Gabriel Fernandez

A county Department of Children and Family Services social worker who was fired in the aftermath of the Gabriel Fernandez case has been reinstated

Gregory Merritt was one of four DCFS workers fired last year for their alleged mishandling of the investigation into allegations of abuse to Fernandez, who was killed in 2013. His mother Pearl Fernandez, and her boyfriend Isauro Aguirre, were arrested and charged with capital murder.

Merritt was the supervisor who approved the closure of Fernandez’s case despite repeated reports and obvious signs of abuse documented in his case file. Following Fernandez’s death, Merritt was one of four employees who were fired.

Merritt was the only employee who fought his termination with the Civil Service Commission. At a hearing on Wednesday, Jan. 27, a judge denied a motion by the County of Los Angeles to stay the commission’s decision to return Merritt to county service.

Merritt is reportedly being directed to work from home until further notice.

Reaction was swift and furious on the Facebook page of the website “Gabriel’s Justice.” Emily Carranza, Fernandez’s cousin and a founder of the website, was among those deeply upset about the news.

“It’s a slap in the face not only to us fighting for justice, it’s also a slap to the children that are currently in foster or abusive homes,” Carranza said. “If [Merritt] made a decision to close Gabriel’s case, without proper investigation into allegations of child abuse on Gabriel Fernandez, if he can close a case like that who’s to say that another child can be overlooked.

“I feel his reinstatement will bring the other three workers to feel they will be reinstated. It’s kind of a hard pill to swallow, knowing that a man in his position could be heartless toward a sensitive case like Gabriel’s. My question is: is he back just for the pay or is he back to actually save a child’s life? What makes the L.A. County Board of Supervisors, or anyone in the judge’s seat, think he can do a better job now if he couldn’t do it while on Gabriel’s’ case. What is the difference then to his reinstatement now?”

Carranza said she and supporters “will investigate” what options they might have to continue to fight Merritt’s reinstatement at DCFS. She is also concerned that the other three former employees would be spurred to try and get their jobs back.

“Everything is ‘under the cover’ with the county,” she said “It’s a close-knit group and they will protect each other. Why do they have to put him back working with children? Why put people under him [if] he’s not even gonna read their notes or what kind of findings they find on allegations they go out to investigate?”

Supervisor Michael Antoniovich has instructed the Los Angeles County Counsel to determine if there are any additional options to continue fighting the ruling by the judge and the commission.

— Mike Terry