“The Trials of Gabriel Fernandez,” a six-part documentary series based on reporting by Garrett Therolf of the Investigative Reporting Program at UC Berkeley, began streaming on February 26 and is now #1 on Netflix in the U.S.
The documentary series by filmmaker Brian Knappenberger examines the brutal death of 8-year-old Gabriel Fernandez by his mother and her boyfriend, and the systemic failures by child protective workers to save him.
Therolf, who is the series’ producer and also appears in the film, first wrote about Gabriel’s case as a reporter for the Los Angeles Times. After joining the IRP in 2016, he wrote a longer, investigative piece, “Why Did No One Save Gabriel?” which was published in The Atlantic in 2018.
“I’m deeply grateful to the sources who risked their livelihoods and professional relationships so that you can see this story,” said Therolf. “I hope the story will help to remedy the profound failures of governance in our child welfare system.”
“We are thrilled to see that this painstakingly reported examination of a broken child welfare system has rapidly found a large and passionate audience,” said David Barstow, the Reva & David Logan Distinguished Chair in Investigative Journalism, who leads the IRP. “Within 24 hours of when the series began streaming on Netflix, more than 500,000 people had searched for information about the film on Google. The response is a testament to the power and value of great investigative storytelling, which is what the Investigative Reporting Program is all about.”
Graduate School of Journalism students Cecilia Lei (’19), Casey Smith (’20) and Alyson Stamos (’20) contributed research to the film. Lei appears in episode 5.
“Garrett has performed a remarkable public service in covering this important, and underreported issue: the effectiveness of our social services on children in crisis,” said Berkeley Journalism Dean Edward Wasserman. “Reporting on the most vulnerable in our society is a core tenet of what we do and what we teach our students to do. Seeing a huge public outpouring of interest in this series gives me hope in the country’s faith in relying on journalists to expose egregious derelictions of duty in government. I couldn’t be prouder.”
Here’s a sampling of media coverage of the film:
The Horrific Story Depicted in Netflix Doc (Los Angeles Times)