Sacramento County Child Protective Services received a report alleging violent behavior and drug abuse by Phillip Raymond Hernandez 22 days before he allegedly killed his 9-year-old son with a hatchet in February in their South Natomas home.
Despite the warnings about Hernandez, CPS didn't consider the situation serious enough to respond immediately, "as the children do not appear to be in imminent danger at this time."
The information is contained in documents released by CPS in response to a Public Records Act request by The Bee.
In a separate document filed in Sacramento County family court this week, the boy's mother said it was not the first time she had warned the system about Phillip Hernandez.
Jessica Hernandez said she pleaded with a judge in December to give her custody of her two boys because of the risk they faced from their father.
"I was ignored, and the judge refused to look at my evidence," she wrote. "Nothing was done, and (Phillip Hernandez) murdered my son in cold blood. ... I wish somebody would have listened to me."
Phillip Hernandez faces a charge of murder in Sacramento Superior Court in Matthew's death.
The boy, who was killed Feb. 26, joins an extensive list of children killed in recent years after being the subject of a CPS investigation for alleged abuse or neglect. The agency has been subjected to intense scrutiny for its handling of such cases.
In her court filing, Jessica Hernandez said she made the Feb. 4 report to CPS. It said Phillip Hernandez used cocaine and methamphetamine and was "very abusive verbally and physically."
The report went on to say that Phillip Hernandez "has automatic rifles at his home even though (he) is not supposed to have weapons as (he) is a convicted felon," and that Hernandez let his two boys play with the guns.
Hernandez has two convictions for domestic abuse involving the boys' mother, records show.
Jessica Hernandez declined to discuss the case with The Bee, saying she isn't strong enough to talk about it publicly yet.
Ed Howard, senior counsel at the University of San Diego School of Law's Children's Advocacy Institute, said CPS should have removed the children from Phillip Hernandez's custody.
"The report warranted an immediate and thorough investigation, not more paperwork and waiting around, which is what apparently was done," he said.
Howard reviewed the 50-page CPS file at the request of The Bee.
According to a written statement provided by CPS spokeswoman Laura McCasland, the agency would not explain what it did to investigate the allegations in the Feb. 4 report.
CPS said it was not able to substantiate all of the allegations. For instance, the agency said it did not find automatic weapons in Phillip Hernandez's home.
On Feb. 15, 11 days before the boy's death, CPS completed a safety assessment of Hernandez and the two boys. The assessment concluded the boys faced no physical threats from their father, records show.
However, the assessment also found that the father's drug use seriously impaired his ability to care for his sons. The assessment says Hernandez should not have the children alone until he had shown compliance with drug treatment and until tests had shown that he had stopped using drugs.
A plan was required to keep the children in the home, the report stated.
In its written statement to The Bee, CPS said it could not release the contents of the plan without a court order.
CPS first became aware of the Hernandez family shortly after Matthew's birth in 2003. His mother tested positive for drugs, and he was born prematurely and weighed 3 pounds, 8 ounces.
In 2010, CPS found that Jessica Hernandez was still having drug problems and was neglecting the children. The report did not contain specifics about the alleged neglect.
Jessica and Phillip Hernandez had been fighting over custody of the children since he was discharged from parole in 2008. She has maintained in court records that she has cleaned up in recent years and wanted to resume custody of the two boys.
In November, a family court judge imposed a joint custody arrangement on the parents, with the boys spending the school year with their father and summers with their mother, who lives in Las Vegas.
In court records, Jessica Hernandez said she pleaded with a judge to give her full custody because of her ex-husband's problems. She said she was ignored and treated like she was the "bad guy."
Through a spokeswoman, Superior Court Judge Sharon Lueras, who was previously responsible for the case, declined to comment Thursday. Judicial ethics preclude her from commenting, the spokeswoman said.
Earlier this week, another family court judge awarded Jessica Hernandez custody of Matthew's brother.
A probation report obtained Thursday, previously sealed in Superior Court, offers insight into the beginning of Phillip Hernandez's violence against his former wife.
In July 2004, Hernandez was charged with corporal injury on a spouse and attempted kidnapping, both felonies. The charges stemmed from an incident in which Hernandez pinned his wife - they had recently separated - to a bed, tried to choke and suffocate her and threatened to rape her, according to the probation report written after Hernandez was convicted on the domestic violence charge.
At one point, he had his wife in a headlock, and she felt she was about to lose consciousness, the report states. He threatened to kill himself.
Call The Bee's Brad Branan, (916) 321-1065. Follow him on Twitter @bradb_at_sacbee.