I continue to marvel at how bizarrely we treat child abuse.
On one hand, any person can report child abuse against someone else and cause the services to step in and remove the child, often without any evidence of abuse or neglect. The services will put both parent and child through a series of exams, court hearings, therapy sessions before allowing the child back with his parents. Throughout the process, evidence that there is little reason for child protective services to be involved will be ignored.
Such cases would imply that child protective services and police are overzealous due to concern over child abuse. On the other hand, something like this happens to remind people that is not always the case:
Gabriel Fernandez was an 8-year-old boy who was tortured to death by his parents. His abuse was reported multiple times by his teacher and others who witnessed his horrifying injuries. However, the system that is ostensibly in place to prevent such abuse ultimately failed. Not one, but nine police officers tasked with investigating Gabriel’s abuse, refused to write so much as a single report that could’ve saved his life.
Not one officer, but nine. How many times does one need to see an abused child before one thinks someone should stop the abuse?
What is more damning is that Gabriel’s mother did not have legal custody over him. His grandparents had custody, but when his mother Pearl wanted him back, she simply took him:
When he was young, Gabriel’s care was given to his grandparents after his mother, who struggled with drug problems, signed over custody. However, when Gabriel was 8, Pearl Fernandez, his mother, wanted him back. So, she took him.
The first failure of the system happened when Gabriel’s grandparents Robert and Sandra Fernandez, asked the Sheriff’s Department to mediate the custody dispute, telling Deputies Adam Hilzendeger and David Nisenoff that Pearl had a history of neglecting and physically abusing her children, according to a report in the LA Times.
The grandparents tried to explain the situation, but the police ignored their claims of physical abuse against Gabriel. They also ignored the evidence showing the grandparents had custody and allowed Pearl to keep the boy. Within days of moving in with his mother, Gabriel went to school, where he told one of his teachers about the abuse:
Gabriel told [Jennifer] Garcia that his mother had hit him with the metal part of a belt so hard that it drew blood. Garcia, the only person in the system who tried not to fail Gabriel, then called the child abuse hotline to report the abuse.
Deputy Imelda Rizo then went out to Gabriel’s home and noted in her computer that she did not observe any injuries. No report was filed.
Did she examine Gabriel? This seems a basic thing that one might do if a child claimed abuse. Indeed, one would think that the best thing to do would be to take the child to a doctor for examination. One would also think the best thing to do would be to question the child outside of the company of the alleged abuser.
While the police did not take the accusations seriously, Garcia did. She began to mark Gabriel’s work with smiley faces in hopes of preventing further abuse. That did not work. The abuse continued, and each time Garcia noticed the abuse, she reported it.
Yet the police could not be bothered to do their job, which led to this:
A month later, this poor child, who’d been suffering several months of abuse with no help from those who claim to ‘protect and serve,’ wrote a suicide note.
It takes a lot to push a child to want to kill himself. At that point, with a teacher repeatedly reporting abuse, one would think the police would take it seriously. They did not:
Deputy Federico Gonzalez went to the boy’s home and determined that Gabriel was all right. Once again, nothing happened.
Two months later, in April, a security guard at the county employment office saw Gabriel there with his mother. The guard, Arturo Miranda Martinez, noticed that Gabriel was severely beaten. He was covered in bruises and had cigarette burns all over his face and head.
Deputy Robin Soukup, the deputy who heard Martinez’ complaint about Gabriel’s condition, screamed at him and noted that a burned child is not an emergency, according to the prosecutor.
No, it is not an emergency. It is just cigarette burns on a child’s face and head. That is perfectly normal.
The proper response would be to step in and remove the child, not yell at the person reporting that a child has cigarette burns on his face.
The police again went to Gabriel’s and again managed to find no signs of abuse:
In spite of Soukup’s criminally callous dismissal of a child with cigarette burns covering his face and head, Deputies responded once again to Gabriel’s home. Deputy Jonathon Livingston spoke to Aguirre, saw Gabriel and then wrote an entry in his computer log, according to court records. Gabriel had fallen off a bicycle, and there was no evidence of child abuse, the deputy wrote, according to the Times.
Like all the other deputies who’d been dispatched to this boy’s home, Livingston ignored the signs of abuse and refused to file a report.
The latter is the article’s author’s position, and I am inclined to agree. I cannot see how two different people could notice the signs of abuse, yet no officer could see it. It would make sense if weeks or months passed between the complaints about the abuse and the visits. Yet it appears the events happened within days of each other. There is no way bruises and burns would heal that fast. The only conclusion is the one above: the police deliberately ignored the abuse.
This continued to go on. In perhaps the worst instance, an officer could not locate Gabriel. The boy had missed several days of school, and no one knew where he was. Instead of looking for Gabriel, the officer called the boy’s mother, the same person who several people had repeatedly accused of abusing the boy.
Nothing came of that call because at that point it was too late:
According to prosecutors, on May 22, 2013, Pearl Fernandez called 911 and told them her son stopped breathing. They determined that this 8-year-old child had been being beaten with a bat, shot with a BB gun, starved, locked in a small box and forced to eat cat feces.
According to the county medical examiner’s report, the boy suffered horrifying injuries and torture. The boy’s skull was fractured, his ribs were fractured and he had BB pellets in his chest and pelvic region. A burn above his groin penetrated all the way through the skin into the soft tissue, reports the Times.
An investigation into Gabriel’s case revealed a systemic failure from the social workers on down to the deputies. None of the people who are tasked with protecting this little boy did so much as fill out a single piece of paper that could’ve saved his life.
Not one of the nine deputies involved in the neglect faced criminal charges either. The department simply issued a statement saying that some of them have been internally disciplined.
Unless all nine of the deputies were fired, the internal discipline is pointless. This child is dead because nine people had a chance to step in and instead they decided that it was too much work to even file a report. And the reason why the police allowed this to happen:
“Law enforcement treats these crimes like second-class crimes,” said Dan Scott, a retired sheriff’s sergeant and longtime child abuse investigator. “Cops believe it is a social worker’s job. They are looking for a reason to clear the case, and as a police officer, you have got to treat child abuse like any other crime.”
A second-class crime?
Just so we are clear, this means that police consider it more important to stop drug deals than stop someone from torturing a child to death. The sale of drugs, illegal possession of weapons, theft, those are real crimes. Fracturing a boy’s skull and ribs, shooting him with a BB gun, and burning him with cigarettes is amateur nonsense that no one needs to take seriously.
In fairness, every police officer does not think this way. Yet there is something severely wrong when nine random officers all have the same “it’s not my problem” response. This is a child. He could not defend himself. The point of police officers is for them to protect those who cannot defend themselves. You are not doing your job, or being a decent human being, if you standby as someone torture a child to death.
Even a dog would have stopped the abuse, yet nine officers just let it happen.