LANCASTER – Calling the death of 10-year-old Anthony Avalos a “senseless murder,” Los Angeles County Supervisor Kathryn Barger said she will ask Tuesday for a review of all county contacts with the boy’s family, seeking an answer to why he was not removed from the home where he was being tormented.
Barger previewed a motion to be considered at Tuesday’s Board of Supervisors meeting.
“The county is suffering a senseless murder of an innocent child, allegedly at the hands of someone inside the home, while law enforcement, social workers and family preservation workers all interacted with the family,” Barger said.
“We need to identify how our previous efforts to enhance and expand services and integrate county partners have succeeded, and determine where there are continual gaps and barriers.”
Barger’s motion asks for a close look at services provided in the Antelope Valley in particular.
The review, almost certain to be approved by the board, will involve the Office of Child Protection, law enforcement and the Department of Children and Family Services. The group will evaluate staffing, supervision and collaboration, or the lack thereof, between social workers and law enforcement officers in child abuse and neglect referrals.
The Office of Child Protection was established to transform the child welfare system in response to the 2013 murder of 8-year-old Gabriel Fernandez in Palmdale. Gabriel was long tortured and ultimately beaten to death by his mother’s boyfriend despite numerous previous reports of abuse to DCFS.
Like Gabriel, Anthony was the subject of years of severe abuse allegations, sources told the Los Angeles Times. Anthony died with serious head injuries, cigarette burns covering his body, the newspaper reported.
The coroner’s office has placed a security hold on the case and no arrests had been made as of early Monday evening, according to the Sheriff’s Information Bureau.
School administrators, a teacher, a counsellor, family members and others called police or the child abuse hotline at least 16 times since 2013 to report child abuse in Anthony’s Lancaster home, according to sources who reviewed county documents in the case.
The callers reported that Anthony or his siblings were denied food and water, sexually abused, beaten and bruised, dangled upside-down from a staircase, forced to crouch for hours, locked in small spaces with no access to the bathroom, forced to fight each other, and forced to eat from the trash, the sources told The Times.
The callers made allegations against several family members, including his mother, Heather Barron, and her boyfriend, Kareem Leiva, according to the sources. The sexual abuse allegation was made against another family member who Barron and Leiva continued to use for child care even after being made aware of the accusation, the sources said.
At a vigil for the boy on Thursday, relatives disagreed over whether he was mistreated by his mother, KTLA5 reported on its website, with a cousin calling her a good mother.
Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputies responded to a 911 call from his mother about 12:15 p.m. Wednesday, June 20, and found the boy unresponsive inside his family’s apartment. Authorities said they were told the boy had suffered injuries from a fall. He died at a hospital Thursday morning, and investigators classified the death as suspicious.
County officials have removed seven other children from the home as the investigation continues.
Maria Barron told The Times that she started making calls to DCFS in 2015 when she noticed bruises and other injuries that the children told her were caused by Leiva. She said the children also reported Leiva locking them in small spaces where they had to urinate and defecate on the floor.
Although many of the reports of the children’s alleged abuse came from professionals or eyewitnesses, caseworkers who investigated the abuse allegations only marked some as “substantiated,” and they only briefly placed Anthony in the care of an aunt and uncle, according to The Times sources.
Anthony was returned to his mother’s home over his relatives’ protests, his aunt, Maria Barron, said in an interview.
The Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services has filed papers under state disclosure law saying Anthony’s death likely resulted from child abuse, The Times reported.
County sources were not willing to comment on whether any specific case management errors had been identified or whether any administrative action had been taken against social workers or supervisors responsible for Anthony Avalos’ case, including putting anyone on desk duty pending the outcome of an investigation.
Four DCFS officials facing trial over Gabriel Fernandez’s death are due in court Tuesday for a pretrial hearing.
Gabriel’s mother was sentenced earlier this year to life in prison without the possibility of parole and her boyfriend was sentenced to death.