Olivia Rubio and Emily Carranza took a day off from work and drove to the courthouse in downtown Los Angeles at dawn last Monday. They wanted to make sure that they would get a seat inside, so they stood outside the courtroom waiting for the doors to open.
This would be the long awaited day when a decision would be made to determine if the two former case workers and their supervisors would be ordered to stand trial on falsifying records and child abuse charges involving the death of an 8-year-old Gabriel Fernandez,
The social workers and two of their supervisors — Stefanie Rodriguez, 31, Patricia Clement, 66, Kevin Bom, 37, and Gregory Merritt, 61 — were fired from their jobs following an internal investigation into the handling of the child’s case with the Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS).
Gabriel, heinously tortured and abused, died on May 24, 2013. His mother Pearl Fernandez and her live in boyfriend Isauro Aguirre are facing capitol murder charges and the District Attorney has said they will seek the death penalty for the pair.
Gabriel lived in the Northeast Valley with his grandparents for most of his life, until his mother, according to relatives, wanting additional welfare money, refused to return him after taking him for a visit to her apartment in Palmdale. Life for the child became a living nightmare where it was discovered after his death that he would be continuously beaten and locked in a cupboard and his screams would be muffled by stuffing a rag into his mouth.
The case has been followed closely by both Rubio and Carranza, they are both cousins of the boy and since his death, they have been instrumental in the effort to keep a light shining on the case by holding news conferences, providing support for the creation of the website ‘Gabriel’s Justice,’ and attending court proceedings.
“As I sat in the court room seeing the four social workers face to face, I had mixed emotions,” said Carranza, I felt disgust to see the smirks on their faces. At first, their expressions appeared as if they thought, ‘I got this in the bag’, then I saw them appear anxious as Judge Villar began to read all of the red flag warnings that were ignored in Gabriel’s case.”
Carranza said a great feeling of relief washed over her as the Judge announced the case would go forward and the social workers would stand trial.
Rubio said she felt the same wave of relief. “ So many times I have sat in the courtroom and they were just laughing and they weren’t taking this case seriously, today as the judge announced the decision for them [to stand trial] I saw the tears.”
Rubio said she and Carranza have been praying for “justice for their cousin Gabriel,”
“There have been so many years now of pain and crying for help. Today is a big day for Gabriel. Judge Villar has made this happen and now the social workers will pay for what they neglected to do.”
“These four social workers have never been remorseful, or apologized for their role in Gabriel’s death. I guess if they did apologize than they are admitting that they were guilty of negligence, said Carranza who acknowledged that this case is precedent making.
“All I can do now is continue to pray that these workers are they key to exposing the rest of the corruption behind the doors of DCFS,” said Carranza.
The social workers are accused of minimizing the child’s injuries on DCFS reports and attempting to later cover up their neglect to do their jobs following the firestorm of criticism that came when a coroner’s report was released indicating Gabriel was repeatedly abused and suffered torture. Social workers claimed they visited his home several times in response to reports made by his teacher, but they still left him in his mother’s custody.
Prosecutors said the youngster had a fractured skull, several broken ribs, lacerations and burns over his body. His teeth were knocked out. Palmdale elementary school teacher Jennifer Garcia, in testimony in late January in the preliminary hearing for the social workers, said she made her first call to a child welfare hotline to report Gabriel’s injuries more than six months before he was killed.
All four former DCFS employees are charged with one felony count each of child abuse and falsifying records and face up to 10 years in prison if convicted. They are scheduled to be back in court next month.
“May their case move faster than Gabriel’s [mother’s and her boyfriend’s] case. May 24th will mark four years since Gabriel died, it’s time to move forward.,”