A Los Angeles County judge ruled Monday that four social workers should stand trial on child abuse and other charges in the death of an 8-year-old Palmdale boy they were assigned to protect, allowing prosecutors to push ahead with a case that has sent a chill through the ranks of child protection workers nationwide.
Superior Court Judge Mary Lou Villar said that “red flags were everywhere” during the months before Gabriel Fernandez died and that the social workers mishandled evidence of escalating abuse and failed to file timely reports on what was happening in the boy’s home before he was allegedly killed by his mother and her boyfriend in 2013.
The judge said the workers’ conduct amounted to criminal negligence.“[Gabriel’s mom] was in the system — that was a red flag, he missed school…had injuries, and his teacher called,” Villar said. “All of this shows that the mother was uncooperative and the parties should have known at that time something was wrong.”
The feckless defendants broke down in tears after Villar announced that the case would move forward.
Gabriel died after months of torture and abuse, prosecutors say. The boy’s mother and her boyfriend are awaiting trial on capital murder charges and have pleaded not guilty.
The case took a highly unusual turn last year when prosecutors accused the four former Department of Children and Family Services employees of felony child abuse and falsifying public records. Prosecutors alleged that caseworkers and supervisors ignored evidence of repeated abuse and minimized Gabriel’s injuries.
They each face up to 10 years in prison if convicted.
Read the whole story in the LA Times