The parents of Noah Cuatro, a 4-year-old Palmdale boy who was known to social workers and died under suspicious circumstances while in his parents’ care, have been arrested.
Homicide investigators with the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department announced the arrest of Jose Cuatro and Ursula Juarez on suspicion of murdering their son. The parents were taken into custody about 8 a.m. Thursday and were booked at the sheriff’s station in Palmdale.
“A search warrant was served at the suspects’ residence in an attempt to recover any additional evidence related to victim Cuatro’s murder,” officials said in a statement.
According to Brian Claypool, the attorney representing Noah’s great-grandmother Eva Hernandez, a sheriff’s detective contacted Hernandez on Thursday morning and told her that “Ursula and Jose Cuatro were in custody and under arrest” in connection with Noah’s death. Noah was in Hernandez’s care before he was returned to his parents.
“We applaud the collaborative efforts of the L.A. County sheriff and L.A. County district attorney during this challenging investigation,” Claypool said in a statement. “They have made it clear that those who abuse, neglect and kill innocent helpless children will be prosecuted to the fullest extent. But this is only one form of justice for Noah Cuatro. Department of Children and Family Services has blood on its hands and will also be held accountable in a federal lawsuit for deliberately disobeying a court-mandated removal order that would have saved Noah’s life.”
At a news conference Thursday afternoon, Claypool said he and his client were awaiting further information regarding the evidence for the arrest. Their hope is that those details could provide solid explanation for how Noah died, a question at the center of the case.
“If the district attorney and L.A. County sheriff has evidence that Noah Cuatro was beaten to death, then we would think there might be elevated charges for murder,” he said. “We are just putting our faith in the hands of law enforcement and the district attorney to get justice for Noah.”
Hernandez, the grandmother of Noah’s mother, addressed reporters through tears and recounted her great-grandson’s pleas to stay with her before he was removed from her care.
“I feel relief. I feel sad,” she said. “Everything is so mixed up in my brain right now.”
Bobby Cagle, director of the county Department of Children and Family Services, released a statement after the arrest.
“While my staff at DCFS and I continue to mourn the tragic death of Noah C., I am grateful to the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department for its hard work leading to arrests in the case. I deeply respect the diligent work of my staff and our law enforcement partners. DCFS will continue to collaborate with law enforcement as their investigation is ongoing,” Cagle said.
This month, a report about the death of the boy absolved the agency of responsibility in the case.
“They ultimately did the right thing,” said Michael Nash, executive director of the Office of Child Protection, which evaluates child welfare policy and operations for the county’s Board of Supervisors. “The department had consistent eyes on this family.”
But the report will not shield the agency from potential lawsuits or future scrutiny by the Board of Supervisors.
Noah died July 6, a day after his parents dialed 911 and said their son had drowned in an apartment complex pool. Sheriff Alex Villanueva later told reporters that the death appeared inconsistent with drowning, and he launched an investigation. In the months since, little information has been provided about the findings of the investigation.
Noah was placed in foster care and later in the custody of the great-grandmother in 2014. He was placed with his parents the next year, then bounced back into foster care and under the care of Hernandez again in 2016 following allegations that he had been medically neglected by his parents. The court returned Noah to the care of his parents in 2018. Following further allegations of neglect in May 2019, the Department of Children and Family Services intervened. As their investigation continued, social workers disagreed about whether an order to remove Noah should have been filed, after a social worker sought a court order to remove Noah from his home on May 15 following an unverified tip that Noah had possibly been sexually abused.
Social workers last saw Noah in late June. Noah died two weeks later, after they updated the court and asked for a 30-day continuance to investigate further.
Times staff writer Matt Stiles contributed to this report.