

  • I sense Mr. Conspiracy is an angry Trump supporter. No need to get defensive. No one is suggesting getting rid of law enforcement. We need law enforcement. The problem is you, like many in the LASD and LAPD, believe any criticism of officers is an attack on officers. They are employees, government employees. Is it to much to ask that they do their job? Is it too much to ask that we fire them if they don’t do it; to discipline them, just like the kid at McDonalds would be disciplined for being rude, disrespectful or not doing his job properly. They work for me, for us, and when they get off their car, they should look at the car door and remember the words etched on those doors – To Protect and Serve. The days when they walked around like cowboys doing to whatever to whomever are over. That may fly in Kentucky and Georgia, and in the other blood red states, where they can still smack people with no consequences, but not here in L.A, not California, not anymore. I do not think its too much to ask that they do their job, do it right, that they give the respect they demand, and to not forget they are public servants, on the people’s dime.

  • Let’s not forget the chain of invents, players and departments that precipitated this chain of events…namely DCFS and the courts. Before everyone tries to crucify and excise their pound of flesh from the LASD deputies who were tasked to respond and deal with the mistakes created by a broken system, remember the other players. A system and society that felt in their great wisdom it was in the best interests of the family to give the ex-drug user Mom custody of the child in the first place. It’s always law enforcement that has to deal with the messes head on, whether as a result of untreated or mis-treated mental illness or in this case, a child the system failed to adequately place and monitor. For all the “cop haters” out there, this doesn’t mater though, as it fits their already biased, hateful and angry narrative regarding anything law enforcement related.

  • Yeah the cops are public servants, so are the judges, lawyers (public defenders, prosecutors), trash men, firemen, street maintainable workers and numerous other folks who work in state/County/city governments. Cops are unique in that they have to enforce the law and subject themselves to danger and risks head on and make quick decisions, all of which most due without complaint. They are expected to be part enforcer/social worker/lawyer/medical first responder and to switch between these roles seamlessly throughout their workday. They are public servants (they are tax payers to) and all aren’t perfect just like any job, however their “mistakes” can be life changing. I agree that folks in any profession should suffer consequences for their mistakes but it’s a human quality we all posses. I’m just not sure if fireing, law suits and “public floggings” accomplish anything except make lawyers richer, journalists famous, existing law enforcement ambivalent about their job and oath “to serve and protect” and satisfy the blood lust of certain members of society.

  • Speaking of corruption, does anyone one know when disgraced Paul Tanaka checks-in to the Federal version of their IRC? I hope the media is their to video this blessed event, the day Too Tall Paul becomes a Federal prisoner, oh man that is rich.

    I truly hope that Inmate Tanaka is brought back to Los Angeles to testify in Baca’s next trial. I will gladly make the flight to L.A. to see his ass brought into the courtroom in a Federal prisoner jumpsuit, three sizes too big, with tuffs of cotton from his inmate blanket in his hair, ankles shackled and hands cuffed behind his back, led into the courtroom like the disgraced and broken man he will be. Perhaps for a nanosecond, he will have empathy for Sexton, but I doubt it.

  • Accountability is a must for all, regardless of position. That would be Baca, Tanaka, and the deputies who failed to do their job and prevent Gabriel’s tragic ending.

  • Blood Red States huh CF? Way to indict so many dude, nice. I’ve seen more absolute hatred come out of the left since the election of Trump than most people probably thought they were capable of, except people like me who always knew. Now the video of the kidnapped young man in Chicago is giving the nation a taste of what’s been going on for years when it comes to hate in this country that the left says nothing about and these types of victims, won’t read about them here will we?
    I will agree there’s an issue with some in all agencies that are simply slugs and the bigger the agency the more you find. When it leads to something as tragic as this something needs to happen as this is inexcusable.

  • I’m curious. Back in my day there was no way to check if there had been other deputies who had visited Gabriel or Gabriel’s home on previous occasions. So each Deputy handling calls about Gabriel would not have had any “background” information to assist them in making an assessment of Gabriel’s situation.

    Could these Deps have run his name and/or his address in their MDT and discovered what previous activity might have taken place involving Gabriel?

    If that is the case, it is pretty clear – as the time-line proceeded – each Deputy involved became much more culpable for “kicking the can down the street” and not helping this little guy in his time of need.

    If the brass did not see it that way and impose appropriate discipline then THEY should also be held accountable. I believe I speak for many folks who love the LASD when I say, individually, this might have been a series of mistakes, but in total, this is UNACCEPTABLE!

  • Unless appropriate action is taken, another scandal is in the making. Totally unacceptable for everyone involved, who failed to properly do their job.

  • Wondering if this case takes District Attorney Jackie Lacey to task to charge the deputies ….. or will she feign “conflict of interest”. Time will tell.

  • The supervisors and their bosses created the tradition of unaccountability that allowed the scumbag deputies to feel safe in ignoring their duty and allowing Gabriel to be tortured to death.

    Yes, the deputies should be fired, but so should their bosses who were and are equally guilty.

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