LOS ANGELES (CBSLA.com) — Two former Los Angeles County social workers and their supervisors were arraigned Thursday on charges stemming from the death of an 8-year-old Palmdale boy.
According to the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office, the arraignment for social workers Stefanie Rodriguez, 31, and Patricia Clement, 65, and supervisors Kevin Bom, 36, and Gregory Merritt, 60, has been postponed until June 2.
Rodriguez, Clement, Bom and Merritt have been charged with one felony count each of child abuse and falsifying public records.
The four defendants were released on bond earlier this month after their initial court appearance.
Over an eight-month period preceding his death, Fernandez was doused with pepper spray, forced to eat his own vomit and was locked in a closet with a sock stuffed in his mouth to muffle his screams. Prosecutors believe other instances of violent abuse were forced upon the young boy.
Fernandez’s mother, Pearl, 32, and her then-boyfriend, Isauro Aguirre, 35, have been charged with murder in connection with his death.
Last year, prosecutors announced they would seek the death penalty against the former couple during their pretrial on May 24.
The case sparked criticism of the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) over reports that Fernandez and his mother were repeatedly visited at their home by social workers responding to abuse allegations.
Fernandez was never removed from the home.
DCFS workers maintained a file on the boy’s case from Halloween in 2012 until his death.
According to the district attorney’s office, Rodriguez and Clement are accused of falsifying a report that should have shown signs of escalating physical abuse and the family’s failure to take part in DCFS efforts to help maintain the family.
Bom and Merritt are suspected of knowing they were approving false reports, which conflicted with evidence of Fernandez’s deteriorating physical health. They allegedly allowed the boy to remain in his home until he died.
All four defendants were fired by the county following an internal investigation of the case.
Merritt appealed his firing, but the Civil Service Commission ordered that he be reinstated. The matter is now being appealed in court.
If convicted as charged, Rodriguez, Clement, Bom and Merritt each face up to 10 years in prison.
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