By Bill Hetherman
City News Service
LOS ANGELES (CNS) — Los Angeles County would pay $32 million under a tentative settlement of a lawsuit filed by relatives of a 10-year-old Lancaster boy who died in 2018 after allegedly being subjected to extensive torture by his mother and her boyfriend, attorneys said Wednesday, May 11.
The settlement of the county’s portion of the lawsuit over the death of Anthony Avalos was announced in court last week, but no terms were disclosed. Attorneys for the family held a news conference Wednesday to announce the $32 million settlement amount, which is still pending approval from the county Board of Supervisors. The lawsuit accused the county and multiple social workers of failing to properly respond to reports of abuses of Anthony and his half-siblings.
“This little boy should not have endured anything that he did,” plaintiffs’ attorney Brian E. Claypool said. “Anthony knows he did not die in vain because he died so other kids could live.”
The settlement leaves Pasadena-based Hathaway-Sycamores Child and Family Services as the only remaining defendant in the lawsuit brought in July 2019. That part of the case is set for trial Sept. 6.
Claypool said he and the Avalos family will urge that three new laws be enacted in the wake of Anthony’s death, including one that would require county social workers to communicate with a mental health agency such as Hathaway-Sycamores so the agency knows the child’s full history before commencing work.
Claypool also said the time for abused children to file claims against the county is six months, just as with adults, far too short a period for someone so young.
“It’s just completely inexcusable and makes no sense,” Claypool said, adding that the time for filing should be extended to when the child is 18 years old.
The suit alleges Hathaway-Sycamores assigned employee Barbara Dixon to work with the family even though she had allegedly not reported abuse in the case of 8-year-old Gabriel Fernandez of Palmdale, who, like Anthony, was killed while in the care of his mother and her boyfriend. According to Claypool, Dixon was an unlicensed intern and his third suggestion for a new law is that all such workers be mandated to be licensed.
In their court papers, attorneys for Hathaway-Sycamores state the plaintiffs make no allegations as to what Dixon allegedly witnessed or whether she suspected any abuse that was not already part of what the county Department of Children and Family Services already knew.
A grand jury indicted Heather Maxine Barron, 32, and her boyfriend, Kareem Ernesto Leiva, 36, in October 2018 on charges that they murdered the boy and abused two other children in the household. The district attorney’s office in May 2021 reversed course and announced it would no longer seek the death penalty against the pair, who now face a possible maximum sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole if convicted.
Anthony’s father, Victor Avalos, said during the news conference that he still has trouble coping with his son’s death.
“Nothing is going to bring him back,” Victor Avalos said.
Anthony’s aunt, Maria Barron, held a photo of a smiling Anthony. She said the boy lived happily with her and her husband, David Barron, for seven years until the county Department of Children and Family Services ordered him returned to his mother.
“I truly believe Anthony could have been saved if DCFS did its job properly,” Maria Barron said.
Prosecutors allege that Anthony was severely tortured during the last five or six days of his life by his mother and Leiva. The alleged abuse included whipping the boy with a belt and a looped cord, pouring hot sauce on his face and mouth, holding him by his feet and dropping him on his head repeatedly, according to a prosecution court filing.
From 2013 until his death in 2018, reports of abuse were made to the DCFS that Anthony and his six half-siblings were denied food and water, beaten, sexually abused, dangled upside-down from a staircase, forced to crouch for hours while holding heavy objects, locked in small spaces with no access to a bathroom, forced to fight each other and forced to eat from the trash, according to the plaintiffs’ court papers.
“Despite these continued allegations of abuse, and some being found substantiated, DCFS continued to leave the children in Barron’s and Leiva’s care, exposing Anthony and his half-siblings to continued torture and abuse,” the plaintiffs’ court papers alleged.