Los Angeles, CA — Gabriel Fernandez was an 8-year-old boy who was tortured to death by his parents. His abuse was reported multiple times by his teacher and others who witnessed his horrifying injuries. However, the system that is ostensibly in place to prevent such abuse ultimately failed. Not one, but nine police officers tasked with investigating Gabriel’s abuse, refused to write so much as a single report that could’ve saved his life.
When he was young, Gabriel’s care was given to his grandparents after his mother, who struggled with drug problems, signed over custody. However, when Gabriel was 8, Pearl Fernandez, his mother, wanted him back. So, she took him.
The first failure of the system happened when Gabriel’s grandparents Robert and Sandra Fernandez, asked the Sheriff’s Department to mediate the custody dispute, telling Deputies Adam Hilzendeger and David Nisenoff that Pearl had a history of neglecting and physically abusing her children, according to a report in the LA Times.
Robert Fernandez had the documentation showing they were the legal guardians of Gabriel. However, the deputies sent to investigate the claims of his grandparents, who told hem Gabriel was being beaten and neglected by their own daughter, ignored the paperwork and allowed the child to stay with his mother.
Only days after moving in with his mother, and her psychopathic boyfriend Isauro Aguirre, Jennifer Garcia, Gabriel’s teacher at his new school, noticed something was very wrong.
Gabriel told Garcia that his mother had hit him with the metal part of a belt so hard that it drew blood. Garcia, the only person in the system who tried not to fail Gabriel, then called the child abuse hotline to report the abuse.
Deputy Imelda Rizo then went out to Gabriel’s home and noted in her computer that she did not observe any injuries. No report was filed.
Garcia, who was afraid any negative comments on Gabriel’s weekly reports would lead to his abuse, began marking smiley faces to fool his abusive parents.
Garcia would not stop reporting his injuries, and each time she noticed something, she would notify the social workers. On Jan. 29, 2013, after Gabriel had been absent for a week, he returned with swollen eyes and bruised dots all over his face. When asked about his injuries, Gabriel first said that he fell and hit his face.
However, Garcia testified that he later said his mother had made him exercise as punishment and shot him in the face with a BB gun. Garcia, once again, notified the caseworker. And again, nothing happened.
A month later, this poor child, who’d been suffering several months of abuse with no help from those who claim to ‘protect and serve,’ wrote a suicide note.
Deputy Federico Gonzalez went to the boy’s home and determined that Gabriel was all right. Once again, nothing happened.
Two months later, in April, a security guard at the county employment office saw Gabriel there with his mother. The guard, Arturo Miranda Martinez, noticed that Gabriel was severely beaten. He was covered in bruises and had cigarette burns all over his face and head.
Deputy Robin Soukup, the deputy who heard Martinez’ complaint about Gabriel’s condition, screamed at him and noted that a burned child is not an emergency, according to the prosecutor.
In spite of Soukup’s criminally callous dismissal of a child with cigarette burns covering his face and head, Deputies responded once again to Gabriel’s home. Deputy Jonathon Livingston spoke to Aguirre, saw Gabriel and then wrote an entry in his computer log, according to court records. Gabriel had fallen off a bicycle, and there was no evidence of child abuse, the deputy wrote, according to the Times.
Like all the other deputies who’d been dispatched to this boy’s home, Livingston ignored the signs of abuse and refused to file a report.
“It is unclear why a child being burned all over his body is not an emergency,” Deputy Dist. Atty. Jonathan Hatami wrote. “It is unclear why a police report was not filed and if the security guard was interviewed by Deputy Livingston.”
Had any of these officers taken the time to only file a single report, there would have been a paper trail of previous alleged abuse, and Gabriel could’ve been saved. But the officers apparently had better things to do.
When Gabriel was absent from school for several days, officials, yet again, sent another deputy out to the house to check on him. Deputy Jason Lee Lasley was sent out to the boy’s home — but never got there.
Lasley couldn’t find the home, so, instead of trying to seek out the boy, who was reportedly burned all over his face, and showed signs of being severely beaten, the cop called his mother to ask if he was okay.
Lasley was told that he moved to Texas to live with his grandmother. He accepted this and, again, did not write a police report.
This visit, or rather, lack thereof, would be the last time police could ignore Gabriel’s abuse.
According to prosecutors, on May 22, 2013, Pearl Fernandez called 911 and told them her son stopped breathing. They determined that this 8-year-old child had been being beaten with a bat, shot with a BB gun, starved, locked in a small box and forced to eat cat feces.
According to the county medical examiner’s report, the boy suffered horrifying injuries and torture. The boy’s skull was fractured, his ribs were fractured and he had BB pellets in his chest and pelvic region. A burn above his groin penetrated all the way through the skin into the soft tissue, reports the Times.
An investigation into Gabriel’s case revealed a systemic failure from the social workers on down to the deputies. None of the people who are tasked with protecting this little boy did so much as fill out a single piece of paper that could’ve saved his life.
Not one of the nine deputies involved in the neglect faced criminal charges either. The department simply issued a statement saying that some of them have been internally disciplined.
It is important to note that while police have escaped all criminal charges, the social workers have all been criminally charged. But, it was the police who ignored the paperwork in the beginning that allowed Gabriel to stay with his abusive parents. Apparently, blue privilege extends into all areas of police misconduct.
How is it that more than a dozen people, in a system ostensibly set up to prevent such horrifying things from happening, could allow this abuse to end Gabriel’s life? The answer is not very complicated.
“Law enforcement treats these crimes like second-class crimes,” said Dan Scott, a retired sheriff’s sergeant and longtime child abuse investigator. “Cops believe it is a social worker’s job. They are looking for a reason to clear the case, and as a police officer, you have got to treat child abuse like any other crime.”
Perhaps if Gabriel’s parents had been accused of having an illegal substance in their home, police may have taken more interest in the case. Apparently, however, they had no time to concern themselves with the insignificant fact of a child being tortured to death.
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