Why is Baby Wyatt Dead?
By Diego DuBois
In a series of demonstrations outside San Bernardino County courthouses, mournful and angry protesters demanded justice for Baby Wyatt, urging Lemkau to step down and advocating for reform within the family law court system.
In Rancho Cucamonga recently, one of these solemn protests drew just over 30 family members, feminists, family court advocates and community activists.
Alan Boinus, an involved community member from Laguna Beach who put up the website lemkaumustgo.com and has been organizing the protests, expounded on the problem.
“The judges, for lack of better terminology, are lazy,” he tells the Weekly. “Their interests are in moving their dockets. And so it’s easy, especially for someone lazy, to simply believe that all cases in family law court that come before them are ‘he-said/she-said’ situations, which is certainly not the case.”
In the Lemkau case, Stephen Garcia, the ex-boyfriend of Yucca Valley mother Katie Tagle, shot and killed their son and then shot himself. This murder-suicide took place 10 days after Lemkau ruled that there wasn’t enough evidence to prove Garcia was a threat and denied Tagle an extension for a restraining order against the father. What made this turn of events even worse—critics of Lemkau say—is that the judge, during the Jan. 21 restraining order hearing, suggested that Tagle was lying about the death threats and spent a mere five minutes considering the matter before rejecting the mother’s request for help.
Why don’t the judges believe the women? Tasha Amador, another family law advocate present at the May 26 Rancho Cucamonga protest, explains that cultural and gender bias play a large role. Women are seen as not credible “because the women appear very emotional. They’re crying. They seem paranoid. The guy shows up totally suave, super-likeable.”
Lemkau’s ruling has done much besides devastating Tagle and her family and supporters.
“I felt like he punched me in the stomach,” says Tagle.
Tagle also wants reform. “I would like to see family law judges focus more on family law and take a few more classes. I think any credible threat toward a child’s life—they should take it serious[ly] instead of it being blown off. And the reform should be with all the branches of family law, CPS, the lawyers, everything.”
Her call for comprehensive reform was echoed by others present at this rally and others like it. Keith Allen, an attorney who has argued before Lemkau, pointed to problems in the district attorney’s office.
“Domestic violence prevention cannot be done in a vacuum. It can’t be done just by the judiciary,” he says. “There has to be a congruent effort by both the courts and the district attorney’s office to both prevent and prosecute. The elected DA in San Bernardino County, Mr. [Mike] Ramos, started this pilot project up in Victorville called the Family Violence Unit, touting that it was supposed to target domestic violence perpetrators and violators of restraining orders. And this flagship unit refuses to prosecute. And I challenge Mr. Ramos to explain this to the public.”
“Women are treated differently, and they always have been,” says Kim Plater, a retired police officer and a community activist who currently resides in Pomona. “We’ve been talking about domestic violence for years, and now we’re talking about family court because it plays such a role. It’s such an adversary-type of position.”
She explained that the Lemkau case is symptomatic of a larger problem. “He doesn’t know his job. There is no mandatory training for judges, whereas for police, there is mandatory training. There’s mandatory training for teachers. And we have laws that hold us accountable. But the judges don’t.”