Relatives of a 10-year-old Lancaster boy who died in 2018 after allegedly being subjected to extensive torture by his mother and her boyfriend have reached a tentative settlement that would have the county pay $32 million. The settlement is still pending approval by the Board of Supervisors.
The announcement of the settlement was made last week during a final status conference before Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Michelle Williams Court in the case involving the death of Anthony Avalos.
The accord leaves Pasadena-based Hathaway-Sycamores Child and Family Services as the only defendant in the lawsuit brought in July 2019.
The lawsuit accused the county and multiple social workers of failing to properly respond to reports of abuses of Anthony and his half-siblings.
The suit alleges Hathaway-Sycamores assigned employee Barbara Dixon to work with the family even though she had allegedly not reported abuse in the case of 8-year-old Gabriel Fernandez of Palmdale, who, like Anthony, was killed while in the care of his mother and her boyfriend.
But in their court papers, attorneys for Hathaway-Sycamores state the plaintiffs make no allegations as to what Dixon allegedly witnessed or whether she suspected any abuse that was not already part of what the county Department of Children and Family Services already knew.
A grand jury indicted Heather Maxine Barron, 32, and Kareem Ernesto Leiva, 36, in October 2018 on charges that they murdered the boy and abused two other children in the household. The District Attorney’s Office in May 2021 reversed course and announced it would no longer seek the death penalty against the pair, who now face a possible maximum sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole if convicted.
Prosecutors allege that Anthony was severely tortured during the last five or six days of his life by his mother and Leiva. The alleged abuse included whipping the boy with a belt and a looped cord, pouring hot sauce on his face and mouth, holding him by his feet and dropping him on his head repeatedly, according to a prosecution court filing.
From 2013 until his death in 2018, reports of abuse were made to the DCFS that Anthony and his six half-siblings were denied food and water, beaten, sexually abused, dangled upside-down from a staircase, forced to crouch for hours while holding heavy objects, locked in small spaces with no access to a bathroom, forced to fight each other and forced to eat from the trash, according to the plaintiffs’ court papers.
“Despite these continued allegations of abuse, and some being found substantiated, DCFS continued to leave the children in Barron’s and Leiva’s care, exposing Anthony and his half-siblings to continued torture and abuse,” the plaintiffs’ court papers alleged.