Aug 24, 2021
On July 5, 2019, a drowning was reported at a family pool in Palmdale, California. The following day, 4-year-old Noah Cuatro was pronounced dead at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles.
An investigation would soon reveal that Cuatro’s death was not a result of the purported drowning, but rather unspeakable physical and sexual abuse.
Noah’s parents, Jose Maria Cuatro Jr., 28, and Ursula Elaine Juarez, 26, pleaded not guilty in 2020 to charges of murder and torture. Additionally, the indictment included the following charges:
In August 2020, a Los Angeles County Court ruling ordered transcripts of the grand jury proceedings in the case involving the boy’s death to be unsealed. The documents described in graphic detail what happened to the 4-year-old boy on the last day of his life, while also revealing a pattern of consistent physical and sexual abuse.
Shortly after being transported to the hospital, responding Deputy Jordan Hegge’s phone conversation with a Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) representative refutes the possibility of drowning.
“No signs of drowning at all, no water in the lungs. But there is signs of physical and sexual abuse,” Hegge said on the call.
The autopsy would eventually confirm that Noah died of asphyxiation and blunt force trauma. Additionally, the coroner found healing rib fractures and sexual assault trauma consistent with sodomization (along with other injuries).
Prosecutors allege Noah’s father, Jose Cuatro, preyed on the boy due to the belief that he was not his biological son. However, a DNA test conducted through the autopsy ultimately disproved that theory, confirming Cuatro as Noah’s biological father.
Court transcripts also revealed Noah’s mother sent an abhorrent text message reading: “Almost killed him so many times I had to do CPR for him to wake up and stay alive right.”
Several red flags and various incidents resulted in Noah and his siblings being put into foster care on multiple occasions. Nevertheless, the children were repeatedly returned to their parents.
Testimony from the grand jury transcripts released last year put the L.A. County DCFS under scrutiny for failing to follow through with a court order to remove Noah from the home.
Child Social Worker Susan Johnson had reportedly obtained a judge’s approval to have Noah removed from his parents’ home several weeks before his death occurred. However, testimony unsealed in 2020 reveals that Johnson’s supervisors overruled the court order and later dismissed her from the case.
Last week, the Los Angeles Times released an investigation in collaboration with the Investigative Reporting Program at UC Berkeley, further revealing the details of Noah Cuatro’s killing. That investigation points to the family’s long history with the L.A. County DCFS as entailing “errors, misjudgments and bureaucratic conflict within the child welfare system – including among top supervisors – blocked multiple opportunities to protect Noah.”
The Times-UC Berkeley investigation not only exposes the mistakes that the county workers made in Noah’s case, but also the missed opportunities to rescue the young boy. One of the most glaring oversights appears to be the fact that a safe environment with Noah’s great-grandmother – Eva Hernandez, whom the boy would reportedly refer to as “Mommy” – was never utilized.
According to the Times-UC Berkeley report, Noah told a DCFS staffer at one point that he did not want to leave Hernandez and his grandfather, declaring, “This is my home. Grandma and Grandpa love me.”
But the failure to carry out the aforementioned 2019 court order obtained by Child Social Worker Susan Johnson is perhaps the most egregious and inexplicable mistake on the part of DCFS, as it would have ensured Noah was removed from his parents’ custody to undergo a medical and sexual abuse exam.
The Times-UC Berkeley report indicates that once the removal order was made by the judge, “DCFS had 10 days to get Noah out and seen by a doctor, even if it required barging into the home with police. Carrying out that removal order could have saved Noah’s life.”
Sadly, as mentioned earlier, Johnson’s supervisors at DCFS overruled the court order and dismissed her from the case.
Noah died less than two months later. Despite the many warning signs, DCFS officials went on record for the Los Angeles Times report to argue that the boy’s death could not have been foreseen.
“You went from virtually no physical abuse to the worst kind possible: The child was murdered,” Michael Nash, who facilitates child protection oversight for the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, told the newspaper.
DCFS Director Bobby Cagle also defended the organization’s actions.
“I think my staff actually carried that process out well,” Cagle told the Times in an interview. “It’s very difficult for, I think, the public especially to understand why those decisions were made, but I’m confident that the decisions that were made were the right ones.”
In July 2020, Noah Cuatro’s great-grandmother, Eva Hernandez, filed a wrongful death lawsuit in Los Angeles Superior Court lawsuit on behalf of herself and Noah’s sister and two brothers (all of whom are minors). According to the complaint, Hathaway-Sycamores – the agency where Noah was sent by the County’s DCFS – knew of or suspected the abuse occurring in the boy’s home and failed to properly report the issue.
When instances of negligence or harm result in an untimely fatality, a wrongful death lawsuit can be a means of recovering financial compensation. The decedent’s surviving family members or dependents may file a wrongful death claim in an effort to recover various damages, such as:
In the Noah Cuatro wrongful death lawsuit, the complaint alleges, “Instead of protecting Noah and his siblings, DCFS continued to place the children with their abusive parents, where the children continued to be abused over the course of several years.”
Furthermore, the suit alleges that DCFS social workers made threats against Eva Hernandez “in an attempt to silence her.” According to the lawsuit, Hernandez was told that if she made any public statements about case or potential lawsuits, her request for guardianship of Noah’s siblings would be denied and she would never see them again.
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