Via SAFER comes a really awful story about a man named Stephen Garcia who murdered his 9-month-old son Wyatt before taking his own life. Obviously any kind of violence like this is always horrible, but what makes it even more appalling is that the man’s actions were easily predicted by his previous threats and behavior, and evidence of that was presented by the boy’s mother Katie Tagle in court. And while it’s possible that a similar outcome might have unfolded had the court acted, the fact is that it did absolutely nothing (all emphasis mine).
Her family said Garcia abused [Katie] Tagle throughout their two-year relationship, which ended in August 2009, when, her family said, he punched her in the face, knocking her unconscious
On Dec. 15, Tagle asked for an emergency restraining order against Garcia, telling Judge Debra Harris in a Joshua Tree courtroom that Garcia had threatened Wyatt. “He had sent me text messages before that if his son was around certain people … that he would kill him,” Tagle told the judge, according to transcripts of the hearing. “And that if I wasn’t where I was supposed to be, he’d find me and kill me.”
“What about the threat to shoot you, where did that occur, to hunt you down and shoot you with a gun?” the judge asked. “That was in a text message, Tagle replied. When Harris asked for copies of the text messages, Tagle said she had no way of printing them out and her phone was shut off. The judge denied the emergency order and set a hearing.
At that hearing, on Jan. 12, Tagle went before Judge David Mazurek in the Joshua Tree courthouse to show cause for a restraining order. “…On Dec. 31, we were doing our exchange, and he proposed to me, and I said no. He got angry and stole my phone and pushed me down. I made a police report about that,” Tagle told the judge, according to a transcript.
Garcia told the judge the report was “falsely made up.” Mazurek denied Tagle the restraining order. “If I grant the restraining order, how do you think that’s going to help with respect to you two being able to raise Wyatt together or work together to make sure Wyatt grows up happy and healthy?” the judge asked, according to the transcripts.
Asked about an e-mail in which he confessed to hitting Tagle, Garcia told the judge he had slapped her during a fight, but it was Tagle’s fault for “pushing and pushing and pushing until she could get something from me.” Tagle pointed out she was nine months pregnant when Garcia hit her.
“I kind of get an idea of what’s going on,” Mazurek said. He denied the restraining order, saying, “I don’t think that Mr. Garcia poses a threat to Ms. Tagle.” Mazurek went on to suggest Tagle might have ulterior motives for alleging domestic violence. “I get concerned when there’s a pending child custody and visitation issue and in between that, one party or the other claims that there’s some violence in between. It raises the court’s eyebrows because based on my experience, it’s a way for one party to try to gain an advantage over the other,” he said, according to the transcripts.
Unbelievably, the story gets even worse from here. The day after the hearing, Garcia sent Tagle a “story” about their relationship, which ended in him murdering their son and committing suicide. Tagle called the police and obtained an emergency restraining order, but a month later Judge Robert Lemkau not only refused to uphold it, but also ordered that Wyatt be handed over the Garcia for his scheduled visitation. A couple weeks later, Wyatt was dead.
Most people will look at this as an isolated incident. A horrific incident, but an isolated one. (Some still will look at it as an unpreventable one.) But this isn’t a case of two individual judges being irresponsible, incompetent, misogynistic jackasses — though they certainly were. This is the result of a larger system, of which those particular judges, while absolutely responsible, are only a part.
It’s a part of a system that says women can’t be believed, particularly about violence. It’s a part of a system actively encouraged by Men’s Rights Activists, who spread the lie that women regularly make up false stories about abuse during custody hearings and encourage judges to particularly disregard them — even though during the time when a woman leaves an abusive relationship, there is a 75% increase in risk of the abuser murdering her or her family. It’s a part of a system which teaches us that when a man admits to domestic abuse and blames it on victim provocation, that’s not a severe warning sign, but a sympathetic and believable justification. It’s a part of a system that says women’s lives don’t matter, that men’s rights are worth more than women’s, and domestic abuse doesn’t pose a serious threat. It’s a part of a “family values” ideology that says having all parents involved in a child’s life isn’t only important and ideal, but so important that it’s worth more than the child and other parent’s safety.
Frequently, it’s this system’s failure to protect that results in women losing their lives. This time, it was the life of a baby. Neither kind of death is unpreventable. Neither kind of death is isolated. Neither kind of death is more or less connected to patriarchal structures than the other.
When we, as a society, decide to not believe victims of gender-based violence, we do a lot of things. We give abusers a supportive environment in which to continue their terrorism. We re-traumatize victims who speak out, a trauma that can last for years or even lifetimes. We encourage other victims to stay silent, and thus close off avenues for their safety. We uphold the idea that women do not matter, and that children do not matter.
And we also cost lives. We sit back, and allow violent men to take them. We turn away from abuse, and we ignore those suffering under the weight of abusers, noticing them only once they’re gone.