LOS ANGELES (AP) — An 8-year-old boy who authorities say died after being beaten had remained in the house where the alleged abuse occurred despite six investigations by social workers during the past decade, a newspaper said.
Social workers appeared to miss numerous warnings signs at the home, the Los Angeles Times reported Thursday, citing county documents.
The boy had written a note saying he was thinking about suicide and his teacher told authorities he often appeared bruised and battered.
The boy's mother, 29-year-old Pearl Fernandez, and her 32-year-old boyfriend, Isauro Aguirre, have been charged with murder. They have not yet entered pleas.
Fernandez was being held without bail, while Aguirre was being held on $1 million bail. The Associated Press could not immediately determine if they had lawyers.
Gabriel died at a hospital on May 24 after paramedics went to his house in Palmdale and found that he had a fractured skull, three broken ribs, BB pellets embedded in his lung and groin, and two teeth knocked out.
The documents obtained by the paper show Aguirre allegedly told investigators that he beat the boy repeatedly for lying and being dirty. Pearl Fernandez told paramedics her son's injuries were due to self-mutilation, the paper reported.
Meanwhile, four social workers have been given desk duty pending possible disciplinary action.
"I feel like they all should be fired," said Elizabeth Carranza, Gabriel's aunt. "They didn't listen to my nephew. They were completely deaf and blind."
There were six investigations into abuse allegations involving the mother, with five determining the claims were unfounded. Records show there was an unresolved case of alleged abuse at the time of Gabriel's death, and an allegation had lingered two months past a legally mandated deadline for finishing an investigation.
"The red flags were all over the place. They were ignored. It is just inexplicable to me," said county Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky.
The county's Department of Children and Family Services has been trying to institute reforms after dozens of abuse and neglect deaths in recent years involving children who had been under the agency's supervision.
A recent internal review of the department found there haven't been any workers fired in 15 cases where children died. It also has a backlog of child abuse cases.
The agency's director Philip Browning acknowledged the system failed Gabriel. The case illustrates a need for more critical thinking and common sense in evaluating cases, he said.
County social workers became aware of Pearl Fernandez a decade ago when her oldest son had a head injury during a car accident. It was determined he wasn't wearing a seat belt.
The Times said a relative later reported she allegedly beat the same son and wanted to disown him. However, social workers said the complaint was unfounded.
Gabriel's teacher told authorities in January there were bruised dots all over the boy's face. Gabriel told the teacher his mother shot him in the face with a BB gun, records show.
The boy often recanted his stories, and an internal county review criticized social workers for failing to interview Gabriel in a neutral setting away from his mother, who told social workers in March she didn't need their help.
The boy's therapist told workers earlier this year that Gabriel once reported being sexually abused by an older relative, but he later withdrew the allegation. The investigation remains open.