LOS ANGELES – A county supervisor on Wednesday blasted a judge’s ruling that the county must resume paying a Department of Children and Family Services worker who was fired after the 2013 beating death of an 8-year-old Palmdale boy.
The decision by Los Angeles Superior Court Judge James Chalfant moves Gregory Merritt a step closer to getting his job back. Another hearing in the case is set for May.
In the meantime, Chalfant said Merritt, who was a DCFS supervisor, should regain his salary and other benefits from the county, to the chagrin of Supervisor Michael Antonovich.
“The lack of oversight by the supervising social worker cost a young boy’s innocent life,” Antonovich said. “The action by the judge to further block Merritt’s termination indicates complete unawareness for the gravity of these mistakes and it further compromises the county’s efforts to protect our most vulnerable children.”
Merritt was fired, along with three social workers, following the death of 8-year-old Gabriel Fernandez.
The boy’s mother and her boyfriend are awaiting trial on a murder charge that could land them on Death Row. Authorities said the boy showed signs of repeated torture.
Following Gabriel’s death, it was revealed that social workers had made multiple visits to the family in response to abuse allegations, but the boy was never taken from the home.
Merritt and social worker Patricia Clement closed Gabriel’s case not long before the boy died.
According to case records reviewed by the Los Angeles Times, Clement had failed to make required visits to the home, and made only cursory notes on at least one visit. Supervisors like Merritt are supposed to review social workers’ case notes.
Attorneys also claimed that Clement and Merritt were both aware that Gabriel had a BB pellet embedded in his chest and had written a suicide note, but did not send him for medical treatment or a mental health assessment, The Times reported.
Of the four people who were fired, Merritt was the only one to appeal to the county’s Civil Service Commission, which ruled that he should be reinstated.
The county appealed that ruling in Los Angeles Superior Court.
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