A $50 million lawsuit was lodged against the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services on behalf of Anthony Avalos’s family, a Lancaster child who died after being tortured and supposedly abused last year by his mom and her boyfriend, an attorney said.
Attorney Brian Claypool, who represents Anthony’s dad, said he had sent the U.S. attorney general a written application to launch a federal inquiry into DCFS.
Anthony, 10, died despite at least 16 reports to DCFS about him suffering physical and sexual abuse at home, according to the lawsuit. Heather Barron and her boyfriend Kareem Leiva both face the death penalty for the torture and killing of the little boy.
Prosecutors claim that his mom and Leiva tortured Anthony heavily during the last five or six days of his life. According to a prosecution court filing, the alleged abuse included whipping the kid with a belt and a looped cord, spilling hot sauce on his face and mouth, holding him by his feet and constantly dropping him on his head.
The lawsuit accuses county and numerous social workers of failing to react correctly to Anthony’s—and his siblings’ reports of abuse.
“You will see that there were so many times where these kids disclosed to DCFS how bad it was,” Attorney Brian Claypool said when the lawsuit was announced. “DCFS workers actually saw these kids getting abused and they still did nothing about it.”
The lawsuit cites other high-profile deaths of children who were also being monitored by DCFS—Gabriel Fernandez, 8, and Noah Cuatro, 4, both of Palmdale—to allege “systemic failures” in the agency.
“DCFS employees have not been trained on how to effectively interview young children. Anthony’s death was not unexpected, neither was the abuse faced by his half-siblings. DCFS records show that DCFS was complicit in the abuse and neglect of Anthony and his half-siblings, and ultimately in Anthony’s death. The records show that DCFS failed to properly investigate claims of physical and sexual abuse, including, but not limited to their interviews, failure to review DCFS history, failure to coordinate with law enforcement, violating their own policies, failing to complete Structured Decision Making Tool timely and truthfully, and failing to adjudicate despite the presence of exigency and imminent danger to Anthony and his half-siblings.”
DCFS released a declaration refusing to comment on the particulars of the suit but generally defending the agency’s work.
“All DCFS employees are held to the highest standards to ensure that the public trust in our service is honored and maintained,” said DCFS Director Bobby Cagle.
The suit is claiming more than $50 million in damages.