Social workers charged with child abuse in death of Palmdale boy stand before judge

Friday, April 22, 2016
Social workers charged with child abuse in death of Palmdale boy stand before judge
Social workers charged with child abuse in the death of an 8-year-old Palmdale boy stood before a judge.

DOWNTOWN LOS ANGELES -- Four former Los Angeles County social workers charged with child abuse in connection with the death of a young boy appeared in court Thursday.

The former employees were accused by officials of being criminally negligent in their supervision of 8-year-old Gabriel Fernandez.

The defendants did not enter a plea as their arraignment was postponed.

Workers with the Department of Children and Family Services in Palmdale, where the defendants worked, walked off the job on Thursday to show support.

"As far as I'm concerned they are innocent. I mean bad judgement maybe, but not child abuse," said retired social worker Darlene Starr who was at the court proceedings.

The social workers were charged with child abuse and falsifying public records in Gabriel's case.

The 8-year-old boy died in his Palmdale home in 2013 from multiple injuries, including a fractured skull, broken ribs and burns over his body.

His mother, Pearl Fernandez, and her boyfriend, Isauro Aguirre, were charged with murdering the boy.

"I believe that these four social workers should be prosecuted. Because of their neglect this child died unnecessary," civil rights attorney Wallace Pate said.

Prosecutors said former social workers Stefanie Rodriguez and Patricia Clement falsified reports that should have documented signs of Gabriel's extensive abuse.

They said the other defendants, former supervisor Kevin Bom and supervisor Gregory Merritt, who was reinstated to his job by the civil services commission, should have known they were approving false reports that conflicted with evidence of the harm the boy was suffering.

The social workers were due back in court on June 4 to be arraigned. Bail for each of the defendants was more than $100,000. If convicted of the charges against them, each could face up to 10 years in prison.