Lancaster abuse case: Attorney, relatives demand criminal investigation of social workers

ByRob Hayes and staff KABC logo
Tuesday, July 17, 2018
Lancaster boy's family calls for investigation of social workers
An attorney representing relatives of a 10-year-old Lancaster boy who died from abuse is demanding a criminal investigation of the social workers involved in the case.

LANCASTER, Calif. (KABC) -- An attorney representing the father and other relatives of a 10-year-old Lancaster boy who died from abuse is demanding a criminal investigation of the social workers involved in the case.

Attorney Brian Claypool spoke at a news conference Tuesday morning and discussed the details of recently received Department of Children and Family Services records of child abuse allegations at the home of Anthony Avalos' mother and boyfriend.

An internal DCFS document reveals that in May 2016, Anthony's mother had been declared "unable or unwilling to protect the child from serious harm, including physical and sexual abuse," according to the Claypool Law Firm.

The press conference was held to outline a case in support of a criminal investigation against select DCFS social workers. Claypool said DCFS received more than 88 claims of abuse involving Anthony and his siblings, but the department failed to move the boy from the household.

"I have never seen more red flags of an impending death of a child. Eighteen visits, 88 allegations, 15 substantiated child abuse allegations and 15 more that we don't even know about. That is deliberate indifference for the life of a little boy," said Claypool.

Victor Avalos, Anthony's father, said he was living in Mexico at the time of his son's death. Holding back tears, he spoke about the heartbreak he's endured since his murder.

"I really wanted to be there for him. We were in touch as much as we could. Obviously, we're all angry. We need to make sure none of this happens to children everywhere," he said.

Victor Avalos explained that Anthony's mom would make it difficult for him to see his son, and much of their time together was through video calling.

Maria and David Barron, an aunt and uncle who have taken in Anthony and his siblings in the past, also spoke and gave their reasons why select DCFS social workers should be investigated. They said they had custody of the children for two weeks until DCFS workers turned them back over to their mother.

The aunt and uncle of 10-year-old Anthony Avalos demand a criminal investigation of the social workers involved in his case.

"Why? Why did DCFS fail him? Why did they not take action. He had so many people that loved him, so many people willing to take him in," said Maria Barron.

"They failed to do their job when they had proof, they had the evidence...Three years ago he was with us. He was alive and healthy, happy as can be with his siblings, and DCFS took him away from us and gave him back to Heather," the Barron couple said.

They said Anthony was a hero who sacrificed himself for his brothers and sisters.

"Anthony had to sacrifice his life in order to save his siblings," Maria Barron said. "He's a true hero. We will not stop fighting until justice is served."

Prosecutors say Anthony Avalos suffered at least five days of sustained torture before his death on June 21, according to court papers.

Prosecutors said Anthony's mother, Heather Barron, and her boyfriend, Kareem Leiva are responsible for that torture.

The torture included slamming the boy onto the bedroom floor, whipping him with a belt and cord, pouring hot sauce into his mouth and forbidding him to use the bathroom, according to the documents. He was also allegedly forced to kneel on rice for long periods of time and forced to kneel or stand in a corner for several hours.

Sheriff's deputies were called to Anthony's home a day before he died at a hospital. His mother said the boy had fallen down stairs.

Anthony suffered a traumatic brain injury, prosecutors say. He also had reddened eyes and numerous bruises, cuts and scrapes on his forehead, nose, mouth, cheek, neck, legs, shoulder, hips, back, buttocks, stomach, ankle, legs and foot.

Authorities said Avalos' sexuality may have been a motivating factor in his death.

DCFS Director Bobby Cagle released a statement ahead of the press conference on Tuesday, saying the agency is "doing all we can to cooperate with the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department as the criminal investigation proceeds."

"As our department grieves the senseless death of Anthony Avalos, my primary focus must be on the in-depth, top-to-bottom review now underway to determine exactly what happened and what needs to happen to safeguard innocent lives going forward," the statement read in part.

Heather Barron and Leiva are behind bars and expected to be arraigned next month.

If convicted of the charges against her, Heather Barron faces a possible maximum sentence of 22 years to life in state prison. Leiva faces 32 years to life if convicted.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.