Gabriel Fernandez Story

April 23, 2020

Netflix has recently released a documentary series titled “The Trials of Gabriel Fernandez.”  The series attempts to highlight current issues related to the Division of Child Protection and Permanency (DCPP). The documentary questions DCPP’s ability to monitor and protect abused children. This series depicts the horrific tale of eight-year-old Gabriel Fernandez, who was tortured to death by his mother, Pearl Fernandez, and her boyfriend, Isauro Aguirre.

The series focuses on the systemic issues of undetected child abuse and neglect in child protective services. Social workers saddled with heavy case loads fail to adequately investigate and report signs of abuse. Despite several complaints to the Los Angeles County Child Abuse hotline from Gabriel’s teacher and others, social workers did not detect and report the abuse, or remove Gabriel from the abusive environment.

Failure of Social Welfare Systems

One of the social workers who investigated the complaints never interviewed Gabriel separately from his mother. Though there were several documented visits by social workers to Gabriel’s home, they never found strong evidence of abuse. The series reveals the dangers of outsourcing social services to for-profit companies. Social workers solely interested in high efficiency were reluctant to investigate abuse and review case files thoroughly.

Signs of Abuse

According to the documentary, Gabriel was a happy, curious child when he was in the custody of his uncle and his partner. Even though Gabriel’s extended family warned of Pearl’s prior abuse of children, she was granted custody of Gabriel.

Seemingly, Pearl’s motivation was to collect child support payments while she had custody. Gabriel exhibited signs of abuse soon after moving in with her. He came to school with patches of missing hair, scabs, and injuries to his face and lips, and had numerous bruises. His teacher and others who were concerned made several complaints to social services.

Death of Gabriel Fernandez

On May 22, 2013, Pearl called 911 because Gabriel was not responding.  Paramedics found his ribs broken, his skull cracked, and his body riddled with BB pellets. It was obvious to the paramedics that Gabriel was severely abused. He was declared brain dead upon arrival at the hospital and died on May 24, 2013.

Social Workers Charged

Prosecutors charged the four social workers for child abuse and falsifying records in Gabriel’s case. These social workers were also fired from their jobs.  Pearl Fernandez and Isauro Aguirre plead guilty to murder and torture and were imprisoned for life.

Reporting Abuse

Social workers, medical workers, health care professionals, child care providers, teachers, school administrators, and law enforcement officers are required by law to report suspected child abuse and neglect.

Child abuse and neglect can be psychological, sexual, emotional, and physical. Signs of abuse include unexplained bruises, fractures, and injuries. Children may also display fearful, anxious, withdrawn, or aggressive behaviors. If child abuse is suspected, take immediate action by reassuring the child and by notifying law enforcement and child protection services.

New Jersey DCPP Attorneys at the Law Offices of Theodore J. Baker Represent Families Dealing with the Division of Child Protection and Permanency

If you suspect an abused child is not being properly protected by DCPP, contact one of our experienced lawyers immediately. Our skilled New Jersey DCPP attorneys at the Law Offices of Theodore J. Baker handle sensitive cases with compassion to protect families. To schedule a private consultation, contact us online or call us at 856-795-9400. Located in Cherry Hill, New Jersey, we serve clients throughout South Jersey, including Haddonfield, Marlton, Medford, Moorestown, Mount Laurel, and Voorhees.

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