Four social workers will stand trial for the 2013 death of an 8-year-old boy, after a Los Angeles County judge announced on March 20 that the case against them would move forward.
Former social workers Stefanie Rodriguez, Patricia Clement, Kevin Bom and Gregory Merritt were charged with child abuse and falsifying public records in April 2016, after Gabriel Fernandez died in 2013, following months of his mother and her boyfriend torturing him, reports the Los Angeles Times.
The couple will be tried on capital murder charges, and now, the four former employees of the Department of Children and Family Services will face charges of felony child abuse and falsifying public records.
"When the judge announced it I wanted to throw up," said Clement, according to the Times.
Before he died, Fernandez showed many signs that his family was torturing him, from missing hair to facial bruises and scabs to busted lips. Many witnesses, including his first-grade teachers, testified in court that they repeatedly reported their observations about Fernandez's injuries and accounts of what his parents were doing to him to the child services workers over the course of several months, although the boy was never removed from his mother's custody.
Clement said that there were many different levels of failure, including her department.
"The department doesn't do a good job," she said. "They don't understand."
The district attorney's office said in 2016 that Rodriguez and Clement face accusations of falsifying reports that should have shown the boy's severe abuse and that Bom and Merritt approved records that they knew or should have known were false, notes KABC.
"Social workers play a vital role in society," District Attorney Jackie Lacey said in a statement at the time, according to KABC. "We entrust them to protect our children from harm. When their negligence is so great as to become criminal, young lives are put at risk."
Lacey said that prosecutors believe that the workers "performed their legal duties with willful disregard for Gabriel's well-being."
The boy's family said during a news conference that they blame the department for the 8-year-old's death, whom the coroner found to have a fractured skull, multiple broken ribs and had been shot with a BB gun.
"Your conviction will be our greatest victory," Fernandez's cousin, Emily Carranza, said at a 2016 news conference.
Child protection experts have said that they worry that this case will make it difficult to recruit new public sector social workers, notes the Times.