Netflix’s new docu-series “The Trials of Gabriel Fernandez” dives deep into some of the most heinous details of the Gabriel Fernandez case and it ends on a somewhat depressing note — bringing up two other boys who died under similar circumstances: Anthony Avalos and Noah Cuatro.
Garrett Therolf, a former Los Angeles Times reporter and the series producer, gave a startling statistic in the documentary — more than 150 children in Los Angeles County with at least some Department of Children and Family Services (or DCFS) involvement in their lives have died of abuse and neglect since Fernandez’s 2013 death.
Gabriel was just 8 when he died after enduring months of abuse by his mother Pearl Fernandez and her boyfriend Isauro Aguirre. During the eight months that they had custody of him, the couple put out cigarettes on him, shot him in the face with a BB gun, made him eat cat litter and feces and forced him to sleep in a locked cabinet, often while gagged and bound. His first grade teacher Jennifer Garcia called DCFS multiple times to report he was being abused. However, each time she called, Gabriel would suffer more abuse as a result, ABC7 reported. Ultimately, DCFS closed his case without a medical evaluation, shortly before he was killed. Four social workers were even prosecuted but ultimately charges were dropped against them.
The docu-series ended by noting that Gabriel was not the only Palmdale, California boy to die under such circumstances. The Anthony Avalos case — in which that 10-year-old boy’s mother and boyfriend are also accused of torturing him to death — is mentioned briefly toward the conclusion of the docu-series before the filmmakers bring up the case of Noah Cuatro.
Who is Noah Cuatro and what happened to him?
Cuatro was only 4 years old when he died on July 5, 2019. His parents, Jose Maria Cuatro Jr., 28, and Ursula Elaine Juarez, 26, are accused of torturing him for a period of four months prior, according to a press release from the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office.
Both parents were indicted last month on murder and torture charges. In addition to those charges, Juarez also faces one count of child abuse under circumstances likely to cause death. Meanwhile, Jose Cuatro faces one count each of assault on a child causing death and sexual penetration with a child under the age of 10. The father is accused of sexually assaulting Noah the same day he was killed.
Los Angeles Deputy District Attorney Jon Hatami, whose passionate prosecution of the Gabriel case is featured prominently in “The Trials of Gabriel Fernandez,” is also prosecuting Noah's case.
The district attorney's office has declined to comment on the case.
The boy’s parents originally claimed he drowned in a community pool, according to KTLA. However, a coroner’s office determined that he had endured trauma inconsistent with drowning and his death was ruled a homicide.
Noah was raised by another relative during some of his young life, just as Gabriel was. After being in foster care for his first three months, his great-grandmother Eva Hernandez raised him for six months, according to KTLA. He was then put in his parents’ care for about a year before he was removed from the home for neglect, Hernandez told the outlet. After another brief foster care stint, Hernandez cared for him until November 2018, when his parents regained custody. The L.A. County Office of Child Protection claimed that social workers acted appropriately when they returned the boy to his parents, according to the Los Angeles Times.
“I told the social workers, ‘Please, he doesn’t want to leave. He wants to stay here," Hernandez claimed. “He begged me. He would hold on to me and say, ‘Don’t send me back, grandma.'”
Hernandez told KTLA5 Noah was "so loving."
"He was so sweet," she said. "He was such a smart little boy."
Lawyer Brian Claypool, who is representing Hernandez, has expressed a desire to file a civil lawsuit against the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services, according to NBC Los Angeles. Last year, he filed a multi-million dollar damages claim – the first step towards a lawsuit – against the department, but that claim was denied.
The rejected claim contended that a DCFS caseworker filed a petition to have Noah removed from his parents' custody, which was granted by a judge but then "willfully ignored by DCFS."
“A caseworker went to a judge saying that this child was in imminent risk,” Therolf said in the docu-series, referencing that caseworker. “The judge agreed with her, issued a ruling the very next day saying that the boy should be removed. DCFS never carried that order out, and within weeks, he died under very suspicious circumstances.”
"Noah Cuatro is not going to be forgotten," Claypool told NBC Los Angeles, calling the indictment last month "the first step in helping Noah carry out his legacy to stop this from happening again."
The LA County Department of Children and Family Services provided a statement to Oxygen.com which states, "At any given time, the Department of Children and Family Services serves more than 34,000 families and vulnerable children in Los Angeles County with an unwavering commitment to pursue child safety every day in our communities; our 9,000 employees do not take this commitment lightly and look to do everything possible to safeguard the children in our care. All DCFS employees are held to the highest standards to ensure that the public trust in our service is honored and maintained."
The department added that they cannot comment on any pending claim, litigation or lawsuit involving the office at this time.
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