Photo by John Schreiber.
Photo by John Schreiber.

The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday approved a $450,000 payment to settle a lawsuit brought by the father of a 2-year-old Lomita boy who was beaten to death by a parolee living with the toddler, his mother and her two daughters.

Daniel Vega, the mother’s live-in boyfriend, was sentenced to 56 years to life behind bars for killing Gabriel Dominguez while the tot’s mother was out running errands in 2011.

Vega was 25 years old at the time of his arrest and was wanted for a parole violation. He had been convicted of making criminal threats.

The lawsuit filed on behalf of Gabriel’s father, Robert Dominguez, accused the Department of Children and Family Services of breach of duty. The suit alleged that a social worker “lied and fabricated evidence,” saying that he saw the toddler roughly two weeks before his death and that “Gabriel had no marks or bruises.”

A medical examiner testified at Vega’s trial that the boy had more than 100 bruises and severe internal injuries caused by blows to his body. Some of those injuries were older, according to the medical examiner.

Marisa Mendoza and Vega had dated in high school and reconnected after her son was born. Vega, who took over caring for the toddler, complained that the mother “babied” him, according to witnesses who testified at trial. She discovered bruises on the toddler at least twice in the two months before he died, which Vega attributed to falls in the shower and bathtub.

On the day of Gabriel’s death, Vega left a note saying, “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to,” according to an appeals court opinion. The toddler’s mother found her son in bed, not breathing, his face covered by a blanket, with a gash to his chin.

In a summary provided to the Board of Supervisors, county staffers said Mendoza “allowed her violent boyfriend to reside in the home along with her children and was not truthful when the social worker questioned her about the living arrangements.”

Detailing steps to be taken to prevent similar tragedies, called a “corrective action plan,” the DCFS reported to the board that it “had appropriate policies and procedures in place” and recommended no specific changes.

Pushed to reform its policies and procedures in the wake of a series of child deaths, DCFS stepped up training and developed simulations to help social workers identify evidence of what is really going on in the homes they visit. If a single mother doesn’t smoke, for example, but cigarette butts are spotted in an ashtray, social workers are supposed to ask more questions.

Mendoza told the court at Vega’s sentencing in March 2012 that she had lost custody of her two daughters, ages 5 and 6 at the time of Gabriel’s death.

Information on the social worker’s employment status was not immediately available. The department’s corrective action plan noted only that “all appropriate personnel actions” had been taken in the wake of the child’s death.

City News Service

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