The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors Tuesday formally approved a $32 million settlement of a lawsuit filed by relatives of a 10-year-old Lancaster boy who died in 2018 after allegedly being subjected to extensive torture by his mother and her boyfriend.
The settlement of the county’s portion of the lawsuit over the death of Anthony Avalos was announced in May, and attorneys for the family confirmed a week later that the county would be paying $32 million, pending Board of Supervisors approval.
“We hope that Anthony’s family and loved ones find a small measure of peace and closure in the resolution of this tragic case,” according to a statement released by the county Department of Children and Family Services following the board’s approval of the settlement. ” Anthony’s death and other child tragedies demonstrate the complexities of child welfare, and we continue to apply lessons learned to evolve and improve the way we work with children and families.”
The lawsuit accused the county and multiple social workers of failing to properly respond to reports of abuses of Anthony and his half-siblings.
“This little boy should not have endured anything that he did,” plaintiffs’ attorney Brian E. Claypool said at a May news conference. “Anthony knows he did not die in vain because he died so other kids could live.”
The other remaining defendant in the lawsuit, Pasadena-based Hathaway-Sycamores Child and Family Services, settled its portion of the case in August for an undisclosed amount.
The suit alleged Hathaway-Sycamores assigned employee Barbara Dixon to work with the family even though she had allegedly not reported abuse in the case of 8-year-old Gabriel Fernandez of Palmdale, who, like Anthony, was killed while in the care of his mother and her boyfriend. According to Claypool, Dixon was an unlicensed intern.
In their court papers, attorneys for Hathaway-Sycamores stated the plaintiffs made no allegations as to what Dixon allegedly witnessed or whether she suspected any abuse that was not already part of what the county Department of Children and Family Services already knew.
Following the board’s approval of the settlement Tuesday, Claypool issued a statement on behalf of the Avalos family, saying they will continue to push for legislative changes aimed at improving DCFS operations and protecting children.
“We will be partnering with a state legislator to bring about Anthony’s Law,” Claypool said. “This law would require DCFS to deploy a forensic child psychologist to interview a child `outside the presence’ of parents when there has been a report of severe suspected child abuse. DCFS workers are not properly trained to interview a child who may have been abused or sexually assaulted. A trained professional who specializes in child abuse would be required to conduct the interview.”
A grand jury indicted Heather Maxine Barron, 32, and her boyfriend, Kareem Ernesto Leiva, 36, in October 2018 on charges that they murdered the boy and abused two other children in the household. The District Attorney’s Office in May 2021 reversed course and announced it would no longer seek the death penalty against the pair, who now face a possible maximum sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole if convicted.
Anthony’s father, Victor Avalos, said during the May news conference that he still has trouble coping with his son’s death.
“Nothing is going to bring him back,” Victor Avalos said.
Anthony’s aunt, Maria Barron, held a photo of a smiling Anthony. She said the boy lived happily with her and her husband, David Barron, for seven years until the county Department of Children and Family Services ordered him returned to his mother.
“I truly believe Anthony could have been saved if DCFS did its job properly,” Maria Barron said.
Prosecutors allege that Anthony was severely tortured during the last five or six days of his life by his mother and Leiva. The alleged abuse included whipping the boy with a belt and a looped cord, pouring hot sauce on his face and mouth, holding him by his feet and dropping him on his head repeatedly, according to a prosecution court filing.
From 2013 until his death in 2018, reports of abuse were made to the DCFS that Anthony and his six half-siblings were denied food and water, beaten, sexually abused, dangled upside-down from a staircase, forced to crouch for hours while holding heavy objects, locked in small spaces with no access to a bathroom, forced to fight each other and forced to eat from the trash, according to the plaintiffs’ court papers.
“Despite these continued allegations of abuse, and some being found substantiated, DCFS continued to leave the children in Barron’s and Leiva’s care, exposing Anthony and his half-siblings to continued torture and abuse,” the plaintiffs’ court papers alleged.