The death of Gabriel Fernandez continues to have far-reaching implications as nine deputies were internally disciplined as a result of failing to properly investigate allegations of abuse.
Gabriel was abused and tortured to death by his mother and her boyfriend despite more than sixty complaints by relatives and teachers. An autopsy revealed injuries that included a cracked skull, broken ribs, burns, bruises, abrasions, and missing teeth. Pellets from a BB gun were found embedded in his skin.
Complaints of abuse were filed over a period of ten years before Gabriel’s death, prompting eight separate investigations and multiple interactions with police. In some cases, only a phone call was conducted and no contact with Gabriel occurred.
Gabriel’s grandparents filed a wrongful death lawsuit after his death. They raised Gabriel for most of his life. Seven months before his death, Gabriel’s mother took back custody despite having legally transferred guardianship of the child to her parents. Tragically, deputies allegedly ignored their pleas to keep Gabriel in their custody. Gabriel died seven months after being removed from their home.
Deputies also failed to properly investigate when Gabriel’s teacher reported abuse, after he expressed a desire to commit suicide to a counselor, after allegations of sexual abuse were reported, and after a county worker reported seeing Gabriel covered in bruises and burns. The latest chance for deputies to save Gabriel’s life came just a week before he died after school officials reported his absence from school and concerns for his safety.
Four social workers faced criminal charges after the death and some were prevented from further social work by the suspension of their license. All four faced one charge each of child abuse and falsifying records. They were arraigned in July 2016.
While no criminal charges were filed against police deputies, they did face internal disciplinary actions as a result of Gabriel’s death. The extent of the disciplinary actions has not been reported due to privacy laws.