LOS ANGELES (CBSLA) — A California appeals court has thrown out criminal charges against four social workers in the torture and murder of 8-year-old Palmdale boy Gabriel Fernandez.

Stefanie Rodriguez, 34; Patricia Clement, 69; Kevin Bom, 40; and Gregory Merritt, 64, were charged with child abuse and falsifying public records. All four were fired from the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services after an internal investigation into the boy’s May 24, 2013 death.

In a 2-1 opinion, the three-justice panel concluded there was no probable cause to hold the two social workers and their supervisors on the charges.

“We conclude that the petitioners never had the requisite duty to control the abusers and did not have care or custody of Gabriel for purposes of Penal Code section 273a, subdivision (a). We further conclude that the petitioners were not officers within the meaning of Government Code section 6200,” wrote Justice Francis Rothschild.

“There is, therefore, no probable cause to hold them on charges of violating those laws and the trial court should have granted the motions to dismiss,” the opinion continued.

(credit: CBS)

Justice Victoria Gerrard Chaney concurred that the four could not be charged with child abuse, but wrote a dissent arguing that they could be prosecuted as public officers under the relevant government code section.

“Allowing a social worker to evade liability for falsifying a public document would incentivize social workers to put their own interests in avoiding liability for their misdeeds above the purpose of the state’s child welfare statutory scheme, which is child safety,” Chaney wrote in her concurring and dissenting opinion.

“The petitioners’ actions here prevented the system from working in whatever way it might have had they done their jobs honestly, and offers no incentive for either DCFS or individual social workers to work to reform and repair the parts of the system that may fail the children it is intended to protect,” Chaney wrote.

“We have, in effect, encouraged DCFS and its social workers to cover their tracks if they stumble on the cracks in the system.”

Gabriel’s mother, Pearl Sinthia Fernandez, was sentenced to life in prison, while her boyfriend, Isauro Aguirre, was sentenced to death. During the trial, it was revealed that Gabriel had been starved, kept in handcuffs, shot with BB guns, doused with pepper spray, forced to eat his own vomit and locked in a cabinet with a sock stuffed in his mouth to muffle his screams.

When Fernandez called 911 on May 22, 2013 to report her son was not breathing, she told sheriff’s deputies who responded that Gabriel had fallen and hit his head on a dresser. Paramedics found Gabriel naked in a bedroom with a cracked skull three broken ribs and BB pellets embedded in his lung and groin. He died two days later.

(© Copyright 2019 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. City News Service contributed to this report.)

Comments (10)
  1. Miscarriage of justice. The lying, falsified public records demonstrated knowledge and neglect by these fired social workers! They had a duty to remove Gabriel from the abusive home and chose to ignore the abuse rather than take appropriate action. Firing social workers is not enough! Prosecution for falsifying public records needs to follow this “Kangaroo Court” decision. Are these workers still practicing with a California State Behavioral Sciences Licensure?

  2. Stephanie Rodriguez Associate Clinical Social Worker Lic# 91124, Kevin Bom Licensed Clinic Social Worker Lic# 25596 are still licensed in the State of California!

    1. Know Name says:

      Very few words can be said of people who stand by and knowingly allow a child or any living innocent thing for that matter to be abused and tortured . The few that come to mind are Karma or Death. And if they do indeed still hold a State of California license makes one wonder who they know on the inside..

  3. TeeDee says:

    I feel that they are liable in this child’ death. But for them and their lies and neglect – this child would be alive. He could have been saved and placed with a family who could have loved him. He may have been separated from his family, but that would have saved his life. There’s a lot of blame to go around, and these ‘social workers’ are at the top of the list of those who failed this beautiful child. Don’t be a social worker if all you’re going to do is falsity records, and turn a blind eye when a child’ life hangs in the balance.! Absolutely sickening. I can’t even :-‘((

  4. Sense says:

    250 more deaths all similor cases not handled properly by the DCFS.
    PROBLEMS CANNOT BE SOLVED BY THE SAME MIND THAT CREATED THEM.
    Hearing Merritt say he didn’t do anything wrong and his reactions in the trial were no different from the total lack of the parents, shock me. Is this guy a narcissist or what? Makes me sick to my stomach. Not the system is sick, the people in it are!

  5. Patricia Matos says:

    Falsification of records is NOT breaking the law? Shame. On. You. Judge.

  6. Salvatomom says:

    I’m late to the game, but these people all deserve to be in jail. They are horrible, evil people to allow this poor baby to stay in that home. They knew that he was being abused and they were too lazy to do a damn thing about it.

  7. Pat says:

    I watched the show and as a former state worker (not in CA) and legal secretary, I find the court’s ruling shocking. If there is no accountability of the social workers, law enforcement (sheriff’s office), supervisors at various levels, then this child’s life and worth as a human being was zero. With all of the abuse and torture of children in recent years, the message is clearly being sent out that a child’s life holds no value and if they die, oh well. I don’t know how these people can look themselves in the mirror or sleep at night – they must not have a conscience.

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