Vespermann claims that was tantamount to CWS violating Penal Code Section 11164(b) to investigate any suspected child abuse or neglect and “do whatever is necessary to prevent psychological harm to the child victim.”
Journey’s parents took him and several of his half-brothers, who had been subjected to similar practices when they were younger, to Costa Mesa, Calif. on a family vacation. When they attempted to wake Journey up on Aug. 1, 2020, he was unresponsive. He was taken to Children’s Hospital of Orange County where doctors specializing in infant care and found him to have “profound brain damage.” Doctors attributed his brain damage to his diet and lack of nutrition which essentially deprived his brain of oxygen. Now, almost a full year old, Journey’s condition was deemed to be permanent, meaning he will need intensive care for the rest of his life.
Journey was taken into custody by Orange County Child Protective Services and Journey was temporarily placed in foster care until after a hearing could be held to place him in the custody of his grandmother. While not named in the civil suit in Tulare County, the Orange County District Attorney’s Office filed criminal charges against Journey’s parents including one count of child endangerment, with enhancements for great bodily injury, after the claims were substantiated by Orange County Child Protective Services. Gonzalez and Navarro pleaded not guilty to all charges at an arraignment on Aug. 1. They were released on bail on Sept. 8, 2020. A jury trial is set for Feb. 1, 2022.
On Aug. 25, 2020, Sanchez received a phone call from social worker Jeanie Perez with Tulare County CWS. Perez told Sanchez her March 9 report was originally assigned to social worker Heriberto Martinez but the referral laid dormant until it was reassigned to Perez on Aug. 25 in an attempt to “clean up” and resolve the dormant investigation.
Vespermann said it was appalling how CWS failed to document the last round of reports before sending in the “clean up” crew, a title he says was given by the department for sending in social workers long after reports to make it seem like CWS had responded in a timely manner. The lawsuit also says CWS failed to take into account Gonzalez had been investigated for neglect with his two older sons.
“Given Gonzalez’s prior history of neglecting his two older sons, and [Journey’s] documented malnourishment in October 2019 … would have placed Tulare County CWS on notice of the future serious risk of permanent injury to [Journey] and mandated promoting the child abuse referral to an open case,” the lawsuit states.
In its response drafted by County Counsel, Tulare County CWS denied the allegations and said its response was “reasonable in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.” The county’s response maintains CWS was “excused” from its mandatory duty to investigate child abuse and neglect because it was operating under a state of emergency declared by local, state and federal governments which took place just a few weeks after Sanchez made her second report of child abuse and neglect.
“At all times relevant to this litigation, the defendants acted in good faith, without malice, and under the apparent authority of an enactment …”
The case is currently scheduled for a case management conference in January and possibly a jury trail setting next spring.
– This article was updated at 10:16 a.m. PST on Nov. 4, 2021.