Court Ignores Man’s Domestic Violence Prior to Murder-Suicide

by Cara on February 4, 2010

in courts, misogyny, parenthood, patriarchy, rape and sexual assault, violence against women and girls

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.

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{ 15 comments }

1 Anji February 4, 2010 at 4:26 pm

I read about this a couple of days ago and it’s utterly, utterly sickening. That poor innocent baby, and his poor babylost mama. :(

Would you mind if I included this post in February’s feminist parenting carnival?

2 Cara February 4, 2010 at 4:59 pm

Not at all, Anji, please do feel free!

3 Billy Smith February 4, 2010 at 8:55 pm

I knew this guy was a scumbag from way back. Prosecute Mazurek

4 Politicalguineapig February 5, 2010 at 11:50 am

Is there some way to suggest to the legislators that only female judges should handle domestic violence cases? Because the male judges always seem to screw everything up.

5 Carole February 5, 2010 at 11:56 am

As a member of the justice system (in Canada anyway), and the recipient of 13 years of emotional abuse myself, I can say that female judges is likley not the answer…as many of them go out their way to avoid the perception of being anti-male, thereby making the same errors. The solution,in part, I think, is proper training for the judges (although the mental health professions also currently buy the “2-parent is best above all else” model as well).

6 Lauren February 7, 2010 at 12:40 pm

Presumptive joint custody is problematic for a lot of reasons, but in this case I feel like part of this could have been avoided had the judge and other law enforcement taken her accusations seriously. When there are accusations of violence or drug abuse, one of the first steps the law should take IMO is to get a guardian ad litem in to interview the parents ASAP. The problem is that people DO resort to making baseless, or very dramatic, accusations against the other parent to cast doubt on their parenting skills and gain leverage in the custody suit, but if they’re baseless or easily explained the GAL will figure it out right away.

This story is so sad, and this child’s death so, so unnecessary. I’m not usually for retributive justice, but I hope this judge gets roasted.

7 jennygadget February 7, 2010 at 5:53 pm

Apparently, Judge Robert Lemkau “spent 13 years focused on [prosecuting] crimes against children.”

O.o >:(

8 Emily February 8, 2010 at 11:18 am

@Lauren Even better, if the child is old enough they should be interviewed as well, because in that situation it’s not hard to figure out which parent is lying.

Also, what’s ridiculous is what the judge did with the text messages. Really, you could just subpoena the phone company and get the messages, and even if her phone was shut off (I’m guessing she meant service was disconnected) if she didn’t erase them they should’ve still been in the physical memory of the phone itself.

9 KaeLyn February 8, 2010 at 11:40 am

Needless to say, this is an extreme example, but certainly NOT an isolated incident. The system fails and revictimizes people escaping violence over and over. And not just the courts. It’s lack of funding for IPV programs, lack of education about IPV across all public agencies (law enforcement, DSS, court system), and the patriarchy itself that dismisses IPV victim’s stories and realities. How do we respond? Underpaid case managers, an over-burdoned DSS system, and a pieced together network of “shelter” for victims that can only deal with the immediate literal needs of women escaping IPV. And though it does impact women and children most often statistically, the outlook for male victims or same-sex victims of IPV is even more dismal. I don’t believe we can dismantle the Master’s house with the Master’s tools. Until there are ENFORCEABLE and relevant legislative protections for victims of DV and a true cultural shift in how IPV is interpreted and understood that includes an emphasis on the prevention of IPV…well…

10 Lilly February 8, 2010 at 2:03 pm

Judges should be held accountable. There should have
been more investigation and the judges
should have done everthing they could to
make sure all parties were protected

11 Ashlyn February 11, 2010 at 2:22 am

I totally agree that these judges should be held accountable. Their actions lead to the death of that baby. We hold others accountable for less in their involvements in crimes. There isn’t much the mother could have done to avoid that monster except trying to take off across the border. It’s unacceptable. All the signs were there. This may sound extreme but as a mother I would personally make sure the judges were held responsible. Those judges would be the ones in need of a restraining order and protection.

12 James Hosking February 12, 2010 at 10:47 pm

I am doing something about this!

My name is James Hosking. I am a Deputy District Attorney in San Bernardino County, and am now running for Superior Court Judge against Judge Bob Lemkau – based in part upon being outraged by his ruling that allowed this 9month old baby to be alone with his psychotic father, who then mudered him.

I just wanted to reach out to you, and thank you for covering this horrible story.

If anyone wants to get involved, I can be reached at:

http://www.ElectHosking.org
or
ElectHosking@sbcglobal.net

Thank you for your time.

13 amber February 24, 2010 at 6:45 pm

Unfortunately this is not an isolated incident. Judges continue to resist acquiring domestic violence education as they continue to ignore past behavior, arrests, etc. and current threats by abusive partners. They continue to ignore statutory presumptions which require them to consider domestic violence when determining custody and visitation. We’ve been told that this is all to insure their objectivity (what about drug court~they go to upscale resorts for training on substance abuse issues). It’s also supposedly to enable children to have a relationship with the battering parent. How many more studies do we need that conclude witnessing domestic violence as a child can be a precursor to engaging in domestic violence as an adult? How many more juvenile services will we need to create just because some judge thinks a child is better off having contact with their battering parent because “just because he beats up Mrs. Smith doesn’t mean he’s a bad parent” (oh, despite studies suggesting 50%+ abusers also abuse their children). Oh, and nevermind the preferential treatment they get when they are (finally)arrested for domestic violence themselves. Judges bemoan the challenges of making these types of decisions. Don’t or can’t make those decisions? Get off the bench and do something that doesn’t affect the lives of so many people.

14 Michael A March 20, 2010 at 4:12 am

I find this blog post pretty hilarious.

The story that isn’t told here is that Katie Tagle took pictures of herself giving oral sex to hew new boyfriend, genitalia in clear view, one hand “on him” and the other hand holding the baby’s milk bottle and feeding Baby Wyatt. She then added the subtext “Baby Wywy has a new daddy now” and sent the pictures to the baby’s father. Baby father snaps, kills himself and baby, and leaves message that he and his son will be together in heaven.

That is a “caring mother”? A “battered woman”? Someone you defend? The Earth Mother? Or perhaps an Empowered Woman? Someone traumatised by Garcia and simply reacting to his misogyny maybe?

The highly explicit, adult picture Katie Tagle took and sent to the baby’s father is visible here, as picture 5 out of 5. This is in the public domain because it was part of the court documents, and verifiable.

http://www.examiner.com/examinerslideshow.html?entryid=1085906

15 Cara March 20, 2010 at 10:03 am

Michael,

That is indeed rather disturbing information — though I should note that I’m about 10 million times more concerned about the child’s welfare than I am about a man’s feelings.

Here’s the thing: what she did was wrong. In terms of sending the photo, it was immature and mean-spirited. In terms of taking it in the first place, it could in fact qualify as sexual abuse of a child.

But the fact that it causes you to not only put “battered woman” in scare quotes as though someone who does something wrong, or even has been abusive, cannot be abused says something really disturbing about you. As does the fact that it causes you to justify the murder of a baby as “snapping” and remark that calling murder wrong is “pretty hilarious.” Having all of the facts is important. In this case, it doesn’t change anything at all about the fact that a man murdered his child and it could have been prevented. It doesn’t change the fact that no one is responsible for his murder but him.

That you seem to think it does frankly makes me very, very frightened of you.

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