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Assembly members call for audit of county child protective services

City News Service | 6/4/2013, 10:54 a.m.

LOS ANGELES, Calif. -- Responding in part to the death of 8-year-old Palmdale boy allegedly beaten to death by his mother's boyfriend as she stood by, state lawmakers called today for an investigation of three county child welfare agencies.

Assemblymen Mike Gatto, D-Los Angeles, and Tim Donnelly, R-Twin Peaks, said they would ask for an audit of child welfare agencies in Los Angeles, Orange and Sacramento counties at a Joint Legislative Audit Committee hearing set for tomorrow.

"Children like Gabriel (Fernandez) rely on adults to keep them safe and advocate for their needs," Gatto said. "The death of an 8-year-old boy, whose abuse and neglect was known by officials, is not just unacceptable -- it is horrifying."

Gabriel Fernandez was hospitalized May 22 with BB pellets embedded in his lungs and groin, a cracked skull, broken ribs, burns, bruises and two missing teeth. The boy died two days later.

His mother's 32-year-old boyfriend, Isauro Aguirre, admitted under questioning by detectives that he injured the boy, according to Los Angeles County sheriff's Sgt. Brian Hudson.

The boy's mother, Pearl Sinthia Fernandez, 29, admitted to being there during the assault and not doing anything to stop it, Hudson said.

But it was the failure of county social workers to remove Gabriel from his home, despite multiple warning signs and investigations, that prompted the assemblymen's concern.

The Los Angeles Times reported that six investigations regarding Gabriel were done.

"Gabriel had shown up to school with injuries consistent with severe beatings, had told authorities that his parents beat him regularly, and that he contemplated suicide," according to Gatto.

But earlier allegations of abuse were termed unfounded, and the most recent probe dragged on for two months past a legally mandated deadline by the boy died, Gatto said.

Los Angeles County Supervisor Michael Antonovich has called for an investigation of all county social workers and supervisors involved in the boy's case, four of whom were reportedly put on desk duty in the interim.

Fernandez and Aguirre have been charged with murder and the special circumstance allegation of murder during the commission of torture. They were denied bail while awaiting arraignment, which is set for June 11 in Lancaster Superior Court.

Prosecutors in the District Attorney's Office have yet to decide whether to seek the death penalty in the case.

Gatto also refered the case of five-month-old Sammy Nikolayev in Sacramento, who was "ripped from his mother's arms, in her house, because she asked to see a second doctor before authorizing risky heart surgery for her newborn," according to a statement by Gatto's office.

The mother lost faith in medical professionals after the baby was given antibiotics without a doctor's consent, he said.

"While the facts of this case are not all public, what we do know is alarming enough to warrant further investigation," Gatto said. "It is inconceivable to most parents that a government agency could enter your home without a warrant and haul away your baby, just because you sought a second opinion before a significant medical procedure."

A 9 a.m. rally is planned tomorrow in Sacramento before the 10 a.m. hearing by the audit committee.