Judge Considers Evidence Against Social Workers in Palmdale Boy's Abuse Death

Prosecutors in Downtown L.A. Monday began to outline the evidence against four former social workers accused of ignoring or minimizing child abuse reports in the months before an 8-year-old boy was beaten to death in Palmdale.

Stefanie Rodriguez, Patricia Clement, Kevin Bom, and Gregory Merritt face felony charges of child abuse and of falsifying public records related to the death of Gabriel Fernandez in 2013.

"It wasn't something I noticed, it was something he said," elementary school teacher Jennifer Garcia testified when asked when she first became concerned Fernandez was being abused.

"He asked if it was normal for his mom to hit him with a belt," she told L.A. Superior Court Judge M.L. Villar at the start of a two week preliminary hearing.

"He asked if it was normal to bleed," she said.

Garcia was the first of more than two dozen witnesses expected to testify at the hearing, at the end of which the judge will decide if there's enough evidence to hold the four for a jury trial.

The boy's mother, Pearl Fernandez, and her boyfriend, Isauro Aguirre, are awaiting trial on a first degree murder charge.

The L.A. County District Attorney's Office says the two tortured, beat, and burned the boy in the months leading up to his death in 2013, and says the social workers charged with protecting Fernandez looked the other way.

"We believe these social workers were criminally negligent and performed their legal duties with willful disregard for Gabriel's well-being," D.A. Jackie Lacey said in a statement when the charges were filed.

-- Eric Leonard at Criminal Courts

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