The Trials of Gabriel Fernandez (2020) s01e04 Episode Script

Death Has Got Him by the Hand

[high-pitched feedback buzzing.]
Prosecutors have filed criminal charges - against four LA County social workers.
- [radio station changes.]
The idea that they would falsify records, um, is is just, uh, you know, beyond belief.
[radio station changes.]
[man 2.]
There should've been a supervisor saying, "I'm checking this out.
" So, you know, I don't care where you point the finger, this should not have happened.
[radio station changes.]
[man 3.]
The department of Children and Family Services, LA County decided to fire, not only the social worker directly involved, but her supervisor, a guy by the name of Gregory Merritt.
It's worth pointing out that Gregory Merritt has actually been charged criminally by the LA County District Attorney, right? [man 4.]
Yes, this is a really egregious case.
[man 3.]
What could explain not permanently removing this boy from this home before he was killed? - There's just nothing to explain this.
- [man 4.]
It seems to defy any kind of logic.
[man 3.]
The mother didn't want their help and sent them away? - [man 4.]
- [man 3.]
That's not good enough.
The idea is that you intervene when when the parents are abusing a child, you don't take their word for it that, "We don't need your help.
Go away.
" [man 4.]
For whatever reason, the social workers involved here knew what was going on, and deliberately chose not to do something about it.
I'm facing ten years, in prison.
I've never been in a situation where I've been charged with a crime.
What am I now? Sixty-two years old and I've never had anything but a traffic ticket.
[distant sirens wailing.]
The judge is gonna have before him, theoretically, right now, he has in front of him our motion to dismiss, on the grounds that there was not enough lawfully admitted evidence at your preliminary hearing to require you to stand trial.
It's called a 995.
And those are almost never granted.
- OK.
- This is an unusual case, however, and an unusual standard.
In fact, it's unprecedented in California for social workers to be prosecuted for the death of a a child who is under the care of a Department of Children and Family Services.
- [Greg.]
- That being said, the likelihood of prevailing on 995s, and even on a writ, is small.
I was a supervising children's social worker.
I did that job for about ten years.
I just had this uh desire that, you know, these are the people I wanted to work with.
Severely emotionally disturbed children, uh, families, uh, families that were on the edge.
And found myself working for the Department of Children and Family Services.
And surprisingly, I liked it.
I had a unit of approximately six social workers.
The social workers, typically, on the average, would have about 30 cases.
Sometimes 35, 38.
Sometimes it'd go down to about 28.
You're saying that you're, ultimately, responsible for, uh, 250 to 300 kids.
I think the most children I had at any one time was about 280 children.
How difficult is it to keep track of that many cases? You can't.
That's why you have social workers keeping track of that many cases.
And you don't know every case, that you ought to, only because of the fact that there's so many.
And my workload was so immense.
When I first heard about the case, it seemed just to be a straightforward case.
Child had been living with a relative, and that relative was unable to care for that child.
And the child started living with the mother.
As a supervising children's social worker, I had to oversee the social worker who was on the case.
A Palmdale mother and her boyfriend are behind bars tonight, suspected of abusing and terrorizing her eight-year-old son.
He is now listed in critical condition.
The LA County Sheriff's Department says, "His injuries suggest he may have been tortured.
" [male newscaster.]
Sheriff's deputies say they found Gabriel beaten and burned, Wednesday night at the couple's apartment, in Palmdale.
I was devastated.
This is something that I never experienced in the 23 years of doing social work.
I've heard of tragedies on other caseloads.
But I never experienced it myself.
[male newscaster.]
A boy was rushed to the hospital in critical condition, after a call from the home saying that he wasn't breathing.
You're hoping the hospitalization would just be a hospitalization.
And that he would recover.
[medical equipment beeping.]
However, uh Gabriel did pass away.
And my heart was broken.
No child should die at the hands of their parents that we're managing.
Social workers try to do the best they can, to manage their caseload.
Their goal is to help families, help children.
And they don't wanna see a child die.
Every one of us would say, "I never saw it coming.
" [thunder rumbling.]
The red flags become more apparent after an incident.
We ask ourselves, "Why didn't we see it? What was going on in which we didn't see it?" I know, in the Department of Children and Family Services, critical thinking skills become a challenge when you're overworked, and if there wasn't so much stress, then you may see those red flags.
The system is overtaxed.
No social worker should be trying to handle 30-plus cases.
[male newscaster.]
The torture death of an eight-year-old boy in Palmdale, has angered a lot of people over how the Department of Children and Family Services handled that case.
Protesters say that department failed to protect this eight-year-old Palmdale boy, Gabriel Fernandez.
This was something that was a no-brainer, any rational person would have taken Gabriel away from those parents, period.
Taking a child away from a parent is the last resort.
- We know you don't wanna go, OK? - [child sobbing.]
We know you don't wanna go.
It's very traumatic to remove a child.
If you've ever done it, uh, it's the worst.
Sir, they have a court apprehension order signed by a judge to take the child.
- [woman sobbing, shouting.]
- That's all there is, OK? [Marc.]
Studies have shown, the post-traumatic stress the children have from being removed, is incredible.
- [woman chatting.]
- [child shrieking.]
Dad! [Marc.]
The challenge is trying to figure out how to preserve a family, because kids, in the most part, do better in their biological homes.
The system has this enormous power to actually walk into somebody's home and take their children away.
A lot of people don't take too kindly to that.
And that, in and of itself, is a challenge.
How do you manage to do that? There are a lot of young people who say, "I want to help make the world a better place.
" And so social work sounds really good.
And then they find that they are, frequently, called on to be detectives.
And do, uh, detective work kind of like law enforcement people do.
Um, it's tough.
It's a really tough job.
I did family preservation, the key is preserving the family, the best we can.
Researchers in favor of family unification will argue that children are better off if they can be kept with their families, um, even under not ideal circumstances.
Those who are in the other camp, though, point to the isolated episodic cases where that kind of philosophy can and does result in a child fatality.
My name is Karen Bass.
I'm a member of Congress from Los Angeles, California.
I've been in Congress now eight years, and before that I was in the state legislature for six years.
I've been working on trying to impact the child welfare system now for about 28 years.
I got involved in this issue in the, uh, '80s when the whole child welfare system exploded because of the crack cocaine epidemic.
[sirens wailing.]
When family preservation started, it started around the same time that the foster-care numbers were exploding because of the crack crisis.
It also started at a time when there was a heightened awareness about disproportionality.
When it comes to African American children, a lot of people would argue that African American children are removed too often, when they don't necessarily need to be, because of the very negative view of African American families, and African American people, period.
So there is a racial component to it.
There are always cases where you need to take the child away, OK? So let's just assume that is a given.
If it is sexual abuse, if it is bad physical abuse, you have to take that child away.
But if you tear up the family preservation unit, then what are you saying? Then should all the kids go to foster care now? Or should all the kids go to relatives? But that's the pendulum that swings back and forth, until the next tragedy.
The system is overwhelmingly oriented toward parent rights, toward family preservation.
At all costs, let's keep kids with the parent, and very, very little emphasis on child rights.
They're doing everything they can to see if we can't possibly keep this child at home.
But what that often means is returning kids home, where they may be much more at risk.
The workers in this case, appear to have been following the basic guidance given to child protective workers.
The system is broken, but not the system is broken not just in the way people often assume when they say that.
It's broken because it's based on the wrong premises.
It's based on valuing adult rights, way, way more than child rights.
The workers were out of that family preservation unit, their job is to preserve families.
But we don't strengthen families by ignoring obvious warning signs, and just letting things continue to escalate and escalate.
If they were coming out today and saying, "We didn't know he had been shot with multiple BBs.
We didn't know he had chunks of hair missing.
We didn't know he was hit with a belt buckle.
We didn't know he wrote a suicide note.
" They knew all those things.
So if you just take what they knew, they had enough to do more.
The worker and supervisor would say, "We didn't really think this was in the best interest.
But the policy from the top is to leave this child with their parents, if at all possible.
" Well, "if at all possible," that means if this child is safe.
[male newscaster.]
In a rare move, four social workers were charged today, in an extreme case of child abuse where an eight-year-old boy died.
[female newscaster.]
Four social workers in Los Angeles may face prison time.
This is really a landmark decision, to send these social workers and their supervisors to court.
Extraordinary situation of public employees facing criminal charges Prosecutors say the fact that they didn't do their job, they did not protect him, was as bad as them abusing the little boy themselves.
Oh, I've been in the headlines since the start of this case.
I've been pretty much trashed in the news media.
It's a pretty intense prospect to face ten years, however, I don't let what might happen in the future bother me.
I live Coram Deo.
That's "every day I live before the face of God.
" And that's what keeps me sane.
I've been battling pretty much for the last four years, just to clear my conscience.
In the years leading up to Gabriel's death, a number of whistle-blowers had emerged to speak publicly, or in private conversations with reporters like me, um, to talk about the problems that they were seeing in this agency.
I've worked for DCFS since August of 1980.
Then, I retired in March of 2013.
Approximately 34 years.
During that period of time, the greatest demand I saw, really, was a demand for appropriate placements, for children who were taken into protective custody.
Once the child is taken into protective custody, the next challenge was, "Where am I going to place this child?" The emergency response command post became the default place because it was the only 24-hour facility available in the department.
So we gradually saw children coming there, waiting for placement, and the length of time that the children came there extended and extended.
So kids were actually being kept at the command post.
Children were - [man.]
Living there, essentially.
- They were living there.
At first, we had an average of 16 children a month.
And eventually, we had escalated to 350 children a month.
- [man.]
Staying at the command center? - Staying at the command post.
The situation had gotten so bad and so chronic, that that's when I decided to write my managers, and to the Board of Supervisors.
What was the reaction of DCFS managers to your complaints? [Saul.]
So, my immediate managers, they did not like the fact that I disclosed.
And it's my understanding that a recommendation was made that I be terminated.
- [man.]
They tried to fire you.
- Right.
Instead of dealing with what was a very serious problem.
At one point in time, the deputy director said, "We do not want anyone from the emergency command post, who experienced these problems, to pass that information, to the executive team, that's her bosses above her.
Don't tell anyone there's a problem.
Don't tell anyone.
So we were threatened with disciplinary action, if we let them know what the conditions were.
Why is there such a culture of secrecy at DCFS? [Saul.]
Bureaucracies tend to function to preserve themselves and those with power.
So, if those of us who are at a lower level, try to indicate that there are problems, then we become the problems, and they do what they can, - to maintain the status quo.
- [man.]
Preserve the institution.
Preserve the institution at all costs, at the expense of the service that you should be delivering to individuals.
[man 1.]
All right, if you would stand, raise your right hand please.
Do you solemnly state the testimony you're about to give before this court shall be the truth, the whole truth and nothing - but the truth so help you God? - [man 2.]
[man 1.]
Have a seat.
- [Hatami.]
Good morning, Mr.
- [Arturo.]
Good morning.
Can you tell the jury what your occupation is? I'm an armed guard for the Los Angeles County, contracted through the Sheriff's Department.
Where were you working, if you remember, on April the 26th, 2013? At the, um, Los Angeles DPSS GAIN office, in Palmdale.
DPSS, Department of Social Services, people went there to apply for welfare and benefits.
That day, I was sitting down, it was about 4:30.
The door opened, then it was Pearl Fernandez, and she had three boys and a girl.
I said, "Go ahead.
Walk through.
" And that's when I noticed, she's all blasted full of tattoos.
I'm like, "Oh, my God.
This is a gangster chick, man.
" All of a sudden, I noticed the boy and all the back of his head right here, he had a bunch of cigarette burns.
Some were small, some were wider, some were fresh, some were healing.
Then I noticed around his eyes, he had purple, greenish bruises.
And I'm like, "Wow, he's all beat up.
" From a scale from one to ten? Man, he was a 20.
At that point, Gabriel starts walking by, and he rubs by my desk.
and he goes like this.
And he looks at me like that with his corner of his eye.
And at that point my heart dropped like, "Oh my God.
" I saw the marks.
And I said, "Damn, man.
This is fucked up," you know.
And that's when it just hit me.
"Oh, shit.
Child abuse, man.
" Like, "Look what they're doing to me.
" That's what he was saying.
I mean, his body was talking, yelling he didn't really have to say anything.
It was all over his body.
Screaming for help.
Sitting here today, do you know his name? Um, Gabriel Fernandez.
Regarding getting the information where that little boy lived, did somebody give that to you? Or how did you get that? I got it from Marisela Corona, the worker that was at the window.
She wanted to report it, but she was told not to by her supervisor.
Did that make you feel sad that nobody else in that office but you was going to report these injuries on that little boy? Yes, actually, it pissed me off.
Marisela Corona she was a receptionist before.
And then she got promoted to be a worker for domestic violence.
They got trained for it, like a whole month.
So, I'm looking at her and she looks at me, "Did you see that little boy's face and head? Oh, my God, he had the stupidest haircut, huh?" I said, "No, man, he was beat up.
" "Oh, my God, don't say that.
I thought he was beat up.
That's my department.
I'm in domestic violence.
" I go, "Oh, there you go.
Do your job.
" She storms back inside, and I get on my desk, and at that point I get a phone call, pick it up, and it's Marisela Corona.
"My supervisor said they don't want us to do anything, because they don't wanna pay overtime.
They don't want us to stay.
" I said, "What? Are you serious? Suzanne Harms doesn't want you to stay over, even though you guys are mandated?" "Yeah, because it's Friday and some other we're gonna shut down in about 15 minutes.
" And I said, "But the kid needs help.
" "I know, you really need to help him.
I'll give you their address, her name, her phone number, anything, but please call.
" I said, "Why don't you do it if you have this information?" "Because they told me not to get involved.
And I don't want to lose my job.
" You believed on that day that Gabriel needed to be saved.
I'm a human, dude.
That kid needed help, man.
I'm not here as dressed as a guard just to look for a paycheck, dude.
I'm here to make a difference, man.
If I can help someone then I'm gonna go ahead and do it.
At that point, I said, "You know what? It's a HIPAA law violation for you to give me that information, but fuck it.
Let me do it.
Give me the damn name.
" I called my supervisor.
I said, "Hey, man, this kid, he looked like he's been beat up.
" "Why you wanna get involved with that? That's not in your job duties.
It's not in the book.
If I were you, I wouldn't get involved.
Don't make us write you up.
" I said, "You know what, dude? Later, man.
" Hang up on him.
What else can I do? Oh, I'm gonna call 911.
So I call in 911.
The operator's like, "It's not an emergency.
This number is only for emergencies.
You should call the Sheriff's Department.
" [woman.]
Palmdale Station, Deputy Soukup.
How can I help you? [Arturo.]
Hello, hi.
Uh, I work for the at the county, here at the GAIN office.
And there was a woman that came in earlier to pick up just a paper, and she had four little boys with her.
And I noticed that one of the little boys, he had, uh, all of his head was bruised up, and he had lumps.
Um, and he also had, like he also had black eyes.
So I explained to her what's going on.
"OK, we're gonna send two deputies.
" I said, "All right, cool.
But you guys will send someone, right? 'Cause it looks like he needs definitely medical attention.
" Yeah, we'll see what we can do.
Felt like some load off my back.
But I was still disappointed at the workers that I work with.
They didn't wanna do their job.
All because Suzanne Harms wanna look good for her company she works for.
She wanna save them money.
All because of some overtime.
She could have saved this kid's life.
Open up Antelope Valley Times, and I look at the story, and there it is, man.
Picture of the parents.
They're, uh, in custody.
Gabriel Fernandez was put in a coma, but they had disconnected him.
I'm like, "Oh my God.
He's frickin' dead.
" A preliminary hearing is underway now for two former Los Angeles County social workers and their supervisors charged in the death of eight-year-old Gabriel Fernandez.
I was surprised when it was all over the news, that there was an open case, DCFS case.
That was like another another blow, like, "Oh, my God.
" They failed over here, the people I work with, and then DCFS, they also failed him.
It's like, "What's going on, man?" Death's got him by the hand? Blinding everybody else? Why doesn't anyone do something? [man.]
You, basically, wrote the book on outsourcing government contracts, and you've been studying Maximus for years.
Simply put what is Maximus? Maximus is a for-profit company that contracts to help governments operate services for vulnerable populations.
Including Medicaid-related services, foster-care-related services, Child Support.
So, just to be clear, I mean, Maximus is a for-profit company contracted out by the government.
That's right.
You can buy stock in Maximus, today they're for-profit, publicly traded.
As health insurance coverage has expanded to millions of Americans, Maximus is the national leader in helping governments administer their public programs.
They're likely in every state in the United States and in multiple countries around the globe.
They're huge.
They, in many situations, have almost become government, where government has contracted out its inherently governmental functions to private contractors.
Maximus delivers better solutions for better lives.
People have heard the term "The military industrial complex.
" Most people, unfortunately, I think are unaware of this huge poverty industrial complex.
Sometimes, it's the same company.
Lockheed Martin, you know, has also run child support offices.
Northrop Grumman, in addition to building tanks, they're also making billions in contracts for state governments that are supposed to serve the poor.
But their focus isn't about what's best for the poor.
Their focus is about the bottom line of their company.
And this assessment report that Maximus carried out on behalf of Maryland, regarding foster children and how the state can obtain resources from foster children, the assessment report refers to foster children as "a revenue-generating mechanism.
" - [man.]
That's chilling to hear that.
- [Hatcher.]
It is.
And I think it's a a very unfortunate example of where you have a contract that is ultimately focused on profit, rather than maximizing the well-being of vulnerable people who need the services.
Arturo testified that one of the people in management at DPSS was worried about overtime and that that was a reason to avoid making a 911 call on Gabriel's behalf.
In light of what you know about Maximus, does this surprise you? Well no.
'Cause there have been claims against Maximus for not paying overtime, in various States.
Cost-cutting becomes, unfortunately, I think, typically, a focus of the private companies.
What does the compensation package look like for the head of Maximus? Well, I believe if you look on their website, it's about three million or more for the current CEO.
We found the actual contract between LA county and Maximus.
What do you see here? What jumps out of you? Well, looking through it, the first thing that jumps out is the contract manager's services can be performed more economically by an independent contractor than by county employees, which is a pretty striking statement.
We're contracting this process out because it's gonna be cheaper, and we can do it as a way to cut costs by using a for-profit company and their employees, rather than County employees.
It says here that child abuse reports shall be made by telephone within 24 hours to the Department of Children and Family Services hotline.
Everything we can determine, that just wasn't done here.
Is that a breach of this contract? Well, it does seem like there's clear language here.
"The contract staff shall report all known or suspected instances of child abuse to an appropriate child protective agency, as mandated by these code sections.
" So, this is part of the contract, and if the contractor was working under this, and didn't make such reports then that would be um, in conflict with the contract language.
In these documents here, we see that Maximus's contract with Los Angeles County has been worth about $110 million over the past decade.
And there's a provision here that requires competitive bidding every three years, but in the votes here, we're seeing that it's only gone out to competitive bidding twice in the past 14 years.
Year after year, they kind of consistently did not meet a lot of the requirements required of their contract.
Like the work participation rates, the way they handle the case files.
But what we saw was their contract kept getting extended each time.
It turns out that there were hundreds of thousands of dollars being paid to the lobbying firm belonging to the son of the deciding vote on the Board of Supervisors.
Maximus had hired a lobbying firm called Englander Knabe & Allen.
Knabe, in that instance, is Matt Knabe, who is the sonof supervisor Don Knabe who voted when he was on the Board of Supervisors one, two, three, four times in Maximus's favor to hold onto this contract.
In two of those instances, he was actually the deciding vote.
Over a five-year period from 2013 to 2018, Maximus had spent about $775,000, the third-highest lobbying in LA County.
We asked Maximus for their response to what Arturo said on the stand.
They are saying that Marisela Corona actually did call the Sheriff's office that night.
Yeah, she signed this new statement, signed this year, saying that she did have phone contact with the Sheriff's department and provided certain information about the family.
But her original affidavit didn't talk about any contact.
Her original signed statement six years ago made no mention whatsoever of any contact.
And what evidence is there that she contacted the Sheriff's department? There's no evidence.
Uh, we've thoroughly reviewed the case file, and our sources have reviewed the recordings in and out of the Sheriff's department.
There's no indication that she made any contact.
- [man.]
And when did she file this? - [Therolf.]
Uh, this month [man.]
So just after we started asking them about this.
It was clearly done in response to our inquiries to the company.
Maximus also tried to cast down on Arturo's sworn testimony.
They are saying that he changed his story over time.
Did he? [Therolf.]
Yeah, there are some inconsistencies.
At certain instances, he says that Gabriel had one black eye.
In another instance, he said he had two.
However, when you look at the core narrative that he is telling, he is extremely consistent.
You know, the elements where he talks about the fact that he was the only person to make a report that day, the fact that he had interactions with employees in the GAIN office and they did not make a report, not only are those consistent, but all the material facts support his account.
If you believe his testimony, Arturo Martinez was going against his bosses when he called 911.
What does it say that in order to do what is needed to be done, in order to save a boy's life, an employee has to feel like they're risking their job? Yeah, I think you have to hope that case, you know, for humanity to take more importance over the mission.
If you have an employee for a company who's really loyal to that company, you're forcing a situation where the individual has to break that loyalty of mission in order to do what's right.
At least there might have been a chance, in order to step in to protect a child who's at risk.
The individuals working for an agency are also supposed to report concerns.
If that doesn't happen, that can mean a life.
Uh, it can mean a child's life.
Beating a kid up? Every day? Feeding him cat shit.
Being tied up inside a box with a bandana over his face and tape on his mouth? How can you even sleep? Every other day he crosses my mind, you know, how he's he's gone.
I mean, I even found out that instead of burying him, he got cremated.
I mean, turned into nothing.
And, it's just unbelievable.
He's nothing but ashes now.
[male DJ.]
It's not just the Department of Children and Family Services that has been the target of this investigation, it's also the Sheriff's Department.
A bunch of sheriff's deputies were disciplined also, because there were times they were sent to the boy's home, in the middle of the night sometimes, because the call kept getting pushed off and pushed off as a lowest-priority call.
Eventually, deputies would show up at the house after teachers or somebody else had reported abuse, the boy being beaten, with bruises or burns, they'd knock on the door at 2:00 in the morning or midnight, and they just took the mom's word for it.
They didn't demand to see the boy.
For the ten years or so I've been a DA, never thought that anybody was hiding anything from me, never thought that any police officer, Sheriff's Department, LAPD or anybody wasn't giving me anything.
It was May of 2016, the Defense Attorney Michael Sklar brought up in open court that the Sheriff's Department did an investigation, and they wrote a report.
I basically said, "I don't know anything about any investigation.
" There isn't any reports.
So I thought at first Sklar was asking for bad stuff about deputies, and the reason I say this is so we had already known about eight deputies involved during an eight-month span.
Deputies went out to Gabriel's apartment and didn't do anything.
Those deputies didn't write reports, but they documented it in what's called their mobile data computer.
"I'm at location so and so," and what time you got there and whatnot.
However, that's all we had, so we didn't have reports.
We didn't have investigations.
So now he was saying there's some sort of Internal Affair file.
And I kept saying, "I don't know what you're talking about.
" And then finally Judge Lomeli said, "If there is an IA investigation, you need to go get it and turn it over.
" I was like, "OK.
You know, that's fine.
" If the judge orders me to do it, OK, I'm gonna go do that.
So I started, you know, asking around.
And everywhere, like, I turned, either somebody, they didn't know, or they would say they'd get back to me.
And they never would get back to me.
And they were talking to me in a way that got me concerned.
This is, you know, People Versus Isauro Aguirre and Pearl Fernandez.
Now, this is the Gabriel case.
Do you have this? Like, I need this.
It was just total runaround.
So I reached out to a friend, who's a deputy, who then got me in contact with another deputy, and they immediately told me that there was, uh, an Internal Affairs file.
It was hundreds of pages, and that they interviewed numerous people.
What happened was, this unit, Internal Affairs, decided to do an investigation and not tell me or anybody else about it, for three years.
'Cause you're talking about 2013, and we find out about it in 2016.
So the defense attorney knew about it, and the defendant knew about it, but I didn't know about it.
As soon as I found that out, I launched, you know, numerous e-mails to all sorts of people within the Sheriff's Department, ordering them to turn over this file.
And the response was, yeah, nothing.
Then, I would send more e-mails saying the judge has ordered this, sending the transcripts of the judge ordering it.
Then saying, "No, this is discovery.
You have to turn it over.
You're in violation of Brady.
You're committing a violation of the Constitution.
You need to turn it over.
" Nothing.
I was completely shocked that this information wasn't being turned over to me.
And scared.
Scared about the fact that I thought we were this was gonna cause a major problem, and we weren't doing the right thing.
It could have affected the prosecution of Isauro Aguirre and Pearl Fernandez and getting justice for Gabriel.
So my last resort was to file a Pitchess motion.
And that's unusual.
Pitchess is, if a deputy does something bad, a complaint's filed against him or her.
The defense attorneys are trying to impeach the police officers, and they're basically saying, "Hey, you're bad.
" Most prosecutors have never filed a Pitchess Motion.
Just doesn't happen.
Like, because if we ask for something, they just give it to us.
I shouldn't have to file a motion to get something from the police department.
Um and I filed a Pitchess motion listing all the deputies I thought that went to Gabriel's house, listing that file, you know, demanding them to turn it over.
I also subpoenaed every deputy that went out to Gabriel's apartment.
I wanted to make sure that nobody's gonna start lying to me.
Someone still needed to explain to me how the Sheriff's Department gets to investigate and talk to numerous witnesses, including witnesses we didn't talk to, collect evidence, and not share it with anybody, for three years.
In the Sheriff's Department, rumors spread fast.
Some of the deputies thought that I was making them look bad.
More information was coming out about the fact that numerous deputies that went to Gabriel's apartment, and there was no reports done on that.
And so there were some friends of mine who told me to be careful and watch my back 'cause some deputies are really upset.
A lot of deputies thought that he wanted to have them prosecuted, and they were starting a lot of rumors and spreading rumors about him, and then also about me.
I did patrol at Santa Clarita, and then, when I promoted to a detective, I went to Palmdale, and I was there for just under two and a half years.
And then I came back to Santa Clarita in June of 2016.
She's a detective, but she also works patrol.
She was told, you know, if something happens or somebody doesn't help you, you need to let management know.
I clearly took it as a threat to my wife and a threat to my family, that there's potentially some people are gonna be upset about this situation, to the point where I was concerned.
It could have meant that if I was in a situation where I needed help, that maybe someone wouldn't come.
You really have to trust you partners.
And so I didn't like that it made me question question that trust.
People were mad.
Uh and you never know what people are gonna do when they're armed and mad, and they feel like maybe they can lose their job because they did something wrong, or they can get prosecuted, right, for doing something wrong.
This is borne out of a culture of the most important thing to do is to be loyal to your fellow officers, right? And there's very little accountability.
Some individuals in the department, their past history doesn't look good, especially when they're threatening FBI agents.
Come on guys.
Come on.
When I worked at the LA Times, I covered the LA County Sheriff's Department and Lee Baca.
And during those years, deputies were able to act with relative impunity.
There was scandal after scandal, and it was not an agency that was very willing to accept blame and to acknowledge faults.
The FBI was beginning to investigate inmate abuse in the jails, and had cultivated an inmate informant in the jails who was secretly reporting on allegations of abuse, and other misconduct being done by deputies.
Sheriff Baca did not take kindly to this effort to scrutinize his department by the FBI.
We do not tolerate misconduct by any deputies.
[Robert[ He was defiant.
He declared, you know, "We police ourselves," and accused FBI of committing a crime by smuggling the phone into the jails.
So it was full-on war initially between the Sheriff's Department and the FBI.
They actually sent two of their deputies, physically, to the home of the lead FBI agent on the case to threaten her with arrest.
Any way you cut it, that's very intimidating.
It wasn't at her office, you know, they they showed up at her home.
So you're talking about the backdrop where we just had Baca accused of going to an FBI agent and threatening her, because of some exposing of some information.
And to threaten my family, to disrupt my wife's job, to threaten the case, and then to file a complaint against me.
And all because I was trying to do the right thing and turn over discovery that was in the possession of the Sheriff's Department, that they would say we should have known about.
I tried to get them to explain to me why you're conducting this parallel investigation, who started this investigation, who said, "I need you to go out there, and investigate all the deputies who went to Gabriel's house?" It's wild that I have to file a motion to force my own police department to turn over information.
It was a very heated court proceeding.
Very, very heated.
At the end of that court proceeding, uh, Judge Lomeli ordered them to turn over, uh, the file.
Everybody got the file, and there was a lot of information in that file that helped our case, that, for some reason, they felt they they weren't obligated to turn over.
[male newscaster.]
New developments in the investigation into the death of eight-year-old Gabriel Fernandez, on the eve of the one-year anniversary of the boy's death, CBS2 has learned some Sheriff's deputies have been disciplined in connection with this case.
[female newscaster.]
Records show deputies were called out to the Fernandez home five times in the months preceding his death.
One deputy who was called to Gabriel's house was a deputy named Federico Gonzalez.
After the suicide notes were reported to 911 in the child abuse hotline, he showed up at around 2:00 a.
, spoke to Isauro, but did not see Gabriel or talk to Gabriel.
According to the notes from a counselor, he made the decision that Gabriel did not sound like a child who was seriously contemplating suicide.
In fact, he seemed like a spoiled child.
And, according to Isauro, he offered to come back the following morning and scare Gabriel from making these claims again.
The sheriffs knew they were out there, and Pearl had told them that some bigger kids that beat him up, and that's why he had marks on him.
They put him in back of the car and told him that if he kept lying about things, that he would be the one to go to jail.
That's what neighbors there in the apartment building told us when we had his vigil there.
Um I couldn't believe it.
If you have multiple roll-outs to a home with a child that old, that can articulate what's going on, if they're properly interviewed away from the perpetrators, most children will at least tell you something that should raise the hairs on the back of your neck.
Or give you enough information that you pull them out of the home, immediately.
[man 1.]
Can you tell the jury what you do for a living, sir? [man 2.]
I'm an LA County Sheriff's deputy.
My assignment was, I worked for Palmdale Station, and I was a school resource officer.
This deputy, with the Sheriff's Department, goes out to some address of record, and nobody's there, nobody's home.
I left and went to some other schools.
[man 1.]
And did you return to that address? Yes, I did.
- [man 1.]
On the same day? - Yes.
And what happened when you returned to the address? I knocked at the door again, and there was no answer.
[man 1.]
What did you do next? Uh, that was the end of my day, so I went home.
He goes back the next day, and finally calls the phone number of the family, and Pearl answers.
Yeah, I don't remember the entire conversation.
It's about four and a half years ago, but I do remember her stating that she moved a child to Texas.
- [man 1.]
So you believed that, uh - I did.
Yes, I did.
[man 1.]
That Gabriel had been moved to Texas? I believed the mother, yes.
The deputy doesn't do any more investigation.
It was just a week before his death.
DCFS workers got fired, and the DA is prosecuting, while similar visits were made by law-enforcement entities and very little, if anything, happened to them.
[female newscaster.]
The Sheriff's Department says it can't discuss details, citing personnel issues, but we're told no one will be fired, and described the deputy's missteps as minor.
Did it embarrass some people in the Sheriff's Department because many of these deputies went to Gabriel's apartment and didn't write reports? Yeah, but you know what? They embarrassed themselves.
If somebody's embarrassed or not embarrassed, well, a little boy was tortured and murdered, so I think people can deal with a little bit of embarrassment.
[call rings.]
Hello? [woman 2.]
Hello, may I speak with Patricia Clement, please? [Patricia.]
Yes, this is Patricia.
Hi, this is Mary Cenovich.
I'm an investigator from the Los Angeles County District Attorney's Office.
I would like to, um, speak with you regarding your prior employment by LA County.
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