A Los Angeles County Superior Court judge rejected a bid Monday, July 18 to dismiss charges against former county social workers and their supervisors, all of whom are charged with child abuse and falsifying records relating to the foster abuse death of 8-year-old Gabriel Fernandez.
The attorneys for the defendants, Stefanie Rodriguez, 31, Kevin Bom, 37, Gregory Merritt, 60, and Patricia Clement, 65, had filed court papers maintaining that the three-year statute of limitations for the foster abuse related charges applied to the case, and thus the charges had expired.
Deputy District Attorney Ana Maria Lopez countered the proposal by underscoring the fact of the defendants being public employees engaged in misconduct and as such had a legal duty extending to the date of Gabriel’s death, May 24, 2013. Lopez affirmed that due to this the charges were brought well within the statute of limitations.
Judge M.L. Villar ruled in favor of Lopez and denied both the defense’s motion to dismiss due to the statute of limitations and the claimant of there being insufficient legal basis for the charges. Following Villar’s refusal to dismiss, the four co-defendants pleaded not guilty to all counts and the next hearing has been scheduled for August 25.
The Los Angeles County prosecutors allege that the four co-defendants minimized injuries that the young Gabriel suffered for eight months leading up to his death. Allegedly, despite knowing the severity of the foster abuse, he was allowed to remain at home with his torturers — mother Pearl Fernandez, 31, and former boyfriend Isauro Aguirre, 35. The state will bring forth information obtained in an investigation revealing that Gabriel–among other violent abuse acts–had been forced to eat his own vomit, soaked with pepper spray, and locked in a closet while his mouth was stuffed with a sock to smother his screams.
Following the release of this internal investigation, all four co-defendants were fired. However, Merritt appealed his firing, was reinstated by the Civil Service Commission, and has that matter currently being appealed by the state. If convicted, all defendants face up to 10 years in prison.
This is a critical case as it goes beyond holding just the perpetrators of parental and foster abuse accountable, but also seeks to hold accountable those individuals with authority to halt abuse, but don’t. Victims of parental and foster abuse deserve justice from both their attackers and those who covered up the crimes.
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