A Los Angeles County superior court judge on Thursday dismissed a case against four social workers charged in the death of 8-year-old Gabriel Fernandez.
Stefanie Rodriguez, 35; Patricia Clement, 69; and their respective supervisors, Kevin Bom, 41; and Gregory Merritt, 64, were charged in 2016 with one felony count each of child abuse and falsifying public records in connection to the May 2013 death.
The Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office said in a statement on Wednesday that the case was expected to be dismissed. A spokesperson for the county’s superior court confirmed to NBC News on Thursday that Judge George Lomeli tossed out the case during a hearing earlier in the day.
In Lomeli’s ruling, the judge found that the social workers were “factually innocent” of the crimes, according to NBC Los Angeles.
The Department of Children and Family Services issued a statement on Facebook saying it respect’s the court’s decision.
“Over the years, the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services has taken significant steps to mitigate risk and improve our capacity countywide in order to best serve vulnerable children and families and as a department we remain committed to ensuring that reform continues,” the agency said.
The dismissal was expected after an appellate panel ruled in January that the social workers cannot be prosecuted in Gabriel’s death because they did not have custody of Gabriel and could not have controlled the abusers’ actions, according to the Los Angeles Times.
Gabriel died in May 2013 in Palmdale, north of Los Angeles, after he was brutally abused and tortured by his mother and her boyfriend. His skull was fractured and 12 of his ribs were broken, prosecutors said, and he was forced to eat cat feces and sleep bound and gagged in a cabinet at his home.
His mother, Pearl Sinthia Fernandez, pleaded guilty to first-degree murder and was sentenced in June 2018 to life in prison without the possibility of parole. Her boyfriend at the time, Isauro Aguirre, was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to death. Aguirre is still on death row.
Prosecutors said at the trial that Aguirre “liked torture” and abused Gabriel because he thought the boy was gay.
During his sentencing, Aguirre said that “I want to say I’m sorry to my family for what I did. I wish Gabriel was alive,” and “every day I wish that I made better choices,” according to NBC Los Angeles.