Woman sues county for grandson’s brain damage after parents’ neglect

Patrizia Sanchez of Lindsay claims her son’s extreme holistic medicine practices caused her newborn grandson permanent brain damage which Tulare County Child Welfare Services failed to investigate

LINDSAY – A grandmother is suing Tulare County for its failure to prevent the abuse and neglect of her newborn grandson who has permanent brain damage due to his parents’ severe neglect.

Patrizia Sanchez of Lindsay filed the civil lawsuit in March 2021, a year after she reported concerns about her grandson’s well being to Tulare County Child Welfare Services, which she claims mishandled the report of child abuse and neglect and failed to prevent her grandson’s permanent disability. The lawsuit not only names the county agency, but also three of its employees, including two social workers and a registered nurse who were assigned to her grandson’s case.

“Tulare County CWS’ failure to perform mandatory duties which would have prevented [Journey Gutierrez’s] harm and was a substantial legal cause of his permanent injury,” the lawsuit states.

Wyatt A. Vespermann with Los Angeles-based Panish Shea & Boyle, who is representing Sanchez and her grandson, said the suit alleges Journey was permanently harmed because CWS failed to follow up on the case and respond to new claims of abuse by his client as well as the Lindsay Police Department.

Sanchez’s grandson, J.G., was born on Sept. 7, 2019 to John Gonzalez and Jacqueline Navarro of Lindsay. According to the lawsuit, J.G.’s parents do not believe in modern medicine and Gonzalez is an avid follower of Dr. Robert Morse, a Florida doctor who uses Naturopathic medicine, or holistic medicine using natural remedies. Morse’s promotion of iridology, the practice of studying the iris of the eye—such as patterns and colors—to determine information about a patient’s health, raw food diets which caused hallucinations, and claims diseases are not real and that the body can heal itself have made him a pariah in the medical field. More specifically in the case of J.G., Morse teaches cancer is caused by eating cooked or processed foods which mothers pass on to their children through breastmilk.

In accordance with Morse’s “medical” advice, Journey was not fed breastmilk or a breastmilk substitute, crucial to the development of newborns and infants, and instead his parents forced him to feed off the placenta for more than a week after his birth.

Gonzalez’s mother, Patrizia Sanchez, became concerned about her grandson as his malnourished physique persisted into the second month of his life. She also discovered her son had given J.G. ice baths and subjected to a 100-degree sauna as part of toxicological practices. Sanchez reported J.G.’s poor health, lack of development and poor nourishment to the Tulare County Child Welfare Services.

On Oct. 10, 2019, social worker Maria Alcaraz and registered nurse Yvonne Wright visited Gonzalez’s home with Sanchez and determined he was “severely malnourished.” They educated Navarro on the importance of breastmilk or a proper substitute and both parents voluntarily participated in a child safety plan for three months.

J.G.’s health improved during the safety plan but rapidly declined shortly after because they stopped providing milk and instead only provided him with raw fruits and vegetables. “As a result of what he was fed and the lack of nourishment he became bloated, failed to grow, had rashes over his entire body, and showed significant signs of malnutrition.”

On March 7, 2020, Sanchez called to report her grandson’s condition to CWS but the call was never documented, according to the civil suit. Sanchez called back two days later and spoke with social worker Evelyn Rodriguez about the neglect and malnourishment. When CWS did not respond, Sanchez reported the child abuse and neglect to the Lindsay Police Department which reported it to CWS. CWS did not investigate Sanchez’s third report of neglect until Aug. 25, 2020, five months after speaking with a social worker on the phone and numerous reports of neglect between March and April 2020.

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.”

J.G.’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 J.G. 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, J.G.’s condition was deemed to be permanent, meaning he will need intensive care for the rest of his life.

J.G. was taken into custody by Orange County Child Protective Services and J.G. 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 J.G.’ 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 [J.G.’s] documented malnourishment in October 2019 … would have placed Tulare County CWS on notice of the future serious risk of permanent injury to [J.G.] 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.

Start typing and press Enter to search