L.A. County Social Workers Charged After Child's Death

Four former Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services employees have been charged with felony child abuse and falsifying records in connection with the 2013 death of eight-year-old Palmdale boy, Gabriel Fernandez.

Stephanie Rodriguez, 30, Patricia Clement, 65, Kevin Bom, 36, and Gregory Merritt, 60, are facing up to 10 years in prison for their role in Fernandez's murder, allegedly committed by his mother and her boyfriend. According to prosecutors, the social workers lied on records in a way that minimized the abuse going on in the boy's household. They then closed the case prematurely, allowing him to stay in a dangerous home where he was eventually tortured and killed.

"Social workers play a vital role in society," Los Angeles County District Attorney Jackie Lacey said. "We entrust them to protect our children from harm. When their negligence is so great as to become criminal, young lives are put at risk."

All four of the social workers were previously terminated as a result of their actions in the case, but supervisor Gregory Merritt was reinstated last year. He and his attorney had argued that heavy caseloads and two decades of an “unblemished” career in social work should be seen as mitigating factors when it came to his negligence. DCFS disagreed and soon filed an appeal.

Gabriel's death sparked widespread condemnation of the agency and spurred a series of efforts to reform Los Angeles County's child protection services. The boy's mother and her boyfriend are still awaiting trial.

Read more about the charges against the four social workers here.

Image Credit: Flickr User grubbenvorst, https://flic.kr/p/9C3sma via (CC BY-ND 2.0)