DCFS failed to remove 4-year-old Palmdale boy from home despite court order, attorney says

PALMDALE, Calif. (KABC) -- The Department of Children and Family Services failed to act on a court authorization to remove a 4-year-old Palmdale boy from his home, which ultimately led to his death, according to the boy's family attorney.

At a Wednesday morning press conference, attorney Brian Claypool announced that the agency failed to conduct a forensic examination on Noah Cuatro for evidence of sexual abuse, which had been reported prior to it being issued.

The court order stated that DCFS had 72 hours to conduct the exam, but it never did, according to Claypool. After Cuatro's death, the coroner's report revealed evidence of sexual abuse, he added.

"This would've been confirmed, he would've been permanently removed from his home and he would be alive today," he said.

Claypool points out it was seven weeks before Noah's death that a judge signed a court order.

A social worker stated in an affidavit that there was evidence that Noah was in danger.

The order says that there was probable cause that the child was in danger of physical or sexual abuse.

In an application for his removal, the social worker stated that "the child's physical environment poses a threat to the child safety and health and there are no reasonable means by which the child can be protected without temporary removal from the physical custody of the parents."

When considering the court order and application, Claypool said the agency had an "obligation" to remove him but didn't despite seeing Cuatro days after the court order was issued.

DCFS says that they had questioned other family members who had allegedly accused the dad of abusing the child and found no basis. DCFS further told County Counsel investigating the agency's response that the judge did not have all the facts when he issued the order, an authorization, not an order that compelled removal.

The parents of the boy were charged Monday with his murder, prosecutors said.

Cuatro was in the custody of his parents, 27-year-old Jose Cuatro Jr. and 25-year-old Ursula Elaine Juarez, at the time of his death, despite efforts to remove him from their home. They reported his death as a pool drowning, but investigators deemed the incident suspicious.

The parents are facing one count each of murder and torture in the gruesome case. Cuatro Jr. also faces one count of assault on a child causing death and Juarez faces one count of child abuse resulting in death. If convicted as charged, both face a possible maximum sentence of 32 years to life in state prison.

The investigation began after authorities were notified that Noah had been transported to Palmdale Regional Medical Center, where he was pronounced dead. According to investigators, his parents said he was found motionless in a community pool in the 1200 block of East Avenue S in Palmdale on July 5.

"According to the hospital medical staff, they observed evidence of injuries to victim Noah Cuatro's body that was suspicious in nature and consistent with possible abuse," the Sheriff's Department said in a statement.

MORE: 'Justice for Noah' - activists call for DCFS accountability in Palmdale boy's death
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The death of 4-year-old Noah Cuatro in Palmdale is provoking cries for justice and a re-examination of practices at the county Department of Children and Family Services.

On Sept. 24, the county coroner's office ruled Noah's death a homicide, officials said.

The boy had lived with his great-grandmother, Eva Hernandez, for a time under a court order. She said he begged her to let him stay with her and not return to his parents' home.

"I just wish they would have listened to him," Hernandez said in July. "He did say, 'Please don't do this, don't send me back.'"

Hernandez's attorney, Brian Claypool, said they plan to hold the Department of Children and Family Services accountable.

"This little boy should've been removed from that house when he was two years old, let alone waiting until he was four and a half years old and watching him die," Claypool said.

The case remains under investigation by the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department.

City News Service contributed to this story.
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