• FTC

The Trials of Gabriel Fernandez

Updated: Nov 23

(available on Netflix)

STRONG WARNING: Includes graphic images and discussions related to child abuse

FTC Rating: 5 out of 5


It has been said we judge a society by how it treats and protects its most vulnerable members. How then do reconcile the death of a child after his prolonged torture at the hands of his mother and her boyfriend during an open Department of Children and Family Services’(DCFS) case? This heartbreaking six-part docuseries examines the culpability of various actors in order to shed light on why society failed to protect eight-year-old, Gabriel Fernandez.


NOTE: This review/recommendation deviates slightly from the typical FTC format because of the emotional nature of the subject matter and the complexity of the situations presented. I felt it necessary to provide the following detailed summary so FTC readers can make an informed decision before choosing to view this docuseries.

The main thread of the docuseries follows the criminal trial of Isauro Aguirre, Gabriel’s mother’s live-in boyfriend. Through the trial footage and reports, we learn of the severity of the injuries and the gruesome details of the final attack which resulted in Gabriel’s death. Also presented are the charges filed against Gabriel’s mother, Pearl Fernandez which were resolved by plea bargain and four DCFS social workers that the Los Angeles District Attorney’s Office determined should be held criminally responsible. These unprecedented latter charges are ultimately dismissed by California’s 2nd District Court of Appeal for lack of probable cause. Furthermore, as the docuseries unfolds, viewers learn about other individuals and organizations that may have contributed to this tragic outcome, for example the boy’s extended family, the Sheriff’s Department, Gabriel’s school, the Department of Social Security (DPSS), Maximus, and LA County’s Board of Supervisors. Simply put, there was a “failure at every level” to protect this child.


Strengths:

-Various professionals (journalists, social workers, academics, doctors) are interviewed

-In depth presentation of the Aguirre trial (witnesses, arguments presented)

-Excellent job of capturing the rage and sadness of a community

- Interesting insight into what a welfare check entails

-Incredible access to the Los Angeles District Attorney’s Office

Standout moments:

- The testimony and interview of former DPSS security guard, Arturo Miranda Martinez

- Deputy District Attorney, Jonathan Hatami’s emotional investment and his fight to obtain justice for Gabriel

-The candid interview with Gregory Merritt, former DCFS supervisor

-Inclusion of the jury deliberation process


Final Thoughts:

- This docuseries is incredibly difficult but invaluable. It keeps Gabriel Fernandez’s memory alive, reveals glaring systemic failures and serves as a learning tool for policy makers, social workers, and the police.

-If you suspect a child of being abused, please consult your local child protection services.

For Canadians, here is the link to the Government of Canada’s recommended course of action: https://www.canada.ca/en/public-health/services/health-promotion/stop-family-violence/what-someone-you-know-being-abused.html

Picture source: Netflix


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