The Trials of Gabriel Fernandez: What happened to the four social workers?
They faced up to 10-years in jail for child abuse
Netflix documentary, The Trials of Gabriel Fernandez, tells the shocking story of eight-year-old Gabriel, who was tortured and killed by his mother and her boyfriend. This case made history as being on of the first where the social workers involved the case were facing criminal charges – those who were meant to be caring for Gabriel Fernandez went to court for child abuse claims too.
Four social workers: Kevin Bom, Greg Merritt, Stefanie Rodriguez and Patricia Clement were charged with child endangerment which resulted in death, and falsification of public documents. If found guilty they faced up to 10-years in jail. It would have been one of the first times in US history that social workers had gone to prison over the death of a child.
The court had to decide if what they had done was a mistake or if they had crossed the line and committed gross negligence or recklessness. The District Attorney claimed Gabriel’s death was foreseeable and therefore the social workers should be held responsible for their actions. In the Netflix documentary she says they “did intentional things which kept Gabriel in harm’s way” which resulted in his death.
Defence lawyers claimed the social workers were used as scapegoats, and they had done all they could within the roles of their jobs. As a condition of their employment, after Gabriel died, all four workers had to meet with internal affairs investigators to discuss what happened and what went wrong.
Here’s what happened to the four social workers involved in the Gabriel Fernandez case.
Kevin Bom was a supervisor in the emergency responce unit. The court was told he had the file about Gabriel’s case for around three months and approved that there was a high risk level of neglect. His defence argued he did what his job was to do. However it was argued that as Stefanie’s boss, he was equally as responsible for decisions, such as not referring Gabriel for medical help, that were made.
In the Netflix documentary, Kevin is described as having a “hands-off approach” and it is said Kevin Bom didn’t make sure a body chart was made or medical help was sought for Gabriel.
Greg Merritt was a supervising officer in the case. He had 24-years of experience working with children. He is interviewed in the The Trials of Gabriel Fernandez, where he says he’s never had any criminal charges against him previously, other than a parking ticket. He said he was responsible for up to 280 children’s cases at a time, and it’s impossible to keep up with.
It was his responsibility to oversee the work by Patricia Clement. He said the case left him “devastated” and was like nothing he had ever seen before. He said the social workers tried to do the best they could to manage their case loads, and would never want a child to die. They never saw it coming.
In Greg’s interview with internal affairs after Gabriel’s death, he was asked if he had ever asked his staff if there was ongoing abuse in the case. He said he couldn’t remember ever asking that.
Stefanie Rodriguez was a new recruit. She was an emergency response worker who answered to a supervisor. As an emergency response worker she would have been one of the first on the scene and first to evaluate the case. A colleague, who features in the Netflix documentary, said it was a “mistake” to have someone new in this role, it should have instead been someone experienced.
Stefanie is described in the Netflix documentary as being “gullible” and “easily manipulated” by Pearl Fernandez. Stefanie is said to have accepted weak excuses for Gabriel’s injuries and accepted everything his mother said. Some injuries to Gabriel were not marked and a body chart of his injuries was not made.
In the documentary, it is said that Patricia Clement was previously described as a “problematic worker”, “rude” and “unprofessional” by her colleagues. It is also said that Patricia gave different stories of her involvement and what happened in the case to internal affairs and lawyers. She says she did her job, and nobody ever said anything to do with abuse to her. She also says she never first-hand saw any evidence of abuse.
Her assessment of Gabriel is called flatly “false” in the documentary. She deemed Isauro an “upstanding and caring adult with no criminal history” and said he raised “no red flags”. She said Gabriel’s risk was reducing, not increasing and wrote in a report that there was no risk to his safety and recommended the case was closed.
In Patricia’s interview with internal affairs she described Gabriel as acting up in school, angry and rude to teachers. She said she knew this because she had been told by Pearl Fernandez, she did not speak to the school to confirm. Patricia admitted that she did not verify the information she had.
What happened to the social workers on the Gabriel Fernandez case?
In their hearing, the judge said the actions of the four social workers represented an “improper regard for human life” and said there was a “failure at every level”. As a result, they were sent to trial, but the workers appealed the decision.
The case then never made it to trial, so the social workers never faced a jury. The appeal was put to a three-justice panel, who decided to dismiss the case. The decision was no unanimous, two out of the three stated there was no probable cause connected to child abuse or falsifying documents.
There was a notion to rehear the case in January of this year, but that was disregarded. Right now, this case is not progressing any further. It has been reported that all four social workers were fired after Gabriel’s death.
The Trials of Gabriel Fernandez is available on Netflix now. For all the latest Netflix news like The Holy Church of Netflix on Facebook.