Relatives of a 10-year-old Lancaster boy who died after allegedly being subjected to extensive torture by his mother and her boyfriend moved closer to having their day in court when a judge said she will not grant defense requests to delay the upcoming start of the trial of the case.
During a final status conference on Tuesday, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Michelle Williams Court said lawyers for Los Angeles County and Pasadena-based Hathaway-Sycamores Child and Family Services have had years to prepare for the trial after the lawsuit by family members of the boy, Anthony Avalos, was filed in July 2019.
The lawsuit accuses the county and multiple social workers of failing to properly respond to reports of abuses of Anthony and his half-siblings.
The trial is currently set to start Monday, but the judge said she is currently in trial on another case and the beginning of the Avalos trial is dependent upon when the other ongoing trial ends. Court set another final status conference for Thursday.
Hathaway-Sycamores attorney Thomas Beach told the judge that the case was not ready for trial because not all depositions are finished and a review of the criminal case file is not complete. Beach blamed the plaintiffs’ attorneys for not cooperating in scheduling the depositions.
In addition, attorney David J. Weiss, on behalf of Los Angeles County, said the plaintiffs’ attorneys have filed an amended complaint that must be perused.
The plaintiffs’ attorneys objected to the defense arguments, with lawyer Brian E. Claypool saying they were responsible for any delays in completing discovery. He said it is “flat out fiction” that the start of the civil suit trial should take place after the criminal case is completed.
“If anyone should be asking for a trial continuance it should be us,” said Claypool, who added that the county is reluctant to have its social workers take oaths for depositions.
Another plaintiffs’ attorney, Jay Paul Deratany, said the amended complaint only has minor revisions.
The suit alleges Hathaway-Sycamores assigned employee Barbara Dixon to work with the family even though she had allegedly not reported abuse in the case of 8-year-old Gabriel Fernandez of Palmdale, who, like Anthony, was killed while in the care of his mother and her boyfriend.
But in their court papers, attorneys for Hathaway-Sycamores state the plaintiffs make no allegations as to what Dixon allegedly witnessed or whether she suspected any abuse that was not already part of what the county Department of Children and Family Services already knew.
A grand jury indicted Heather Maxine Barron, 32, and Kareem Ernesto Leiva, 36, in October 2018 on charges that they murdered the boy and abused two other children in the household. The District Attorney’s Office in May 2021 reversed course and announced it would no longer seek the death penalty against the pair, who now face a possible maximum sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole if convicted.
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.
From 2013 until his death in 2018, reports of abuse were made to the DCFS that Anthony and his six half-siblings were denied food and water, beaten, sexually abused, dangled upside-down from a staircase, forced to crouch for hours while holding heavy objects, locked in small spaces with no access to a bathroom, forced to fight each other and forced to eat from the trash, according to the plaintiffs’ court papers.
“Despite these continued allegations of abuse, and some being found substantiated, DCFS continued to leave the children in Barron’s and Leiva’s care, exposing Anthony and his half-siblings to continued torture and abuse,” the plaintiffs’ court papers allege.