LOS ANGELES – The boyfriend of a Southern California woman who 10-year-old son died last week under suspicious circumstances, who followed a dozen or so references of a suspicion of child abuse to child welfare officials over several years, was Wednesday arrested on suspicion of murder, Los Angeles County sheriff’s officials said.
Kareem Leiva, 32, was arrested in the death of Anthony Avalos after an interview with sheriff’s detectives on Wednesday. The arrest came a day after the province’s child welfare officials revealed that the boy had previously reported being beaten, locked up and not fed.
Police officers were called to a home in Lancaster, in the high desert Antelope Valley north of Los Angeles, on June 20, after Anthony’s mother called 911 to report that he had fallen down the stairs. Deputies found him not respond in the house and he died in hospital the following day.
Detectives deemed Anthony’s death “suspicious” and the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services said that there are signs of “physical abuse, including signs of heavy beaten, as well as malnutrition.”
The boy’s mother, Heather Barron, and Leiva — her boyfriend and the father of a number of of her other children — were both questioned by detectives and Leiva was arrested Wednesday afternoon. The mother of the boy is still not arrested and is not facing a criminal prosecution.
“In the course of their conversation, defendant Leiva statements that led detectives to arrest,” Los Angeles County Sheriff Jim McDonnell said. He refused to work.
McDonnell said the size of the boy’s injuries was “grossly exaggerated” by child welfare officials and told reporters that detectives do not find cigarette burns on Anthony’s body. He refused to provide specific details of the boy’s injuries until an autopsy is completed.
After Anthony’s death, child welfare officials removed eight other children — between 11 months and 12 years old — of the house. They are cared for by county child welfare workers, officials said.
Police officers had responded to the boy’s home several times in the past few years — most recently in April 2016 — and there were a number of suspected child abuse referrals, but no arrests were ever made, McDonnell said.
Researchers are reviewing each of these cases to determine whether proper protocol was followed, ” he said.
Child welfare officials said Anthony had removed from his home for a number of months to a number of the reports of abuse were substantiated. He was returned after family members received in-home counseling, the agency said.
The agency said it confirmed two allegations with sexual abuse when Anthony was 4, but the case was closed when it was determined that his mother was properly caring for him.
The last reference about Anthony was in April of 2016 alleged neglect. He was interviewed, and the allegations were deemed unfounded or inconclusive, the officials said.
During the interview on Wednesday, detectives noticed that Leiva had a previous injury — an injury on his chest, they believe the self-inflicted and required medical attention. He remained in the hospital Wednesday evening and is expected to be held on $ 2 million bail once he is medically cleared, the sheriff said.
It was not immediately clear if Leiva was a lawyer who could respond to his name.
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