POMONA (CNS) - The three siblings of a 4-year-old Palmdale boy whose 2019 death was originally reported as a drowning and later led to a criminal indictment of his parents also were abused by their father, according to an amended complaint which also claims that a county social worker who suspected such conduct failed to report it.
Evangelina Hernandez, the great-grandmother of the late Noah Cuatro, brought the wrongful death suit against the county in July 2020 on behalf of Noah's 5-year-old sister and two brothers, ages 3 and 10, criticizing the actions of employees of the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services. Now that he and his siblings are in a secure home and in the process of being adopted by Evangelina Hernandez, one sibling has opened up to her and her son, Matthew Hernandez, about abuses he has seen his other siblings suffer, mostly at the hands of their father, Jose Maria Cuatro Jr., the plaintiffs' attorneys state in their court papers.
"Throughout the years, DCFS was involved in Noah's home (and) ignored reports that Noah and his siblings were being abused and in danger," the amended complaint states. "Instead of protecting Noah and his siblings, DCFS continued to place the children with their abusive parents where the children continued to be abused over the course of several years."
Jose Cuatro and Ursula Elaine Juarez were 28 and 26, respectively, when the lawsuit was filed and are still awaiting trial in their criminal case. They were indicted in January 2020 on one count each of murder and torture in Noah's death. The indictment also charges the boy's father with one count each of assault on a child causing death and sexual penetration of a child under 10, with the indictment alleging that the latter crime occurred on the same day the boy was attacked.
Noah's mother was additionally charged with one count of child abuse under circumstances likely to cause death.
In the amended complaint brought Wednesday, the plaintiffs' lawyers state that new information was obtained in February and March that Noah's siblings also were subjected to abuse and neglect by Jose Cuatro and that county workers breached their mandatory duty to report their "reasonable suspicion" of such conduct.
In late March, the oldest of the siblings told Evangelina Hernandez that he was often forced by Jose Cuatro to "physically fight and beat up" Noah, the plaintiffs' attorneys state in their court papers.
The same sibling also told Matthew Hernandez that he and Noah were always hungry, that he saw his parents slapping his surviving brother in the face when he was an infant, that he observed his parents fight a lot and that he was "scared of his dad because he would beat him up" by punching him and hitting him with his belt, the plaintiff's lawyers state in their court papers.
The boy also saw Jose Cuatro hit Noah and the other two siblings, according to the amended suit.
In February, county social worker Lizbeth Hernandez Aviles testified during a deposition about the alleged abuses of Noah's siblings, stating that the property manager of the Cuatro apartment told her he heard crying from outside the unit and that there were "concerns over domestic violence" between the parents, according to the amended complaint. Aviles also testified that the Cuatro home had no beds or mattresses in the bedroom where the children slept, only a mattress in living room, the revised suits states.
Aviles also testified that the home had a foul odor and that when she entered it was "cluttered and filthy" with trash on the floor and counter tops, according to the amended suit, which alleges that Aviles had an obligation to report her suspicions that Noah's siblings also were being abused.
The case began when Noah's parents reported a drowning in their family pool in the 1200 block of East Avenue S at around 4 p.m. July 5, 2019. But the boy's injuries later raised suspicions about how he died and medical staff found the trauma he had suffered inconsistent with drowning.
Noah was taken first to Palmdale Regional Medical Center and then to Children's Hospital Los Angeles, where he was pronounced dead July 6, 2019. His death occurred after multiple reports of abuse had already been made to the DCFS, according to the suit.
"Instead of protecting Noah and his siblings, DCFS continued to place the children with their abusive parents, where the children continued to be abused over the course of several years," the suit alleges.
After Noah's death, DCFS social workers made threats against Evangelina Hernandez "in an attempt to silence her," the suit alleges. They told Evangelina Hernandez that if she made any public statements about Noah's case and/or potential lawsuits, she would lose her request for guardianship of her other three great-grandchildren and would never see them again, according to the suit.