Child Torture Case Ends In Convictions, Reveals Errors In Los Angeles Child Welfare System

A trio of convictions in a shocking Los Angeles child torture and abuse case has shed new light on failings in the county’s beleaguered Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS). The Los Angeles Times reports:

A 5-year-old boy, known only as Johnny, was rescued from a dark closet in San Bernardino County in 2009. Much of his body had been burned by a glue gun and hot spoons. He had been starved and sodomized, taunted and punched, forced to eat soap and crouch motionless in corners.

Martin Roland Morales, Juan Carlos Santos-Herrera and Crystal Rodriguez, were all convicted of crimes ranging from child endangerment to sodomizing a child under 10 years of age, and are awaiting sentencing:

Child welfare officials in Los Angeles County might have spared Johnny from the torture. Two years before his rescue, allegations that he had been abused were dismissed as unfounded, and the officials determined that the “child [was] not at risk.”

An internal review by the L.A. County Department of Children and Family Services concluded that the finding was wrong — the result of a shallow inquiry in which the agency misjudged what little information it collected.

During the trial, some of the long-term damage inflicted by Johnny’s abusers became clear:

Prosecutors petitioned the court to allow him to provide his testimony by video camera to spare him the experience of confronting his abusers again, but the Victorville courtroom was unable to accommodate the request. As a result, he appeared deeply shaken by the experience, and midway through his testimony he changed his story and said he was never abused, Foy said.

This case adds more fire to recent criticism of Los Angeles’ DCFS, which includes reports on a dangerous foster facility and the ongoing controversy over a court decision making children’s court hearings open to the public. Given the Department’s admitted mishandling of Johnny’s case, calls for reduced caseworker caseloads and better housing for foster children could gain momentum.

As for Johnny, despite all he’s been through, he appears on his way to a better life:

[Prosecutor David] Foy said Johnny, now 8, lives in an adoptive home and is academically gifted and capable of quickly rattling off answers to complex math and spelling questions.