Los Angeles County prosecutors are asking a state appellate court panel to reconsider its ruling that directed a lower court to dismiss charges against four social workers who were accused of failing to protect an 8-year-old Antelope Valley boy who was killed in May 2013.
Prosecutors petitioned the three-justice panel from California’s 2nd District Court of Appeal to either re-hear or modify its opinion in the case of social workers Stefanie Rodriguez, 34, and Patricia Clement, 69, and two supervisors, Kevin Bom, 40, and Gregory Merritt, 64. The four were charged in March 2016 with one felony count each of child abuse and falsifying public records in connection with Gabriel Fernandez’s death.
Isauro Aguirre—the boyfriend of the child’s mother—was sentenced to death in June 2018 after being convicted of first-degree murder. Jurors found true the special circumstance allegation of murder involving the infliction of torture.
The boy’s mother, Pearl Sinthia Fernandez, was sentenced to life in prison without parole after pleading to first-degree murder and admitting the torture allegation.
In September 2018, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge George G. Lomeli denied a motion to dismiss the charges against the social workers, calling the young boy’s death “foreseeable.”
In a Jan. 6 ruling, the appellate court panel found that there was no probable cause to hold the two social workers and their supervisors on the charges and ruled that the trial court should have granted the defense’s motion to dismiss the case against them.
Associate Justice Victoria Gerrard Chaney concurred that the four could not be charged with child abuse, but wrote a dissenting opinion 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 their petition for reconsideration of the decision on the social workers’ case, prosecutors wrote, “If facts known to petitioners suggested Gabriel’s caretakers would harm him, petitioners had a duty to control Pearl and Isauro, to protect Gabriel and to prevent Pearl and Isauro from murdering him. If petitioners weren’t supposed to protect Gabriel from his killers, who was? …. It was their duty to supervise and control Pearl and Isauro’s conduct when it came to how Pearl and Isauro treated Gabriel.”