Family members and supporters of 8-year-old Gabriel Fernandez, the child who died in May of 2013 after allegedly being tortured and abused by his mother and her boyfriend while under the watch of the county child welfare system, are angry that a fired supervisor could get his job back.
On the website “Gabriel’s Justice,” those following the case wrote that they are “outraged,” and feel they have “been slapped in the face” after learning that Gregory Merritt, a L.A. County Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) supervisor whose job was to oversee the social workers involved in Gabriel’s case, could now be returned to work. They are asking the public to write letters to the Supervisors and the Civil Service Commission to halt Merritt’s reinstatement.
Merritt was fired in September 2013, according to published reports. But the five-member commission recently decided that Merritt should instead be given a 30-day suspension with no back pay.
The commissioners’ decision was not supported by DCFS Director Philip Browning. He has said that Merritt missed multiple opportunities to ensure the boy’s safety.
“I’m concerned about any employee that doesn’t live up to the expectations that we have,” Browning told a local news station.
Browning said he believed the civil commission didn’t have all the facts prior to making their decision. “If they had, I believe they would have agreed with me,” he told the station.
“This is disturbing,” Emily Carranza, a cousin of Gabriel Fernandez, told the San Fernando Valley Sun/El Sol Newspaper.
Carranza, along with others who were moved to action following the child’s death,believe this decision to reinstate Merritt trivializes the heinous torture that the child endured and disrespects and dishonors his memory.
“This action has started a whole new fight,” Carranza said. “What benefit does Merritt have for children? Why would we want him back?
“Merritt complained that he was overworked and unappreciated and he is using all of these excuses, so why would he even want to go back?” Carranza asked. “We later found out that Merritt volunteered to oversee even more cases.”
Carranza said that Merritt was aware of the abuse and he knew Gabriel’s social worker, Patricia Clement, was incompetent.
“We learned that he still trusted her and they both agreed to close Gabriel’s case which ended in his death. They both should be prosecuted and should never work with children again,” Carranza said.
The “Gabriel’s Justice” supporters said, during a round of calls to the L.A. County Supervisors, they were stunned to find their call to newly elected Supervisor Hilda Solis was met with a “no comment and abrupt hang up” by an office representative.
“They should be ready to answer and not divert our calls [with a hang up]. We aren’t going away, and this treatment and attempt to reinstate Merritt only pushes us to fight harder,” Carranza said
The San Fernando Valley Sun/El Sol contacted Supervisor Solis’ office, but did not receive a response by press time.
Officials have until April 27 to file an appeal before Merritt’s reinstatement is finalized.
Gabriel died May 24, 2013 from injuries including a fractured skull, three broken ribs, two teeth knocked out, burns to his skin and BB pellets embedded in his lung and groin. Gabriel’s mother Pearl Fernandez, 30, and her boyfriend, Isauro Aguirre, 34, have both pleaded not guilty to murder charges with special allegations of torture and are awaiting trial.