4 social workers charged with child abuse in torture death of 8-year-old

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PALMDALE, Calif. - Four social workers have been charged in connection with the torture death of an 8-year-old California boy who died in 2013 after he was allegedly beaten by his mother and her boyfriend.

The Los Angeles County District Attorney's Office announced Thursday that Stefanie Rodriguez and Patricia Clement, along with their supervisors, Kevin Bom and Gregory Merritt, have each been charged with one felony count of child abuse and one felony count of falsifying public records in connection to the death of Gabriel Fernandez.

According to KTLA, Gabriel died on May 24, 2013, after being doused in pepper spray, forced to eat cat feces and his own vomit, and locked in a cabinet with a sock stuffed in his mouth.

He sustained multiple injuries, including a fractured skull, broken ribs and burns over his body, the release stated. Court records indicated that BB pellets were found embedded in his lung and groin.

“It was just like every inch of this child had been abused,” L.A. County Fire Department paramedic James Cermak said when he testified in court, according to  the Los Angeles Times.

Gabriel's mother, Pearl Fernandez and her boyfriend, Isauro Aguirre, are awaiting trial on charges of capital murder and a special circumstance of torture.

According to KTLA, they both have pleaded not guilty.

Prosecutors say the four social workers had a "legal duty" to protect Gabriel after the L.A. County Department of Children and Family Services opened a case on Oct. 31, 2012.

"By minimizing the significance of the physical, mental and emotional injuries that Gabriel suffered, these social workers allowed a vulnerable boy to remain at home and continue to be abused," District Attorney Jackie Lacey said in the release.

The local DA's office believes Rodriguez and Clement allegedly falsified reports that documented signs of the escalating physical abuse to the little boy, as well as the family’s lapsed participation in the department's efforts to help the family.

Prosecutors allege Bom and Merritt knew that they approved falsified reports which conflicted with evidence of Gabriel's deteriorating physical condition.

The social workers actions allowed Gabriel to remain at home until his death, the local DA's office states.

"We believe these social workers were criminally negligent and performed their legal duties with willful disregard for Gabriel's well-being," Lacey said. "They should be held responsible for their actions."

Rodriguez, Clement, Bom and Merritt each face up to 10 years in state prison if convicted.

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