LOS ANGELES (CBSLA.com) — The Los Angeles County Department of Child and Family Services (DCFS) has taken the first steps to fire four employees in connection with the death of a 9-year-old Palmdale boy, county officials said Tuesday.
Relatives of the 8-year-old Palmdale boy who was beaten to death said the announcement that is an important step in what will be a continued fight against child abuse.
County CEO Bill Fujioka announced the move on Twitter “based on an internal investigation” into the death of Gabriel Fernandez on May 24.
The recommendation was made by DCFS director Philip Browning to discharge the four employees, Fujioka said. The two social workers and two supervisors are on paid leave pending a hearing in August.
Two of Gabriel Fernandez’s cousins, who were present when the decision was announced, say they will fight any appeals and continue their campaign to gather support for Gabriel’s case.
“How many have passed on that they just swept under the rug because no one’s making any noise about it?” said Gabriel’s cousin.
KNX 1070′s Claudia Peschiutta reports three other employees will be reprimanded as a result of the investigation.
In a memo dated July 30 (PDF) addressed to DCFS staff, Browning called the decisions “difficult” and acknowledged that the “action may cause stress and concern” among staffers.
“We finally got to a conclusion which really indicated that staff really performed far below our expectations in this case,” Browning told KCAL9′s Jeff Nguyen.
Despite six investigations into allegations of abuse, DCFS allowed Gabriel to remain in his mother’s home.
“They left empty-handed,” said the boy’s cousin. “They could have left with Gabriel.”
The four employees facing termination are union members who will have a chance to challenge the discharge notices in two weeks, in an internal hearing.
“This is the first step in a process in a long-term investigation,” L.A. County spokesman David Summers said.
Tammi Stephano of the National Safe Child Coalition has organized a number of protests against DCFS.
“We’re not going to go away,” Stephano said. “If somebody doesn’t make sure and enforce that the right thing is done, they’re going to create a problem bigger than they possible expect right now.”
Authorities were tipped off to the abuse on May 22 after the Los Angeles County Fire Department was called out to the 200 block of East Avenue Q-10 on a report of a boy who was not breathing.
According to the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, the boy was tortured by Pearl Fernandez, 29, and 32-year-old Isauro Aguirre, suffering a broken skull and ribs as well as cigarette burns, abrasions on his ankles and bruises all over his body.
Fernandez and Aguirre were each charged with one count of capital murder and are awaiting arraignment.
County officials have formed a Blue Ribbon panel to find ways for DCFS and other agencies to work toward better protecting children.