An L.A. County investigation has been launched into how the county handled abuse complaints involving an 8-year-old boy who police say was tortured and killed by his mother and her boyfriend.
Gabriel Fernandez was discovered in his Palmdale home May 22 by firefighters responding to a call that the boy was barely breathing. Authorities said he suffered numerous injuries resulting from abuse, including a fractured skull, several broken ribs and burns. He died last Friday.
County officials declined to detail their involvement with the family leading up to the death, but four child protective services workers were placed on desk duty as the county investigates them for possible disciplinary action.
“We need to know where the breakdown was in the services recommended and why this child was not removed from those living conditions,” said county Supervisor Michael D. Antonovich.
Antonovich was unable to say whether the results of the review would be made public, or whether the case was going to be referred to the Children’s Special Investigations Unit, a team of lawyers who conduct in-depth, independent investigations of select child fatalities.
Sheriff Lee Baca‘s spokesman said an inquiry has also been launched into his department’s handling of the family’s case during previous visits to the home in response to child abuse complaints.
“We’re going to look at everything,” Steve Whitmore said. “There is going to be a thorough review.”
On Tuesday, the district attorney charged 29-year-old Pearl Fernandez and 32-year-old Isauro Aguirre with murder and torture. The office has not yet decided whether to seek the death penalty. An arraignment is scheduled for June 11.
Many people who knew Gabriel posted online messages and gathered for protests at a nearby sheriff’s station and courthouse in recent days to allege that Gabriel suffered obvious signs of abuse long before his death.
Jennifer Garcia, who said she was Gabriel’s teacher, told KNBC-TV Channel 4 that she frequently called the Department of Children and Family Services to no avail. She said the boy told her he had been shot in the face by a BB gun and had “perfectly circled bruises all over his face.”
[For the Record, June 10, 2013: An earlier version of this post incorrectly listed Gabriel Fernandez’s last name as Hernandez.]