In what the Los Angeles Times describes as a "rare" move, social workers have been charged with a crime following the death of a child. Gabriel Fernandez, 8, died in Palmdale in 2013 after his mother and her boyfriend allegedly tortured him—pepper spraying him, making him eat his vomit, stuffing a sock in his mouth and trapping him in a cabinet, and eventually allegedly beating him to death with a wooden club. Several agencies had looked into abuse claims at Gabriel's home in the months before his death, but no one removed him from the home and his case was closed shortly before he died. Gabriel's mother and her boyfriend have been charged with murder and are awaiting trial.
Prosecutors say the social workers knew Gabriel had a BB pellet in his chest, and had written a suicide note, but never sent him to get a mental health assessment or medical care. Stefanie Rodriguez, Patricia Clement, Kevin Bom, and Gregory Merritt have each been charged with child abuse and falsifying public records, felonies that carry a total possible prison sentence of 10 years, CBS LA reports. Rodriguez and Clement are charged with falsifying the reports so the escalating physical abuse Gabriel was suffering was not shown, and prosecutors say supervisors Bom and Merritt approved the reports when they should have known they were falsified, ABC 7 reports. "Social workers play a vital role in society. We entrust them to protect our children from harm," the DA says in a statement. "We believe these social workers were criminally negligent and performed their legal duties with willful disregard for Gabriel's well-being." (Read more child abuse stories.)