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Case dismissed against social workers charged in Gabriel Fernandez torture death

Gabriel Fernandez was repeatedly beaten, starved, tied up and locked in a cabinet, authorities said. The case was featured in a Netflix documentary.
Credit: Family photo
Gabriel Hernandez

A Los Angeles County judge has dismissed the case against four social workers charged in connection with the gruesome 2013 torture death of 8-year-old Gabriel Fernandez. 

The California boy died from months of abuse from his mother and her boyfriend because they believed he was gay, prosecutors said. In 2018, a judge sentenced his mother, Pearl Sinthia, to life in prison and sentenced Isauro Aguirre to death, calling the abuse Fernandez suffered to be “horrendous, inhumane and nothing short of evil.” 

Gabriel was repeatedly beaten, starved, tied up, locked in a cabinet, shot with a BB gun and once had his teeth knocked out with a bat, the judge said. The boy also had a fractured skull, broken ribs and burns across his body.

In an unusual move, prosecutors had also filed criminal charges against four former employees of the county’s Department of Children and Family Services, accusing them of being criminally negligent. Prosecutors contended that Kevin Bom, Stefanie Rodriguez, Gregory Merritt and Patricia Clement downplayed and concealed the abuse. 

But earlier this year, a California appeals court ruled the social workers couldn’t be charged with child abuse and falsifying public records in the death of Fernandez because, according to the ruling, they “never had the requisite duty to control the abusers and did not have care or custody of Gabriel,” the Los Angeles Times reported

RELATED: Man gets death penalty for ‘animalistic’ killing, torture of 8-year-old boy

"The Trials of Gabriel Fernandez," a six-part documentary series focused on the case, debuted in February on Netflix.   

An attorney representing Fernandez's family called the ruling a catastrophic decision. 

"The California appellate court decided the social workers have immunity from criminal prosecution. That is a catastrophic decision,” attorney Brian Claypool told KTLA. “It’s one of the worst decisions I’ve ever seen in my life.”