Charges dismissed against social workers linked to Gabriel Fernandez’s killing

Four social workers charged in Gabriel Fernandez's case appear in court.
Judge George Lomeli dismissed charges against four social workers, Stefanie Rodriguez, Patricia Clement, Kevin Bom and Gregory Merritt, linked to Gabriel Fernandez’s killing.
(Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)

A Los Angeles County Superior Court judge on Thursday dismissed charges against four social workers who had been accused of failing to protect Gabriel Fernandez, an 8-year-old Palmdale boy who was tortured and killed by his mother and her boyfriend.

Social workers Stefanie Rodriguez and Patricia Clement, as well as their supervisors, Kevin Bom and Gregory Merritt, were each charged with one felony count of child abuse and one felony count of falsifying public records after the boy died in May 2013.

Prosecutors alleged they mishandled evidence of abuse the boy faced at the hands of his mother and her boyfriend, and missed repeated red flags.


Gabriel’s mother, Pearl Sinthia Fernandez, was sentenced to life in prison in June 2018 for her part in his death. Her boyfriend, Isauro Aguirre, was sentenced to death.

Judge George Lomeli had previously denied a motion by defense attorneys to dismiss the charges against the social workers, saying they had demonstrated “an improper regard for human life” and “a lack of vigilance.”

However, justices in the 2nd District Court of Appeal in January said Lomeli should have granted the motion to dismiss the charges against the social workers. The justices ruled that the case hinged, in large part, on whether the four social workers had a legal duty to “exert control” over Gabriel’s abusers.

“Although there may be consequences to social workers who fail to fulfill” their duties, the appellate opinion read, “the consequences do not include criminal liability for child abuse.”

Staff writer Hannah Fry contributed to this report.