LOS ANGELES – Attorneys are scheduled to appear Monday and seem poised to settle a lawsuit brought against Los Angeles County by the family of Gabriel Fernandez, the 8-year-old Palmdale boy beaten to death, allegedly by his mother and her-then boyfriend.
Two county claims boards voted earlier this month to recommend that the Board of Supervisors pay $2.63 million to settle the claim. The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors has not yet voted on the matter, but a Lancaster court hearing is set for Monday to dismiss the case pending settlement.
The plaintiff’s lawyer was not immediately available for comment.
Family members of Gabriel — including his father, two grandparents, siblings and four other relatives on his father’s side — filed two separate suits alleging that the departments of Children and Family Services and Public Social Services were culpable in the boy’s death, the result of alleged serial abuse by his mother and her boyfriend.
The boy’s mother, Pearl Fernandez, 32, and then-boyfriend, Isauro Aguirre, 36, are charged with murder in Gabriel’s death, and prosecutors announced last year that they would seek the death penalty against the two. Both are being held without bail and awaiting a pretrial hearing July 28.
When Gabriel died on May 24, 2013, the boy had a fractured skull, several broken ribs and burns over his body, prosecutors said.
The case sparked a firestorm of criticism of DCFS over reports that the boy and his mother were repeatedly visited at their Palmdale home by social workers in response to abuse allegations, but Gabriel was never removed from the home.
Two former Los Angeles County social workers and their supervisors are awaiting arraignment on charges of felony child abuse and falsifying records in the Palmdale boy’s case. The four were released on bond after their initial court appearance April 9.
According to the District Attorney’s Office, the DCFS opened a file on Gabriel’s case on Oct. 31, 2012, and maintained one until the boy’s death. Prosecutors allege that social workers Stefanie Rodriguez and Patricia Clement falsified reports that should have documented signs of escalating physical abuse and the family’s lapsed participation in DCFS efforts to help maintain the family.
Prosecutors also contend that DCFS supervisors Kevin Bom and Gregory Merritt knew or should have known they were approving false reports that conflicted with evidence of Gabriel’s deteriorating physical health, allowing the boy to remain in the home until he died.
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 with a sock stuffed in his mouth to muffle his screams, authorities said.
All four defendants were fired by the county following an internal investigation into the case. Merritt, however, appealed his firing, and the Civil Service Commission ordered that he be reinstated. The matter is now being appealed in court.
If convicted, Merritt and the other three criminal defendants each face up to 10 years in prison.
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