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California

Boy left in mother’s custody by DCFS is dead of apparent homicide

Los Angeles County sheriff’s homicide detectives are investigating the death of a 2-year-old Signal Hill boy who was under the protective supervision of county social workers when he died.

Josue-Rey Maldonado was pronounced dead Aug. 10 after being taken to a Long Beach hospital. A county Department of Children and Family Services report reviewed by The Times says the “apparent mode of death is homicide” and notes bruising was observed on the boy’s body. But sheriff’s detectives said an official cause of death would be determined after a coroner’s investigation.

Josue-Rey’s death came after child welfare workers decided to leave the boy in the custody of his mother as she received court-ordered services to improve her parenting skills, along with regular visits from social workers, according to the report.

Last year, social workers investigated a complaint that Josue-Rey had been abandoned, that the father had used methamphetamine and that the boy had been present during a domestic violence incident involving a gun, the report said. The inquiry found substantial evidence of neglect by both parents, according to the report.

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A court later validated the general neglect finding, which requires a preponderance of evidence, and ordered special support services for the family, according to an official familiar with the case.

Another official familiar with the case, who requested anonymity because the matter is considered confidential, said the father was no longer living with the boy and his mother at the time of Josue-Rey’s death. The DCFS report said that the boy was in the care of his mother, Jessica Cereceres, and her boyfriend, Samuel Aguilar, when he died. Neither responded to requests for comment.

According to witness accounts referenced in the DCFS report, Josue-Rey was seen the night before his death with bruising on his face. He had vomited and was not alert, but he was not taken for medical treatment, the report said.

Early the next day, he was taken to the hospital with signs of physical abuse, the report said. Doctors pronounced him dead after resuscitation efforts failed, the report said.

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Other children in the home — ages 1, 3 and 5 — were taken into protective custody, and the 1-year-old was treated at the hospital for bruising and liver problems, the report said.

Neighbors told The Times that police had visited the home on Lewis Avenue on more than one occasion in the days leading up to the death. However, Signal Hill Police Chief Michael Langston said he had found no record of visits or complaints regarding the family.

No charges have been filed in the case. Sheriff’s detectives say they are continuing to interview relatives, neighbors and potential witnesses.

Dozens of children have died of abuse or neglect in recent years after being brought to the attention of the county’s child welfare agency. After the beating death of 8-year-old Gabriel Fernandez of Palmdale, the county Board of Supervisors established a blue-ribbon commission, which has called for sweeping changes to the system.

Gabriel was found with his skull cracked, three ribs broken, and skin that was bruised and burned. BB pellets were embedded in his lung and groin, and two teeth were knocked out.

The Times reported last year that social workers had investigated six reports of abuse in his case but allowed the Palmdale boy to stay with his birth mother and her boyfriend. Sheriff’s deputies separately investigated at least four reports of mistreatment but did not remove the boy or report the complaints to county welfare workers. The mother and boyfriend are facing murder charges in the case.

The majority of reform recommendations presented by the blue-ribbon commission on child welfare are still pending before the county’s elected board.

garrett.therolf@latimes.com

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