“The Trials of Gabriel Fernandez” director Brian Knappenberger said producers kept a therapist on call during the production of the heartbreaking documentary about an eight-year-old boy who was tortured and abused by his mother and her boyfriend until he died from the torment.
“We worked on this for almost two years. This was super emotional for everyone,” Knappenberger told TheWrap. “We actually had a therapist that was being offered to people — we had never done that on a production before. It was very emotional to go through, we spent time with interviews, we fact-checked everything. But everybody that went through this just felt like there was a purpose and it was a story we had to tell.”
Based on in-depth reporting by LA Times journalist Garrett Therolf, “The Trials of Gabriel Fernandez” chronicles how over eight months, Gabriel was subjected to horrific torture, which included regular beatings, being shot in the face with a BB gun, forced to eat cat litter, locked in a cupboard for hours, and pepper sprayed. The cruel nightmare ultimately ended when his mother and her boyfriend beat him to death in 2013.
But even worse, the Department of Child and Family Services and law enforcement were called to the scene multiple times before Gabriel Fernandez’s death — and no action was taken. At one point, social workers even ordered Gabriel to stop lying, allowing his abusers to continue the torture until the horrific end.
The Netflix documentary also delves deep into the trials of Pearl Fernandez, Gabriel’s mother, and her boyfriend Isauro Aguirre, as well as the charges brought against the four social workers assigned to Gabriel Fernandez’s case — something that had never happened before.
But in the end, while Aguirre was sentenced to death and Fernandez received life in prison without the possibility of parole, the social workers escaped punishment. Just last month, by a 2-1 decision, California’s second appeals court threw out the case on the grounds that prosecutors did not prove the social workers “had the requisite duty to control the abusers” and further concluded they “did not have care or custody of Gabriel.”
Click here to read about the nine most shocking details highlighted in “The Trials of Gabriel Fernandez.”