LOS ANGELES (CBSLA.com) — Four Los Angeles County social workers have been charged with child abuse and falsifying public records in the death of 8-year-old Gabriel Fernandez three years ago, prosecutors announced Thursday.
Social workers 30-year-old Stefanie Rodriguez, 65-year-old Patricia Clement and their supervisors 36-year-old Kevin Bom and 60-year-old Gregory Merritt were each charged with one felony count each of child abuse and falsifying public records, according to District Attorney Jackie Lacey.
"I have a message for the four social workers: You brought this upon yourself. Your conviction will be our greatest victory," said the victim's cousin Emily Carranza.
Prosecutors said as employees of the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS), Rodriguez, Clement, Bom and Merritt "had a legal duty" to protect Fernandez from the time the case was opened on Oct. 31, 2012, until he was declared dead on May 24, 2013.
Fernandez died from multiple injuries, including a fractured skull, broken ribs and burns over his body, prosecutors said.
Rodriguez and Clement are accused of falsifying reports that prosecutors said should have documented signs of Gabriel's escalating physical abuse and the family's lapsed participation in DCFS efforts to provide help to maintain the family.
"We believe these social workers were criminally negligent and performed their legal duties with willful disregard for Gabriel's well-being," Lacey said. "They should be held responsible for their actions."
Prosecutors alleged that Bom and Merritt "knew or should have known" that they were approving false reports that conflicted with the evidence of Gabriel's deteriorating physical well-being and allowing him to remain at home until his death.
DCFS Director Philip Browning said the defendants failed to follow protocols, and changes have been made. "I think one thing that's different is the fact that that tragic situation has sensitized all of our staff to the consequences of actions which they take every day," he said.
The four defendants' bail has been set at $100,000 each. They are scheduled to be arraigned Thursday morning.
If convicted, each defendant faces up to 10 years in state prison.
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