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4 social workers charged with abuse in torture death of 8-year-old

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PALMDALE, Calif. — Four social workers are being charged with child abuse for falsifying or turning a blind eye to reports of escalating torture that led to an 8-year-old’s death.

Stefanie Rodriguez, Patricia Clement and their respective supervisors, Kevin Bom and Gregory Merritt, were all charged with child abuse and falsifying public records, prosecutors told PIX11’s sister station KTLA. Their arrest warrants were filed last Monday.

LA County Dept. of Children and Family Services opened Gabriel Fernandez’s case on Oct. 31, 2012.

Rodriguez and Clement both allegedly falsified reports that documented escalating physical abuse as well as lack of family participation in making progress with the agency, court documents show.

Supervisors Bom and Merritt knew, or should have known, that they approved reports that contradicted Fernandez’s deteriorating condition, which led to Gabriel remaining at home until his death, prosecutors said.

Fernandez, 8, of Palmdale, died May 24, 2013. Prosecutors say he was tortured over the course of several months.

He was doused with pepper spray, forced to eat cat feces and his own vomit, and locked in a cabinet with a sock stuffed in his mouth, prosecutors said.

He sustained multiple injuries including a fractured skull, broken ribs, and burns. BB pellets were also found in his lung and groin, prosecutors said.

Pearl did not see her son while he was staying with his grandparents, as late as age 7.

The abuse began when Gabriel moved back with his mother Pearl Fernandez, relatives and friends of the family told KTLA.

“As soon as Pearl got him, that’s basically when she started torturing him,” said Amanda Nevarez, who co-founded the Facebook page Gabriel’s Justice with the boy’s cousin, Emily Carranza.

Fernandez and her boyfriend Isauro Aguirre are awaiting trial after being indicted on charges of capital murder, prosecutors said. They have pleaded not guilty to the charges.

The four social workers will be arraigned April 21. Their bail was lowered from $155,000 to $100,000 each, and they were all expected to bail out Thursday, according to a spokeswoman for the DA’s office.

Each faces up to 10 years in state prison if convicted as charged.