Gabriel Fernandez: What happened to the social workers in the Gabriel Fernandez case?

All six episodes of The Trials of Gabriel Fernandez are available to stream and download on Netflix now. The series tracks what happened to eight-year-old Gabriel and the subsequent murder trial of his mother Pearl Fernandez and her partner, Isauro Aguirre. The trials of Gabriel Fernandez also points to the failings of the Los Angeles Child Services and the four social works in charge of the Gabriel case.

What happened to the social workers in the Gabriel Fernandez case?

During the final eight months of Gabriel Fernandez’s life, numerous concerns had been made to the Los Angeles Department of Child and Family Services [DCFS].

Gabriel’s teacher Ms Garcia contacted the organisation several times, reporting Gabriel’s injuries and behaviour.

Arturo Martinez, a security guard at the welfare office had also noticed Gabriel’s injuries and also tried to report his concerns.

Gabriel’s mother, Pearl, was already known to the authorities following previous child abuse-related incidents.

She had lost custody of a son named Arnold Jr and had abandoned her youngest daughter, Destiny.

Social workers Stephanie Rodriguez and Patricia Clement visited the Fernandez family home on multiple occasions but both workers claimed they never saw signs of abuse that would require Gabriel to be moved out of the family home.

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Kevin Bom and Gregory Merritt were their supervisors on the case.

Sadly, Gabriel Fernandez was subjected to months of brutal torture at the hands of his mother Pearl and her boyfriend, Isauro Aguirre.

He died on May 24, 2013, and in 2018, Pearl and Isauro were found guilty of first-degree murder with an additional special circumstance of intentional murder by torture.

Following Gabriel’s death in 2013, Rodriguez, Clement, Bom and Merritt were fired from their positions at DCFS following an international investigation after Gabriel’s death in 2013.

The DCFS Internal investigation found that neither Rodriguez or her supervisor Bon reviewed information regarding Pearl and her history with the DCFS.

The internal investigation also found that Stephanie never visited Gabriel’s school, talked to the neighbours or interview Gabriel and his siblings alone.

In January 2013, Rodriguez visited the family home after Ms Garcia reported Gabriel had been shot in the face with BB gun.

With his mother present, Gabriel told Rodriguez the bruises on his face came from a fall he had playing with his brother and dissenter.

Rodriquez and Bom decided not to remove Gabriel from the home or order a medical evaluation. Later that month, Gabriel’s case was closed.

Speaking to The Atlantic, Rodriguez explained that “during the time she supervised Gabriel’s welfare, other children in her caseload seemed to her to be in equal or greater danger.”

Clement and Merritt then became involved in the case. They were informed of suicide notes written by Gabriel but they took no additional action.

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When Clement visited the Fernandez home for the third time in March, Pearl said she did not want to have further involvement with the agency and Clement accepted her decision.

In 2018, after Pearl and Isauro’s sentencing, prosecutors opened an investigation into the four social workers who had been assigned to Gabriel’s case.

Rodriguez, Clement, as well as two of their supervisors, Bom and Merritt were charged with one felony count of child abuse and falsifying public records in April 2016.

Prosecutors argued the four minimised evidence of abuse and violated multiple policies.

Their case marks one of the few times social worked have been charged in a child abuse case in the US.

If they were to be found guilty, they faced up to 10 years in prison each.

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The case against Rodriguez, Clement, Bom and Merritt never made it to trial after the Second District Court of Appeal advised that the case be dismissed.

Decider.com reported that a three-justice panel stated there was “no probably cause connected to child abuse or falsifying documents in a 2-to-1 opinion.”

Justice Francis Rothschild wrote: “We conclude that the petitioners never had the requisite duty to control the abusers and did not have care or custody of Gabriel for purposes of Penal Code section 273a, subdivision (a).

“We further conclude that the petitioners were not officers within the meaning of Government Code section 6200.

“There is, therefore, no probable cause to hold them on charges of violating those laws and the trial court should have granted the motions to dismiss.”

A motion to appeal the 2nd District Court of Appeal’s decision was denied in January 2020.

The court stated: “Although there may be consequences to social workers who fail to fulfil their duties, the consequences do not include criminal liability for child abuse.”

In the documentary, Merrit said: “Those of us who were working the case seems to have done what we could have done. In my opinion, no crime was committed and I did not commit a crime.”

The Trials of Gabriel Fernandez is streaming on Netflix now

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