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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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