The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday approved a $450,000 payout to the father of a 2-year-old boy who was killed by his mother's boyfriend in 2011 despite repeated calls to county social workers about ongoing abuse.
The payment settles a wrongful-death complaint filed by Robert Dominguez, the father of Gabriel Dominguez. The complaint alleged that the Department of Children and Family Services social worker assigned to investigate Gabriel's case falsified his report to say that the boy was healthy and safe at a time that bruises covered his face.
The case was closed Feb. 28, 2011. On March 3, 2011, the boyfriend, Daniel Vega, pummeled the boy with more than 50 blows in their Lomita home, lacerating his intestines and liver.
Vega had been the subject of repeated calls to the county's child abuse hotline and was sentenced to 56 years in prison for the killing.
The agency caseworker who investigated, Daniel Medina, “lied and fabricated evidence when he reported that he saw Gabriel on 2/18/11 and that Gabriel had no marks or bruises,” according to the father’s civil complaint.
Andrew Ritholz, the attorney for the boy’s father, says that Gabriel had visible bruising over much of his face at the time but Medina did not see him that day.
Ritholz had access to the county's original case notes that were filed as exhibits under seal in the civil case.
Medina, who remains a social worker with the department, did not respond to a request for comment. Agency Director Philip Browning rejected the claim that Medina lied in his reports.
“We have zero tolerance for falsification of documents,” Browning said. “In this matter, no falsification was found.”
According to the suit, Medina’s investigation began in late January 2011, when someone called the child abuse hotline to say that Gabriel and his two siblings were in danger because Vega lived with them and was violent and out of control. He had punched a neighbor in the presence of the children, the anonymous caller said.
The caller also asserted that Vega, who had a violent criminal record, was engaged in domestic violence against the mother, had gang affiliations and that there was drug use in the home, the suit alleged.
The suit also alleged that Medina went to the home on the day of the anonymous call, but over his ensuing visits, he believed Gabriel’s mother when she lied by saying that Vega no longer lived in the home — even though his clothes were still there and the children said they saw him often.
By the time Medina closed the case, other hotline calls had also been received about the family, according to the suit. Medina’s final report falsely stated that Vega was not in the home and that the mother did not have a drug problem, even though he received a positive test for marijuana for her days earlier, the suit said.
When the boy died days later, the coroner determined that some of his serious injuries had occurred weeks before, the suit said.
In a letter from the agency to the Board of Supervisors recommending the settlement, officials said they had spent $230,000 on legal fees fighting the case.
A wrongful-death complaint is still pending against the Los Angeles Unified School District because the father says a school nurse also failed to appropriately assess evidence of abuse before Gabriel's death.
At Medina’s request, Gabriel’s mother had taken him to Eshelman Elementary School, where the school nurse examined the boy. The nurse did not report any evidence of child abuse or neglect to the agency, according to court documents.
A spokesman for L.A. Unified declined to comment.