Gabriel Fernandez: Why did the 4 social workers’ case not go to trial?

The Trials of Gabriel Fernandez tells the heartbreaking story of what happened to eight-year-old Gabriel Fernandez. Gabriel was abused and murdered by his mother Pearl Fernandez and her partner Isauro Aguirre. Pearl is currently serving a life sentence without the possibility of parole at Chowchilla state prison and Aguirre is on death row at San Quentin prison. The documentary also draws attention to the failings of Gabriel’s social workers.

Why did the 4 social workers’ case not go to trial?

The four social workers assigned to the case of Gabriel Fernandez were Stephanie Rodriguez and Patricia Clement and their supervisors, Kevin Bom and Gregory Merritt.

In an unprecedented move, they were charged with one felony count of child endangerment which resulted in death and falsifying public records in April 2016, making one of the few times in US history where social workers had been charged in a child abuse case.

Prosecutors argued the four minimised evidence of abuse and violated multiple policies and if they were found guilty, they each faced up to 10 years in prison.

In the documentary, District Attorney Jackie Lacey argued that Gabriel’s death was foreseeable and this meant the social workers could be held responsible for their actions.

She believed the social workers “did intentional things which kept Gabriel in harm’s way.”

READ MORE Gabriel Fernandez: Inside Chowchilla State Women’s prison


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As heard in the documentary, Merrit said: “Those of us who were working the case seems to have done what we could have done. In my opinion, no crime was committed and I did not commit a crime.”

Speaking separately to The Atlantic, Rodriguez explained that “during the time she supervised Gabriel’s welfare, other children in her caseload seemed to her to be in equal or greater danger.”

At their hearing in Autumn 2019, the judge said the actions of the four social workers represented “improper regard for human life” and added there was “failure at every level.”

The case never made it to the trail after the Second District Court of Appeal advised the lower courts that the case be dismissed.

At the time, NBC Los Angeles reported that a three-justice panel stated there was “no probable cause connected to child abuse or falsifying documents in a 2-to-1 opinion.”

Justice Francis Rothschild wrote: “We conclude that the petitioners never had the requisite duty to control the abusers and did not have care or custody of Gabriel for purposes of Penal Code section 273a, subdivision (a).

“We further conclude that the petitioners were not officers within the meaning of Government Code section 6200.

“There is, therefore, no probable cause to hold them on charges of violating those laws and the trial court should have granted the motions to dismiss.”

A motion to appeal the 2nd District Court of Appeal’s decision was denied in January 2020.

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In a statement District Attorney Jackie Lacey proved to, Lacey said: “My office vigorously pursued those who directly caused Gabriel’s death and those who failed to intervene to protect him.

“While we prevailed against those who inflicted the injuries, the appellate court rejected our theory of criminal liability against the social workers, who my office believed had a duty to protect Gabriel.

“Unfortunately, in the case against the social workers, state law is not on our side.

“After reviewing the appellate ruling, I have decided that the best plan of action is to ask the court to de-publish the opinion.

“In addition, I will explore proposing legislation to impose a legally recognized duty of care on those entrusted with protecting our children.”

Rejecting the appeal, the 2nd District Court said in a statement: “Although there may be consequences to social workers who fail to fulfil their duties, the consequences do not include criminal liability for child abuse.”


  • Gabriel Fernandez: What happened to Gabriel Fernandez’s parents?

During the final eight months of Gabriel Fernandez’s life, numerous complaints and had been made to the Los Angeles Department of Child and Family Services [DCFS] about Gabriel Fernandez.

Gabriel’s mother, Pearl, was already known to the authorities following previous child abuse-related incidents.

She had lost custody of a son named Arnold Jr and had abandoned her youngest daughter, Destiny.

Social workers Stephanie Rodriguez and Patricia Clement visited the Fernandez family home on multiple occasions but both workers claimed they never saw signs of abuse that would require Gabriel to be moved out of the family home.

Sadly, Gabriel was suffering months of brutal child abuse at the hands of his mother Pearl Fernandez and Isauro Agirre and died on Mary 24, 2013.

Following Gabriel’s death in 2013, Rodriguez, Clement, Bom and Merritt were fired from their positions at DCFS following an international investigation after Gabriel’s death in 2013.

An internal DCFS investigation also found that neither Rodriguez or her supervisor Bom investigated information regarding Pearl and her history with the DCFS.

The investigation also found that Rodriguez never visited Gabriel’s school, talked to the neighbours or interview Gabriel and his siblings alone.

When the case was closed by Rodriguez and Bom, Clement and Merritt then became involved.

As seen in the documentary, despite being informed of suicide notes written by Gabriel, they took no additional action.

The Trials of Gabriel Fernandez is streaming on Netflix now

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