On Tuesday, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors approved a $32 million settlement for Anthony Avalos’s father and siblings. Prosecutors say that the boy’s mother and her boyfriend beat and tortured him, even though social workers warned them not to.
The death of the Lancaster boy in 2018, which put a cloud over DCFS, was settled by the five supervisors. Gabriel Daniel Fernandez, who was only 8, was tortured and killed by his mother and her lover while he was being watched by a social worker.
The current payment is on top of a $3-million deal made with Sycamores in Pasadena. Sycamores provided Anthony with home therapy in 2015 and were sued for alleged abuse and not protecting the child.
In Anthony’s case, teachers, counselors, family members, and the police all called the county’s child abuse hotline to ask about his safety, but a Times and UC Berkeley investigation found that child protection officials missed many warning signs and chances to help. From 2013 to 2017, DCFS kept an eye on Anthony now and then.
“The case was always about two things: honoring Anthony and making sure this doesn’t happen again,” said attorney Brian Claypool.
“We will try to get a new law passed that requires all DCFS agencies in the state to send out trained forensic psychologists when there are serious reports of physical or sexual abuse of children.”
He also said that the law should require social workers and therapists to share abuse records, including records from the past, and that all therapists, not just interns like Anthony, should be fully licensed.
Claypool hopes that the money will make things better. The settlement ended a lawsuit for wrongful death that Anthony’s father, Victor Avalos, and three of Anthony’s siblings had filed because their mother and her lover had hurt them.
Heather Barron and Kareem Leiva are accused of abusing and killing Anthony and two of his siblings, as well as torturing him. Barron and Leiva are going to jail. Both aren’t guilty.
In May, when a civil trial for negligence, fraud, and violations of civil rights was about to start, the county’s lawyers agreed in principle to the deal.
Barron and Leiva are waiting to go to trial in L.A. County, where prosecutors say they threw hot sauce on Anthony’s face and lips, beat him with a looped wire and belt, and repeatedly dropped him on his head.
Prosecutors say they sometimes kept him from eating and fed him by force, pushed him into furniture and the floor, and wouldn’t let him go to the bathroom.
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The vice principal of Lincoln Elementary School in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, said in 2015 that Anthony said his mother beat him, locked him in a room without food, and made him sit in “the captain’s chair.”
Prosecutors said Anthony and his siblings told their uncle that they were locked in a room and beaten. Anthony’s uncle wouldn’t let his mother pick up Anthony and his siblings, so the L.A. County sheriff’s office had to step in. A deputy who came to help told Anthony, his brothers, and their mother not to go home.
That same year, Anthony moved back in with his mother. He stayed with her even though a domestic abuse program worker called the hotline and said Anthony and his brothers had bruises because Leiva made them fight.
On June 18, 2018, Anthony told his mom that he liked men. Barron says that Leiva overheard the conversation. According to transcripts from the grand jury, Leiva dumped Anthony several times the next night. Two days later, Anthony’s mother called 911. Paramedics rushed him to the hospital, where he died the next day.
In August 2020, DCFS will announce a new policy for monitoring accountability in the Family Maintenance and Voluntary Family Maintenance programs.
They will also start a new training program to give social workers better interview skills and required training for risk assessment tools. In a memorandum of understanding signed in March 2021, social workers and sheriff’s deputies agree on how to work together.
A Sycamores counselor named Barbara Dixon was criticized for not telling anyone about Anthony’s possible abuse. Anthony told Dixon that a family member had sexually abused him, but Dixon’s notes don’t show that she told anyone about it.
Later that year, Anthony’s uncle told Dixon that Anthony and his brothers’ mother had been abused, but there was no record that she had told DCFS.
Dixon, who is a certified marriage and family therapist, is on probation for four years and has to take classes in psychotherapy, law, ethics, and assessing child abuse.
Dixon was accused of not reporting abuse allegations against Anthony in 2015 and Gabriel Fernandez in 2013. Claypool said that in the civil complaint, Dixon used her right not to testify against herself.