Entertainment

Charges Dropped Against Four Social Workers In Gabriel Fernandez Case

Update: Charges against the social workers who were connected to the Gabriel Fernandez case have been dropped. After years of litigation, news coverage, and a Netflix special, the case has come to an end with the social workers cleared of any wrongdoing.

Gabriel Fernandez was tortured and killed by his mom and her boyfriend in May 2013.

Fernandez was 8 years old when he was murdered and his mother and her boyfriend were eventually convicted of his murder. After their conviction, the focus was placed on the social workers who handled Fernandez. Charges were brought against four of the social workers and a community waited to hear their fate.

The dismissal was expected after an appellate court ruled that the social workers should not face charges. The decision was well-received by the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services. Yet, some members of the community, and Fernandez’s family, are disheartened by the decision by the court.

Original: In their latest documentary series, Netflix asks the question just how eight-year-old Gabriel Fernandez, an so many other abused children like him, slip through the cracks of our systems?

The emotional and deeply harrowing story of how the Los Angeles boy was found naked with shattered ribs and a cracked skull horrified readers back in 2013 when reports of his death were published. The boy had been found at his family’s home in Palmdale, California and died two days later on May 22, 2013 and what remained sparked investigations into how an entire system meant to protect him sorely let him down.

The series, The Trials of Gabriel Fernandez comes from documentarian Brian Knappenberger, and focuses on the child’s death and the arrest of his mother and her boyfriend.

The documentary, whose trailer dropped early this week, is set to focus on the role of the government systems that failed to protect Gabriel. By the time of his death, multiple reports of abuse had been filed and various warning signs became apparent. Soon after his death Gabriel’s mother, Pearl Fernandez pleaded guilty to first-degree murder and admitted she’d intentionally meant to murder her son by torture. For her part, Fernandez was sentenced to life in prison without parole. Her boyfriend, Isauro Aguirre, was later sentenced to death after being convicted of first-degree murder with “the special circumstance of intentional murder by torture.”

In a recent interview with Entertainment Weekly, Knappenberger highlighted the series most prevalent questions. Including if there will be a season 2.

Speaking to Entertainment Weekly Knappinger says he hopes to have a second series so that audiences can hear from Aguirre or Fernandez who were not featured in the series.

“Yes, I still want to hear from them,” Knappenberger said. “It’s not like we created this television series and now we’re on to the next thing, moving on with our lives. This is something that is lodged in the heart of everybody that worked on it. Part of it is a mystery. Like, who are these people? How did this happen? Why did this boy’s life get taken like this? There are still so many unanswered questions. So if they wanted to talk to me, I would absolutely talk to them on the record.”

According to Knappinger, Fernandez’s death has brought about change in Los Angeles County’s Department of Children and Family Services 

According to a statement released by the department to the WRAP after the docuseries, they have hired more than 3,500 new social workers since 2013 and carried out a five-to-one ratio of supervisors to social workers. 

“It should never take the death of a child to address weaknesses and make investments in improvements for child protection; it is in his memory and in pursuit of the safety of Los Angeles County’s two million children that we have reformed how child protection work is done,” the statement said. “This new era of reform began immediately following Gabriel’s death and continues on today with Director Bobby D. Cagle who joined the Department in December 2018.”

During Aguirre’s trial, prosecutors claimed that Gabriel had been forced to eat cat feces and cat litter.

He’d also been forced to sleep while bound up and gagged in a small cabinet and he’d been struck by his mother’s boyfriend with metal hangers, a bat and a club. According to the Los Angeles Times, Gabriel had been brutally beaten up by his mother and Aguire after he didn’t clean up his toys. Prosecutors alleged that Aguirre abused and killed Gabriel because he thought he was gay.

Speaking to People in an interview about the new series, Knappenberger said, “What we do know is that he called him gay when he was beating him. And it’s one of the first things he told the first responders when the first responders entered the house and were trying to save Gabriel’s life. So take from that which will, but it certainly played a role.”

At the heart of the 2013 trials were questions related to how all of this started and how it continued to play out for so long.

According to Knappenberger Gabriel came from a struggling home environment and spent much of his life being passed between relatives before returning to his mother’s home who “took him back for welfare money, that she wanted extra welfare money.”

At their 2018 sentencing,  Los Angeles Judge George G. Lomeli called the violence the boy suffered “horrendous, inhumane and nothing short of evil.”

The Trials of Gabriel Fernandez” is set to start streaming on Netflix on Feb. 26.

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Netflix’s Newest Musical Teen Hit Series Stars a 16-Year-Old Afro-Latina Newcomer

Entertainment

Netflix’s Newest Musical Teen Hit Series Stars a 16-Year-Old Afro-Latina Newcomer

A new teen series has dropped on Netflix that the internet can’t stop talking about. The newest cultural phenomenon that has hit the juggernaut streaming service is a musical series called Julie and the Phantoms, based on the 2011 Brazilian show of the same name.

The series follows a 16-year-old insecure girl named Julie who has lost her love of music after the tragic death of her mother. But with the help of a (stay with us here) band of musical ghosts she stumbles across in her garage, she soon re-discovers her love of singing and performing. Backed by her band of “phantoms”, Julie confidently takes the stage again, blowing everyone away in the process. ,

But the wacky, heartfelt story-line isn’t the only reason people are excited about the show. The buzz around the show is building because its star, 16-year-old newcomer Madison Reyes, is an Afro-Latina singer-actress of Puerto Rican descent.

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Before landing the role of Julie, Reyes was just a regular shmegular Nuyorican girl going to high school in Brooklyn. Needless to say, the process of auditioning for Julie and the Phantoms was both a whirlwind and a game-changer.

“I found out about Julie and the Phantoms through my school. At first I was nervous to send my video in, but after talking to some friends, I sent it in and got a call back,” Reyes told Refinery 29. “From there it was just figuring out when I could fly to L.A. When I finally made it out there, the audition process lasted two days.”

Reyes, for one, understands the burden of her load. “[Julie] is Latin American, she’s got textured hair, she’s a strong and independent female character,” Reyes recently told the LA Times. “As a person of color who wants more diversity [on-screen], I’m kind of scared about the hate comments that I’ve seen other people have to go through, especially women.”

As if having an Afro-Latina actress at the center of a popular Netflix show wasn’t exciting enough, the series is also being helmed by Mexican-American director and all-around legend Kenny Ortega. For those of you unfamiliar with Ortega, he is the creative genius who directed bonafide classics like High School Musical and Hocus Pocus.

Ortega has been publicly effusive in his praise of Reyes. “She has this raw talent that can take on any genre of music, and this promise of greatness that excited everybody,” he told the LA Times. “And yet she’s so relatable and grounded.”

Fans are already calling for a second season after watching the cliffhanger season finale. Reyes, herself, can’t wait to get back in the shoes of Julie. When asked in an interview about where we’ll see her next, she responded: “Hopefully in the next season of Julie and the Phantoms!”. We second that wish.

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FBI Arrests Jerry Harris From ‘Cheer’ On Production Of Child Pornography Charge

Entertainment

FBI Arrests Jerry Harris From ‘Cheer’ On Production Of Child Pornography Charge

Update: September 17, 2020

Jerry Harris, the “Cheer” fan favorite, has been arrested by the FBI.

According to reports, Harris has been charged in federal court with the production of child pornography. The charge stems from a criminal complaint filed against Harris alleging that he sought sexual acts and photos from minors.

Harris was scheduled to appear before a court magistrate on Thursday to face the charge. The charge of the production of child pornography comes with a minimum sentence of 15 years in prison if he is convicted.

The charges are connected to Harris’ alleged advances on a 13-year-old cheerleader. Harris, who was 19 at the time, was soliciting photos and videos from the minor on Snapchat in 2018. The charge also states that Harris confronted the young cheerleader in the bathroom at a cheerleading event and asked for solicited oral sex.

The news continues to shock and surprise people on social media.

The news broke earlier this week that the FBI had opened an investigation into Harris because of a complaint filed claiming the sexual misconduct. The charge includes several photos, videos, and messages sent between Harris and minors demanding sexually explicit images from the minors.

Original: Cheerleading star Jerry Harris, 21, gained national attention earlier this year when he was introduced to Netflix viewers in a six-part docuseries called “Cheer.” The series followed the nationally ranked Navarro College Bulldogs Cheer Team as they prepared for a Daytona Beach competition. Fans of the show became captivated by Harris a cheerleader whose positivity and energy seemed utterly contagious. Soon after his appearance on the show, Harris rocketed to stardom and made appearances on “The Ellen DeGeneres Show,” nabbed interviews with Variety magazine, and even made a guest appearance on the cheerleading themed song “Mas(k)ot” by Todrick Hall.

A recent revelation however is revealing that Harris’ standing as a lovable household name is no longer.

Recently, fans of Harris learned of an FBI investigation into him is underway and regards allegations that the celebrity cheerleader solicited sexually explicit photos as well as sex from minors.

In a statement to USA Today, Siobhan Johnson, a FBI special agent and public affairs officer said that “The FBI is conducting court-authorized law enforcement activity in the area.”

Harris has not been criminally charged.

The criminal investigation stems from allegations brought forward by 14-year-old twin brothers. The two minors claim that Harris made them endure a pattern of harassment, both online and at cheer competitions. The two claim the harassment started when they were 13 and Harris was 19 and continued for over a year.

At the start of August, Varsity Brands, a private company that governs the cheerleading industry, reported to police in Florida and Texas that its Chief Legal Officer Burton Brillhart had learned of “inappropriate sexual conduct” allegations against Harris. Brillhart reported the information to police officials as required by law.

“Harris is accused of asking one of the brothers to have sex with him in 2019 at two Varsity cheerleading competitions,” reports USA Today.

“As a result of the recent allegation, we have barred this person from having any affiliation with Varsity Brands or any of its subsidiaries or affiliates, now and in the future,” Brillhart wrote.

Brillhart described Harris as a former employee and emphasized that he was no longer actively working for Varsity at the time of when the alleged incidents took place.

The current lawsuit against Harris claims that the Netflix star solicited explicit photos from the twin brothers and also asked one of the twins for oral sex.

So far, Harris has denied the accusations.

“We categorically dispute the claims made against Jerry Harris, which are alleged to have occurred when he was a teenager,” a spokesperson for Harris said in a statement to Variety. “We are confident that when the investigation is completed the true facts will be revealed.”

The twin brothers are seeking $1 million in damages.

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