An elementary school teacher, Jennifer Garcia, testified that she contacted an LA County social worker on multiple occasions to report that Gabriel Fernandez’s mother was physically abusing him.
Garcia gave her testimony during a preliminary hearing in the trial against four social workers in the death of 8-year-old Gabriel, who was tortured and fatally beaten on May 24, 2013, by his mother and her boyfriend in Palmdale, despite reports to the Department of Children and Family Services that the boy was being abused.
Stefanie Rodriguez and Patricia Clement, and their supervisors Kevin Bom and Gregory Merritt—have all been charged with one felony count of child abuse and one felony count of falsifying public records.
Gabriel’s mother, Pearl Fernandez, and her boyfriend, Isauro Aguirre, have been charged with capital murder.
Garcia testified that she called the county’s child abuse hotline on October 30, 2012, after Gabriel revealed to her that his mother beat him with the buckle side of a belt, drawing blood. Gabriel asked his teacher if that was “normal.”
Stephanie Rodriguez called Garcia back the following day, explained that she was assigned to Gabriel’s case, and said that she would “investigate” the alleged abuse.
Then, in November, Garcia said that Gabriel came to school with scabs on his head and chunks of hair missing. The boy told his teacher that his mother punched him in the face.
Garcia said that she called Rodriguez again. More injuries showed up on the boy. The teacher said she felt like nothing was being done to help Gabriel.
In January 2013, Gabriel showed up to school with bruises covering his face. Initially, the boy told Garcia that he’d gotten the bruises from a fall. Later, he told Garcia that his mother “shot me in the face with a BB gun” as she forced him to do exercises.
Gabriel asked Garcia two times to call “that lady,” referring to Rodriguez. Garcia testified that Gabriel told her that when the social worker visited his house he would be hurt even worse.
Rodriguez reportedly told Garcia that she already had a regular visit set up with the family, so her arrival at their home would not appear to be caused by a particular instance of alleged abuse.
Gabriel died on May 24, 2013, from multiple injuries including broken ribs, a fractured skull, and burns all over his body.
Besides the elementary school teacher, relatives, a therapist, and other individuals reported to authorities that Gabriel was being abused Between October 31, 2012 and the day Gabriel was murdered.
According to prosecutors, Rodriguez and Clement falsified reports “that should have documented signs of Gabriel’s escalating physical abuse and the family’s lapsed participation in DCFS efforts to provide help to maintain the family.” And the two supervisors, Bom and Merritt, should have seen that the social workers’ reports did not line up with the evidence of abuse in the Gabriel’s case, and removed the child from his home, prosecutors said.
The preliminary hearing is expected to continue into next week.
City News Service’s Elizabeth Marcellino has the story.