The Trials of Gabriel Fernandez directed by Brian Kappenberger and Lowell Bergman. These trials are based on a Netflix documentary that brings light to the injustice of a young child who was murdered by his parents and neglected by the system that vows to serve and protect its citizens. We will come to understand why the system frequently encounters such catastrophes, and the opportunity for change that’s at hand to save these young helpless lives and how the delivery of this Netflix series allows compelling emotions of the audience to call for a change.
Gabriel Fernandez, born February 21st, 2005, entered the world destined for an untimely and gruesome death. From the moment Gabriel was born he struggled to find proper placement in the world, his mother Pearl Fernandez abandoned him days after birth, leaving him to the hands of the system. In hopes of a happy life his Great Uncle Michael and his life partner David decided to raise him. The first four years of his life were that of a normal child. As the years of progression had only begun the thought of two gay men raising a child together were that of blasphemy. With the taboo at hand an accusation arose from a family member that Michael had sexually abused young Gabriel, resulting in a new housing placement. Gabriel moved to his maternal grandmother’s house for the next 3 or more years, soon the mother would gain custody of him. As Gabriel longed for the affection of his mother, the family thought this was her moment to gain the position in his life that he so desired; this was not the case. The moment Gabriel stepped into the custody of his mother is the moment his life expectancy began to diminish. The mother had a boyfriend named Isauro Agurrie or “Tony” as the family called him, to others he was an amazing man, to Gabriel, his murderer. With the imaging of a young boy struggling to maintain placement Kappenberger allows the audience to understand that the life of this young man was not a normal childhood that many experience, they allow the audience to build an emotional connection with this young boy by showing pictures of him happily playing with his uncle and smiling full of life with his previous guardians. Soon after we see his demeanor change, as his life with his mother was not what was expected. Most children receive a bed and love, Gabriel received a cupboard cabinet, handcuffs, a bandana to cover his eyes and socks stuffed in his mouth to keep him quiet. Beaten daily, starved and abused he suffered daily until his unfortunate death. On May 22nd ,2013, 911 was contacted by the parents of Gabriel stating he had fallen and isn’t waking up. Upon discovery the EMT officials realized this was no ordinary accident. With no pulse they reacted quickly to resuscitate the boy and get him to the hospital. As they set course to the hospital, the streets were shut down because of the urgency of the case, the boy is met by a full team of doctors and specialists. The EMT’s and nurses explain the Trauma inflicted on the child, having trouble keeping up with documenting the injuries they emotionally have to step back to gather themselves so they can continue to save this child’s life. some of the injuries discussed were, a depressed skull fracture, throat abrasions and burns, cigarette burns on his head chest and body, a bullet in the groin and lung, cuts to his pelvic area, damaged ligaments as if bound and lifted, fractured ribs, covered from head to toe was bruising. This was no fall; this was severe child abuse. Gabriel died May 24th ,2013 at 2:52pm. As procedure for the severity, an autopsy was given, and it was discovered that he was forced to eat cat feces and the litter around it. Allowing further forensic evidence allows granted access to the emotional appeal of the audience guiding them into an anger and sorrowful response towards the parents and the workers involved that had neglected to save Gabriel. Kappenberger allows for a credible documentary to unfold to the audience as he uses credible people that feel as passionately as the prosecutors that this whole scenario could have been avoided. The argument the directors are making throughout this documentary is that through negligence and pure laziness lives are being lost.
Prior to his death, contact had been made to the department of family and child services by his teacher Mrs. Garcia, she informed a social worker by the name of Stefanie Rodriguez, that “Gabriel had asked her if it was normal to bleed after getting a spanking with a belt” (Garcia). Stefanie did an initial wellness check and one body check believing pearl that the bruises he had were from falling while he was playing; 8 years old scared and alone he didn’t speak up. Following the visit, the abuse had gotten more severe, to the point of the mother shooting him in the face with a bb gun and sending him to school swollen bruised and unheard. This happy child now held resentment and anger towards the world for the injustices bestowed upon him. as Mrs. Garcia, a mandated reporter, was told by Gabriel that her calling the DCFS caused for him to get punished she felt like she was stuck in an awkward position. Trusting her instincts, she contacted the school principle and asked what they should do. “Immediately informed that she is not an investigator, nor should she get involved she should just call the social worker again and hope for a change.”(School Principal). To no avail the social worker soon stopped returning calls and making visits. Not only did Stefanie fail him but her supervisor Kevin Bom, the family preservation supervisor Gregory Merritt and his employee Patricia Clement, the sheriffs department and those who simply did not want to exert the energy and or expenses all failed to save the life of young Gabriel. The Negligence was emphasized during the pleas, those in charge who desperately wanted to take action were repeatedly told no by their direct reports. The social workers and child protective services neglected to do thorough investigations because they allowed for simple oversight and gullibly believed his abuser that the injuries were that of a child simply playing and getting hurt. By showing the persistence of the teacher and the obvious negligence of those in charge Kappenberger is giving us credible evidence that the proper producers where being followed by those who wanted to help and shed light to those who failed on every aspect.
Not only did the traumatic effect Gabriel and his murderers, the ripple effect of trauma inflicted those who happened to witness these events. Ezekiel and Virginia Fernandez are Gabriel’s siblings, they were subjected to witness the horror caused by the parents. Whether it was shame, neglect, pain and torture; psychologically they were subject to the same abuse as they were powerless to stop the incidents from happening to their young helpless sibling. The outcome for the children may become a negative outcome throughout the duration of their lives. For instance, according to the article Adverse Behavioral and Emotional Outcomes written by Renee M. Johnson and other authors states that “children subject to prolonged neighborhood violence is associated with post traumatic stress disorder, emotional distress, depression, fear, somatic complaints, memory problems, aggression and social withdrawl.” (adverse behavioral and emotional, Johnson). The siblings of Gabriel emphasized these emotions when speaking with the police about what had happened to their brother, ashamed, depressed, and withdrawn they quietly spoke the truth after the police informed them that nothing that happened to their brother has ever been or will ever be their fault. For example, Virginia states that her brother would ask her to play with him when she was with her friends, she would say no. Feeling guilt she knew she couldn’t allow her friends to see him in his box, “ he was always alone in the dark” (Virginia). Witnessing his murder, Virginia emotionally tells the police, “I was sitting on the edge of my bed, and my mother’s boyfriend was punching him. There was a point where he didn’t get back up, he knocked the air out of him. so they picked him up and threw him in the shower. When he didn’t wake up my mother decided to call the police. Then she told me to grab the rag and we cleaned up all the blood that was on the floor.” (Virginia). These are memories she will have to carry with her till her last breath, because she was a witness to monstrous acts. Not only was Virginia present, Ezekiel had walked in on the final beating of Gabriel, “I saw Virginia and my mom inside Virginias room, they were arguing about something. I think my mom was mad because she saw Gabriel playing with the toys and she got mad and started hitting him in the face. She dragged him into her room and that’s when her boyfriend went into the room and closed the door. That’s when I heard a lot of screaming and banging. Then my mom came out and I was scared, she told me to tell the police that Gabriel and I were playing, and he hit his head and that’s it.” (Ezekiel). Had DCFS properly investigated the home life, the possibility of the children growing up in a stable home with their grandparents would have been more likely than the outcome at hand. According the DCFS official website for Los Angeles County, an in-home inspection will be conducted upon the meeting of requirements on the report, five days later they will return to the home to ensure the maintenance is properly implemented. The following visit would be around the next 30 days, within those 30 days they would conduct a thorough investigation on the parents or the guardians of the child, review family history, contact the reporter collecting further information and conduct interviews with all parties involved. These steps had not been taken in the case of Gabriel nor many other cases that began to emerge after his story was shown to the nation. The power of the confession of the sibling was emotional and it allowed for the audience to view the missteps the system had taken, providing credible evidence of neglect the directors steer the documents to provide a logical solution to the problematic system. Following our question, what needs to be done to correct the neglect and oversight of the system?
In the wake of Gabriel’s justice, The Board of Supervisors for the Los Angeles County moved to create a new commission that would oversee heinous cases of child abuse, neglect and death. These cases are those that were subject to the care of the DCFS, The Office of Child Protection and other protective organizations. The commission would later be named the Blue-Ribbon Commission on Child Protection. Jackie Lacey the counties top prosecutor and head of the prosecutor’s office, moved to charge the four social workers involved with gross negligence and falsifying public records. Not only did the charges shake the systems core they granted access to the possibility for better childcare official oversight. For example, a more recent case of a four-year-old named Noah C. is currently under investigation, Noah’s family had a history with child neglect, sexual abuse as well as physical, with the misjudgment of a social worker the young boy died. Now the commission is investigating The Office of Child Protection, reviewing all their files and finding discrepancies in their paperwork. According to Nontraditional and unorthodox interventions, a book written by Fredric G. Reamer, defines malpractice in the social work sector as a form of negligence, either by delivering service in a harmful manner or by failing to provide clients with the services needed (nontraditional and unorthodox, Reamer 193). These failures can result in the social worker at hand to be charged with criminal offenses in the court of law. With these extreme consequences why have the social workers continuously failed the children time and time again?
The most recent survey taken by the National Children’s Alliance was conducted in 2015, it states that an estimated 1,670 children die annually from abuse or neglect in the united states, with this large number in mind, they were currently serving more than 311,000 child that year for a variety of cases. Of that 311,000 more than 700,000 children are abused within the US 683,000 were cased with abuse and neglect. Of this population of mistreated children, one-year old’s hold a 24.4% per 1,000 children abused. About .75% of the children suffered neglect, 17.2% suffered physical abuse and 8.4% sexual abuse in some instances some victims suffered a variety of abuse. The hardest statistic to comprehend is that four out of five abusers are the victim’s parents. With this harsh statistic evidently in the face of the people, it is a necessity that the social service sector receive the help it so desperately needs, for the sake of the lives lost and the sake of those at stake. Now using the information received on the Los Angeles county page it allows for the audience to rely on the credibility of those interviewed in the documentary.
Sense the adoption of the Blue-Ribbon Commission they have successfully improved their average from 2015-2019. The commission was able to increase a safe environment for the children and their family home by 16.54% rendering it an effective method.
Although abuse still exists the solution to reduce the problem is well under way. the mind set of see something say something can save lives of people around the world.
In conclusion, the Gabriel Fernandez Trials allowed for the public to understand the severity of such common place actions. The Directors and all of those who contributed to the documentary allowed for the logical outcome for child safety to become more of a priority. The directors properly emphasized the credibility of their sources and moved myself and thousands of others emotionally. Giving us an opportunity to implement the see something say something life style, holding each individual responsible when in these dire situations. The fact that this is a common crime that had taken place in Los Angeles California, and was at first swept under the rug is blasphemous. Which in turn causes us to distinguish the difference between then and now, the power each individual wields at their fingertips. The power of media and the internet is a power that can save the lives of thousands. When violence is witnessed whether a child or adult a voice should be herd in a plea for help to stop the unjust acts of the abusers. As responsibility is continuously pressed onto those who are the unseen heroes of the children, the burden to save those lives should be shared across the board to ensure the future generations will not be rage driven mentally unstable beings and those who neglect to implement proper procedures should be held accountable and charged for their crimes.
- Johnson, Renee M et al. “Adverse Behavioral And Emotional Outcomes From Child Abuse And Witnessed Violence” Sage Productions. August 2002. https://s3.amazonaws.com/academia.edu.documents/40466705/Adverse_Behavioral_and_Emotional_Outcome20151128-27855-2hprzy.pdf?response-content-disposition=inline%3B%20filename%3DAdverse_Behavioral_and_Emotional_Outcome.pdf&X-Amz-Algorithm=AWS4-HMAC-SHA256&X-Amz-Credential=AKIAIWOWYYGZ2Y53UL3A%2F20200229%2Fus-east-1%2Fs3%2Faws4_request&X-Amz-Date=20200229T072643Z&X-Amz-Expires=3600&X-Amz-SignedHeaders=host&X-Amz-Signature=76b9a3cdc139eaf35864b9e5e20ada5db9a7708c4fc8e7d6af7f250545ce1f30
- “The trials of Gabriel Fernandez.” Netflix, created by Brian Kappenburger, Documentary, season 1 episode 1-6, Netflix Production, February 12, 2020. https://www.netflix.com/title/80220207
- Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services Investigations. Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services. https://dcfs.lacounty.gov/youth/investigations/#More_Information Accessed February 2,2020.
- Judge Nash, Michael, Executive Editor. County of Los Angeles Office of Child Protection: Response to the Noah C. Motion. July 16, 2019, Kenneth Hahn Hall of Administration, Office of Child Protection, August 30,2019. http://file.lacounty.gov/SDSInter/bos/supdocs/140512.pdf
- Reamer, Fredric G. “Nontraditional and Unorthodox Interventions in Social Work: Ethical and Legal implications.” Faculty Publications, Spring 4, 2006. Accessed February 29, 2020. https://digitalcommons.ric.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?referer=https://scholar.google.com/&httpsredir=1&article=1177&context=facultypublications
- Forces, Imaginary. “The Trials Of Gabriel Fernandez Main Title” YouTube, uploaded by Imaginary Forces, 28 February, 2020. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q-7MPyLLIj8