A man who reported that his 10-year-old nephew was being abused before the Lancaster boy was allegedly tortured and murdered is planning to fight a decision by the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services that denied him and his wife custody of two of the boy’s half-siblings, the couple’s attorney said Friday.
“They deprived this loving couple of two beautiful kids, who were also abused, of having a loving home. The sole reason why L.A. County DCFS did not allow this family to take in these two kids is because they posted a negative picture on social media that made DCFS look bad,” attorney Brian Claypool alleged. “That’s how evil and wicked this Department of Children and Family Services is.”
In a statement, the Department of Children and Family Services said, “Given the sensitivity of our work and the privacy of the children involved, we cannot comment on the particulars of any family. But in all cases, the Department of Children and Family Services makes every effort to place children with family whenever possible. Through a department-wide commitment to maintaining family connections there are often multiple relatives that come forward to care for the children. It is a comprehensive process that is guided by the best interests of the children. And ultimately, it is the court that determines the most appropriate placement.”
Claypool — who is planning to file two lawsuits including a wrongful death complaint in connection with the June 2018 death of Anthony Avalos — told reporters at the downtown Los Angeles criminal courts building that he also intends to file a petition seeking a court reversal of the DCFS decision and to grant custody to the children’s aunt and uncle, Maria and David Barron.
Meanwhile, the boy’s mother, Heather Maxine Barron, 29, and her boyfriend, Kareem Leiva, 33, remain jailed without bail while awaiting trial on torture and murder charges, along with the special circumstance of murder involving the infliction of torture.
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.
The Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office is expected to decide by April whether to seek the death penalty against the two, who were indicted last Oct. 30.
Claypool contends that the DCFS “failed miserably in protecting this young boy,” telling reporters that photographs of the youngster — which remain under seal pending a Feb. 27 court hearing — show that he was “beaten from head to toe.”
The boy’s uncle said he and his wife had done everything required to prepare for the arrival of the boy’s half-siblings, who are in temporary foster care, but that DCFS refused to turn the children over to them because of a Facebook posting of Anthony in the hospital.
“We were always their safe haven,” Maria Barron said. “It’s not just hurting us. It’s hurting them and our own kids. Our kids are looking forward to being with their cousins, reunited. It’s been years and it just like broke me all over again just to know that we’re not going to be able to be with them. It’s not fair.”
She said the couple made a decision to alert authorities about the alleged abuse and “took that chance, hoping, putting our faith in DCFS that they were going to take those kids out of that situation and leave them with us and it just backfired because we were not allowed to see them.”
Heather Barron subsequently refused to allow the couple to see the children, David Barron has said.
“We will fight this to the very end,” Claypool said of the DCFS decision. “Those two other children belong with Maria and David and we’re not giving up.”
The family’s attorney has also called for a criminal investigation into social workers who investigated allegations of abuse in the boy’s household.
In 2016, the District Attorney’s Office filed charges against two former social workers and their supervisors, who are awaiting trial on charges of child abuse and falsifying records for allegedly failing to protect another boy — 8-year-old Gabriel Fernandez of Palmdale — from deadly abuse by his mother, Pearl Fernandez, and her then-boyfriend, Isauro Aguirre.
Aguirre was convicted in November 2017 of first-degree murder, and sentenced to death last June. The boy’s mother was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole after pleading guilty to first-degree murder.
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