Photo Courtesy of the Family

“It’s about time,” was Emily Carranza’s reaction to the news that two county social workers and two supervisors were charged and scheduled to be arraigned today on felony charges in the 2013 beating and torture death of 8-year-old Gabriel Fernandez. Prosecutors plan to ask that bail be set at $155,000 for each of them.

In an interview with the San Fernando Valley Sun/El Sol, Carranza, Fernandez’ cousin said it’s been three very painful years of seeing the horrific images and hearing what her young cousin went through. She along with a concerned group who formed the website, “Gabriel’s Justice,” have been active in following every detail of the case to bring those involved to justice. 

“This is a very emotional day for me.  Let this be an example to other social workers who have taken their jobs so carelessly and casually that the are failing to protect children.” 

Carranza said the Department of Family and Children Services has become such a complacent system that children are hurt not only by their abusers but by the agency that is supposed to protect them.

“In the case of Gabriel, it was the neglect of these social workers who not only turned a blind eye but falsified records to cover up their failure which allowed the heinous abuse to continue, which led to Gabriel’s death.”

Carranza said she hopes this action will now reverse a previous decision to allow supervisor Gregory Merritt to return to his job and for the county to continue to pay his salary. .   

L.A. County District Attorney Jackie Lacey made the announcement that social workers Stefanie Rodriguez and Patricia Clement and supervisors Kevin Bom and Gregory Merritt now each face felony counts of child abuse and falsifying records.  If convicted, each of the four defendants could be sentenced to as much as 10 years in state prison. All four were previously fired but Merritt appealed the decision and won his appeal.

The 30-year-old Rodriguez and 65-year-old Clement face charges they falsified reports that should have shown signs of Gabriel’s escalating physical abuse at the hands of his mother, Pearl Fernandez, and her then-boyfriend Isauro Aguirre.

The 36-year-old Bom and 60-year-old Merritt face charges they should have known they were approving the false reports.

If convicted, each of the four defendants could be sentenced to as much as 10 years in state prison. District Attorney Jackie Lacey said the social workers and supervisors involved in Gabriel’s case had a legal duty to protect the child.  They failed to document any signs of physical abuse.

“By minimizing the significance of the physical, mental and emotional injuries that Gabriel suffered, these social workers allowed a vulnerable boy to remain at home and continue to be abused,” Lacey said. “We believe these social workers were criminally negligent and performed their legal duties with willful disregard for Gabriel’s well being. They should be held responsible for their actions.”

Meanwhile, Fernandez and Aguirre both still face capital murder charges. The court proceedings for the pair have moved slowly, which has frustrated Carranza and other members of the “Gabriel’s Justice” group.

With court delays and claims of illness, Fernandez and Aguirre have yet to be tried for inflicting the fatal injures on Gabriel that included a fractured skull, knocked out teeth, broken ribs and burns. The pair’s sentencing followed a plea deal they made in 2014 to avoid a potential death sentence.

An investigation revealed that at times over an eight-month period preceding his death, Gabriel — among other instances of violent abuse — was doused with pepper spray, forced to eat his own vomit and locked in a closet.  The child’s mouth was stuffed with a sock to muffle his screams. 

Gabriel showed up to school with black eyes and bruises and although his teacher repeatedly called social services to intervene, social workers failed to remove the child from his mother’s home.   

Gabriel, before living with his mother, had been in the care of his grandparents.  His mother had refused to return him to his grandparent’s home after having what was supposed to be a brief visit. 

Some family members told the San Fernando Valley Sun/El Sol, they believed that “Gabriel’s mother never cared about him and only wanted to keep him only for the welfare income that it brought her.”