LOS ANGELES (CBSLA) — The director of the Los Angeles County Dept. of Child and Family Services says the agency was aware of alleged abuse at the home of 10-year-old Anthony Avalos prior to his suspicious death last week.
"We're really going through the file,[...] trying to understand exactly what the reasoning was behind that," DCFS Director Bobby Cagle told CBS2 News Monday. "Hopefully, if there are things that we can change, we will do that."
Whatever those changes might be, they'll be too little to late for Anthony, who died Thursday following what his mother claimed was a fall that caused a head injury. The day prior, sheriff's deputies had responded to a call saying the boy was unresponsive.
The department and law enforcement authorities are investigating the boy's death as suspicious.
The L.A. Times reported Sunday that social workers and police were told Anthony had been abused for years, claiming Anthony died of head trauma and had cigarette burns all over his body at the time of his death.
Cagle confirmed to CBS2 that his department had received 13 calls to the boy's home from February of 2013 to April of 2016, though some were duplicate calls about the same issue. What that issue was has not been revealed.
Cagle also said the department visited the home eight times, taking the boy out of the home to talk to him privately for the last time in 2016. Anthony was removed from the home in 2013 after DCFS received a call about alleged sexual abuse at the hands of his grandfather. The grandfather was subsequently removed from the home.
From April to December of 2014, the family was supervised during weekly visits from the agency.
So why was Anthony allowed to remain in the home after so many incidents?
"Well, you have to have a level of proof in order to get a court to give you an order of that type," Cagle said. "Once you have a child recant, that somewhat compromises your ability to get those warrants."
The investigations did lead DCFS workers to believe there was physical and emotional abuse, denial of food, general neglect, forced fights between the children in the home and forced crouching for long periods of time as punishment.
Anthony's aunt Maria Barron said the boy and his siblings told her they were being abused and forced to eat trash.
Anthony's father Victor Avalos told CBS2 from Mexico his own mother believed the boy was being abused after she saw scratches on him. He added his ex started preventing Anthony from talking to him via video conferencing.
"I would talk to him on camera, I would ask him, 'How are you doing?' Are you okay? Do you need something?' and he would just put his head down," Victor said.
During their previous investigations, deputies found another seven children, aged 11 months to 12 years, in the home. Some were living in the home and some were associated with Anthony's family.
While there have been no criminal charges in the case, Cagle says the mother's story claiming Anthony fell and hurt his head does not pass muster.
"He had a severe head injury consistent with a brain bleed, plus bruises and abrasions all about his body," said Cagle. " All that indicates to me that that's non-accidental."
Cagle said the department is trying to find the best placement for Anthony's six siblings. He promised the investigation would be detailed and transparent.
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