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Outrage: Deadly Custody Ruling

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We first told you about the murder-suicide of a 9-month-old boy and his father that had tragically been posted on Facebook. Now there is outrage over the San Bernardino County, Calif. judge's ruling in the contentious custody battle.

oustephen garcia and wyatt

Gina Kaysen Fernandes: The baby's mother, Katie Tagle, and a large group of protesters held a rally this week outside the Victorville Superior Courthouse calling for Judge Robert Lemkau's resignation.

Katie believed she had all the evidence she needed when she went to court in January to protect her son, Wyatt. The 23-year-old mother filed an emergency restraining order against her ex-boyfriend, Stephen Garcia, because he had threatened to kill their baby and himself.

Katie presented Judge Lemkau with the threatening e-mails and text messages she received from Garcia. "[Lemkau] was my last hope," Katie told the Victorville Daily Press. "I really thought I had it. I thought he was going to see the evidence and give me the restraining order."

But Judge Lemkau flatly denied Katie's request and accused her of lying.

That night, Katie reluctantly handed over Wyatt to his father, in compliance with his court-ordered visitation. "I had to do it," she told reporters. "I didn't want to get in trouble. I didn't want to get Wyatt fully taken away from me." Ten days later, authorities found the bodies of 25-year-old Garcia and his son on an isolated mountain trail.

"It's really a tragedy," says Karen Borders, of the consulting firm Borders, McLaughlin & Associates. "I think there were definite risk factors that people missed." Borders -- a former police officer and trained abuse-investigator -- is also a domestic-violence survivor who experienced a bitter custody dispute with her own ex-husband. She says custody cases are the most volatile, yet many family court judges are out of touch and uninformed. "Unfortunately, there are a lot of judges who don't have enough information or training to discern between high-conflict and high-risk cases," she says.

A judge often relies on the advice of court-appointed advocates to make critical decisions about a child's future. Borders argues that many of those family advocates have the minimum training hours required. "You can't just look at the bull's-eye, you have to look at the whole picture," Borders tells momlogic. She says that, by assembling a team of highly trained investigators, mental-health professionals and risk assessors, families can achieve a solution quickly and safeguard their children's lives.

In a court hearing, Judge Lemkau told Katie, "I deeply apologize for my comments to you." In his two-minute statement, the judge explained how he could not foresee at the time when she asked for a restraining order what would happen.

Borders is not surprised by the harsh condemnation of Judge Lemkau. "I think more people are starting to rebel against the courts," she says. "They're losing their life savings, their lives and their children's lives. They're fed up."

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369 comments so far | Post a comment now
Carolyn March 11, 2010, 5:39 PM

This case just breaks my heart.

anon March 12, 2010, 10:41 AM

a lot of the family court judges should be hung! some of the rulings and reasonings are preposterous! they don’t take all of the evidence into consideration. is there any way to get them removed?

I'm back from the dead March 13, 2010, 6:10 PM

Katie Marie Tagle cheated on our /b/rother and tried to take his baby away from him. She proceeded to mock him and send him pictures of his baby with her new bf. Days before the incident occurred she did something that would cause him to snap, she sent him pictures of her having sex with her new bf while the baby was in the room.

Now the judge has leaked one photo(of Katie sucking her new bf) to the press to show the realness of this case but blurred some parts of the photo to “protect” both sides in this case.

Since the death of him and his baby son, Katie Marie Tagle has tried to profit off this tragedy. She opened up a pay pal account and has received thousands from charities but now she is planning to sue the father’s family and even the local government of where this happened.

Katie Marie Tagle is being made out to be a saint and no one is calling her out for what she did.

Heather March 17, 2010, 8:47 AM

To: I’m back from the dead

You are seriously messed up for trying to put the blame on Katie. She’s not the one who took her own life and the life of her innocent child. She may have made so mistakes but that does not in any way say what he did was ok. Your a sorry excuse for a person if you agree with what he did because he may have been provoked.


Julie March 21, 2010, 11:37 PM

To: Heather

The girl took photographs of herself performing oral sex on another man WHILE FEEDING HER BABY WITH HER FREE HAND and emailed them to the father with the caption “Wywy has a new daddy now”. That’s some seriously sick stuff, if you can even contemplate supporting her after seeing the photos then something is wrong with you.

holly March 23, 2010, 11:38 AM

To Julie and I’m back from the dead:

I have seen the pic that people claim is Katie doing that with Wyatt in the room. A) that pic first came to light in 2006 during another case where a little boy disappoeared and his dad was trying to say his mom ran a pornography business out of her home. In 2006 Katie and Stephen had never even met, so there is no possible way the two people in that pic could be Katie and Wyatt.
B) If Katie had sent that to Stephen, everyone knows it would’ve appeared on his website so that people would side with him.
C) If you even looked at the pic, you’d see the woman in that photo is putting a pacifier in the baby’s mouth, not a bottle. Not that it matters, it’s still sick, but pay attention to detail for future reference if you want to be believed.
D) Even if Katie had done all this, it’d be no excuse for Stephen to kill his innocent baby. Seriously, he knew the judge was already on his side. All he’d have to do is go back to court, show the judge those pics, and he’d be granted full custody of Wyatt.
E) Stephen beat the crap out of Katie back in August to the point where she was unconsious. She left him then. She started dating her new bf in December. That’s not cheating. In Stephen’s sick, twisted head, he said they never broke up. But she moved out and took the baby. It wasn’t anything BUT a break up.

It’s been proven Stephen was never one of your /b/rothers so go pick on someone else and stop wasting your time on this case!!! Leave this poor mother and her family ALONE!!!

holly March 23, 2010, 11:42 AM

No she didn’t. The pics everyone’s trying to pass off as Katie and Wyatt were made famous in another case that was all over in the news back in 2006. Do a search for Melinda Duckett. If you look hard enough, the pic will show up and be mentioned in quite a few articles. It wasn’t her either. But her son’s father said it was. In 2006 Katie and Stephen had not even met. So shut up about the pics already and stop the lies about Katie.

monica March 25, 2010, 5:59 PM

This baby’s life was in this judge’s hands, and this judge passed this little boy over to his killer.

The judge should be tried in a criminal court of law, along with the two judges before him that made rulings against this mother, Katie Tagle.

They are all definitely in the wrong line of work.

Piet Heemskerk April 2, 2010, 3:26 AM

That judge is just a human being. Human beings make mistakes. I’m pretty fed up with everyone expecting people in more responsible posts to be more than human, and when they make a mistake calling for them to be tried as criminals. According to that logic, if you short-change someone at a check out counter, you’re a thief, and should be tried as such. If you people keep up with that kind of thinking, soon we’ll have no more judges, or doctors, or soldiers, because they’ll all either be in jail or doing something that won’t get them sued every other week.

holly April 2, 2010, 9:19 AM

Human beings make mistakes but it was his JOB to look at all the evidence and make a reasonable decision on the matter which he CLEARLY did not do! Had he looked at anything that Katie provided he wouldn’t have made the decision to have her hand that baby over to him. And calling her a liar was way out of line… where has he been since all this happened? As far as the public knows he fell off the face of the planet. He’s probably doing a good “job” of screwing up even more people’s lives. And for him to say this happened at the worst possible time in his career is just downright appaling. I’m sorry a dead baby is such a big inconvenience to YOU Lemkau. It’s time he goes.

Bobbie April 15, 2010, 11:39 PM

People get over it and stop pointing fingers; there are two human being no longer with us.

'TruthFairy April 20, 2010, 5:15 AM

It’s a sad fact that in a country supposedly “by the people…for the people” we are forced to endure a judicial system that is itself above the law. We know the Courts are overcrowded. Anyone who has ever had the opportunity of sitting in a Courtroom at 8:30 AM has seen the stack of files piled 2 feet high and 2 rows deep on the bench waiting to be heard that day. Granted, some cases are quick and easy to adjudicate, but there are also those highly contested cases thick with evidence, declarations, and motions that simply can’t be considered fairly in the brief amount of time allocated. The majority of Judges see the case or the latest motion only moments before the case is called for hearing. How reasonable or fair of a decision can be made with only an Evelyn Wood style speed-read of all the facts presented?

For the most part Judges don’t want to be bothered with having to read EVERYTHING for themselves, and ultimately don’t want to feel responsible for the ultimate decision they render. It’s a lot easier to pass off a bad call on the recommendations of other pseudo-professionals. In so doing they hope or assume that the evaluators and advocates will take the time they won’t in order to dig out the facts of what’s been presented.

But unfortunately, those advocates and evaluators are often incapable of making the determination of which parent is acting with the best interest of the child, due to their own personal agendas, prejudices, or first impressions. That’s a pretty heady responsibility to place on the head of some newly licensed social-worker bearing only the wisdom gained from their recent educational experience.

But sometimes the evaluators are well experienced, educated, dedicated professionals who take the time to make a determination of the entire picture, but it’s the Judge who has the hidden agenda to reward or teach another attorney a lesson in where he stands on the food chain. Their pride being superior to whatever consequences are brought on by their illogical decision, they fail to give any real consideration to what will happen to the children at issue

I’ve personally witnessed one particular Judge Order a disputing couple to split the costs and undergo a lengthy-yet thorough “730” psychological evaluation of all the adults and children involved in the relationship. Upon completion the Shrink was able to determine by many different factors which parent/step-parent combination would likely provide the healthiest environment for the child, and which parental combo needed to have supervised or limited contacts with the child.

Instead of ruling in agreement with the evaluator, the judge completely ignored the recommendations and allowed the child to remain in the home of his abused Mom and violent step-dad; even though the child had witnessed the step-dad grab his mother by the throat and throw her down the stairs while the boy cowered in fear behind the couch too scared to make a noise.

Dad’s attorney had recently hired one of the Judge’s former secretaries who had left his employment after privately accusing him of sexual harassment. Attorney for mom was aware of that fact and made some sort of off-the-cuff remark during the recess about hearing how happy former secretary was in her new job.

Was a fair an impartial decision made? Hell no! This particular custody battle went on for almost 5 years after that with the final hearing in 2000. There were so many violations of statute and procedure that it should have been dealt with but this is not the time or place for that.

Katie unfortunately lost her son during the heat of her battle. I am so sorry for her loss. The pain of losing a child is unimaginable. But, who can say whether it’s better to lose a child so quickly at such a tender age or year-by-year watch him suffer from the confusing instability of a sociopathic dad hell-bent on destroying everyone around him? While the Judge turns a deaf ear and blind eye to the evidence that could have protected him? No one can see the future. But children need safety, stability, and consistency.

Our particular battle for custody is over now. The battle for justice is far from over.
What happened to the child at issue in our case? He spent his adolescence and teens in the middle of the conflict between his parents; being torn between being the idolized first-son, big-brother at Dad’s house and the hyper-vigilant watchdog who thinks he can protect mom from further attacks by the drugged-out step-dad who resents him. He grows up antsy and uneasy, has problems with depression, problems with his stomach…Dad struggles to be the most devoted father he can during the time that he has with him. Dad’s well-meaning friends and family try to assure him, “Kids have a natural resilience…your son will survive it and grow up to see just how warped his mom was and decide to choose differently for his own life. Just enjoy the time you have together”

So, fast forward ten years. Son is now 24 years old; still lives at home with his mom, because he still thinks he needs to protect her from step-dad who is of course still around. Almost every weekend he and Dad get together and do something or nothing. They talk on the phone throughout the week and he is still very much dependent on his father’s love and attention. He has witnessed much at Mom’s house, his physical problems get worse and he becomes addicted to narcotic pain killers, many which were provided by his “hospice-nurse” mom.
Then, in January 2010, his half-sister gives birth to Dad’s first grand-son. He accompanies Dad to the hospital that evening to greet his new baby nephew. He sees his Dad’s excitement and pride in this new little life. Everyone comments that the baby looks so much like him as a baby. He appears happy for his sister, yet something about his demeanor seems a little overboard and acted. The next morning Dad gets a frantic call from Mom that she went into son’s room a little while ago because she thought he was sleeping through his alarm clock blaring. He was cold and grey. Paramedics had arrived and they were unable to revive him. As the family gathered around his body in the emergency room 2 cities away, Dad and step-mom suddenly remembered they were supposed to be across the valley picking up daughter and baby from the other hospital.

Autopsy results are inconclusive, but the bet is of course, overdose. The question remains whether accidental or intentional. Considering the timing my bet is on intentional.

This child was at the mercy of a man vested with the responsibility to take the time and consider all of the information provided to him to make a decision which would ultimately choose the course of his life. The completely opposite environment of both households, and the loss of his childhood to become mom’s protector created a lot of conflict inside of him.

Had the judge taken the time to consider all the evidence, especially the unhealthy way in which Mom parentalized this child, making him her confidant, and preventing him from being just a normal kid growing up to be a normal man, and had he been able to put his own personal dislike of the attorney who stole his secretary aside this story might have a different ending.

It’s not that Dad gave up after that particular hearing. The battle continued for another 5 years, in two different counties. Although Dad was eventually granted custody from Juvenile Court in another county after the child called CPS in fear of his own life when step-dad pulled a phone out of the wall and threw it at his head. While that should have been the end of the nightmare, it wasn’t. Once Mom was hit with a child support order, she began manipulating the child and promising him everything imaginable, then went behind Dad’s back and was successfully able to get an emergency order in the original case to regain custody. How was she able to do that? By failing to mention the Juvenile Court order from the 2nd county and by filing a false proof of service that she had informed Dad of the hearing when in fact she hadn’t.

I mention all of this not in anyway to detract from Katie’s case, but to substantiate it. This case is also from San Bernardino Superior Court..

Katie did the best she could under the circumstances. She followed proper procedure in seeking protection for her son, but because there is absolutely NO system of checks and balances; there is no entity to question the events that may seem odd, or suspicious or out of line with established procedures and guidelines.

I would bet a kidney that Judge Lemkau had probably not read all of the evidence and declarations that Katie had provided to substantiate her concerns. To him, she was just another angry mom trying to get back at her ex…Especially if in her effort to make sure the judge heard all the facts, she possibly appeared nervous or high-strung. Just another highly conflicted custody battle…seen one seen ‘em all.

Of course things are always clearer in hindsight. Of course, now the judge can see the errors of his snap decision.

In addition to having lived through my own nightmare above, I also work in the legal profession and have seen both sides of the picture. While, as a professional I would never ever recommend anyone violate an order of the court, as a loving and concerned mom advising another loving and concerned mom such as Katie-equipped with email documentation of what this man was capable of, my suggestion would have been to run from that courtroom and straight to the press with all the facts. Compose a press release quoting the threatened email and the judge’s decision, and let the people decide.

Judges feel protected by the fact that their decisions for the most part aren’t subject to public scrutiny. While they may not care about a party’s particular displeasure with their decisions, they crave the power, influence and esteem that their position feeds.

It’s time to pull back the curtain and show these Wizards of Lawz for what they are.

Katie, you are in my prayers. Your son’s life on this earth was brief but not in vain. His story should be a guidepost for change that will hopefully save other innocent children from having to suffer the same fate. Be strong and carry on his memory. United we stand so that others won’t fall.

commonsenseisnotcommon April 24, 2010, 7:36 AM

it’s clear from the comments and lies of this killer’s supporters where he got his sense of entitlement to take a child’s life.

There are some mistakes that can and should cost you your job, this is one of those mistakes. The judge should be voted out.

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