VICTORVILLE — “My supposition, ma’am, is that you’re lying.” Those were Judge Robert Lemkau’s words to Katie Tagle of Yucca Valley as she appeared in his Victorville courtroom Jan. 21, seeking a restraining order that would prevent her ex-boyfriend, Stephen Garcia, from having unsupervised, Thursday-to-Sunday visits with their son, 9-month-old Wyatt Garcia. The judge turned down Tagle’s petition for an ex parte restraining order — a kind of emergency order made without a full hearing.
Ten days later, in the early-morning hours of Jan. 31, Stephen Garcia allegedly shot his son before turning his pistol on himself on a road in the snowy mountains of Twin Peaks.
Contacted several times via e-mail, Lemkau has not responded to requests to comment on the case.
The presiding judge of San Bernardino County Superior Court, Douglas Elwell, said he could not comment on this or any particular case or judge’s performance.
The day after the murder-suicide, Tagle’s family and friends who had accompanied the 23-year-old Yucca Valley mother to the courtroom Jan. 21 described the proceedings for the Hi-Desert Star.
Tagle’s mother, sister and ex-husband claimed the judge appeared not to have reviewed the evidence, including “Necessary Evil,” a story Garcia apparently sent to Tagle describing how he would kill their son and himself.
Also among Tagle’s exhibits: text messages and e-mails Garcia had sent to Tagle and her family members referring to the story’s fatal ending, as well as the emergency restraining order a Morongo Basin sheriff’s deputy had obtained for her and Wyatt the day before.
She provided the court with an e-mail in which Garcia admitted to hitting her, and sheriff’s reports made after he pushed her down during a custody exchange and threatened to kill her.
While the hearing transcripts, obtained from the court reporter Thursday, do not indicate whether Lemkau had reviewed the evidence, he does almost immediately theorize that Tagle is lying. It is not clear why.
After Garcia and Tagle gave Lemkau their names, the judge said, “One of you is lying, and I’m very concerned.”
He confirmed their next mediation date and then said, “I’m inclined to deny your ex parte request. I feel that, if you’re lying, ma’am, there’s going to be adverse consequences.”
He told the two all existing orders remained in full force — supporting Garcia’s unsupervised visitation, which would begin the day of the hearing.
Lemkau went on to tell Tagle, “I think — there’s insufficient evidence in my mind. Mr. Garcia claims it’s a total fabrication on your part.”
He repeated Garcia should have visitation.
“He didn’t threaten to kill our son at that time, though, and now he has,” Tagle said.
“Well, there’s a real dispute about whether that’s even true or not,” the judge replied.
Lemkau repeated to Tagle that Garcia claimed the story, e-mails and texts were “a total fabrication on your part.”
“He sent my mother a text message asking me to go to the lake with him and Wyatt, and when I get home from work at 11, I have these e-mails saying that he’s going to take his life and our son’s life at the lake the next time he gets him,” said Tagle.
Garcia told the judge Tagle’s claims were “little stunts and games” she used to keep him out of his son’s life.
“I’m going to deny it, ma’am,” the judge reiterated. “My suspicion is that you’re lying.”
He told them to go to mediation and return to court for a hearing March 3.
Garcia asked Lemkau if the judge received his paperwork — his defense and claims against Tagle.
“Yes, I did,” the judge replied. “I reviewed it and that’s why I’m — my supposition, ma’am, is that you’re lying, but if I’m incorrect, you can always bring another ex parte motion but don’t misrepresent the situation. If you’re lying about this, there’s going to be adverse consequences. My supposition is that you are lying.”
Almost immediately afterward, court was adjourned. Tagle returned to Yucca Valley, where she picked up Wyatt and, under the judge’s orders, gave him to Garcia for their visitation.
Garcia wouldn’t give son back
Three days after the hearing, her family said, Tagle had to call a deputy to force Garcia to return their son after his visitation.
The following Thursday, Jan. 28, Tagle drove Wyatt to meet with Garcia for their scheduled visitation.
“Stephen kept saying, ‘Make sure you read your e-mail on Saturday,’” Tagle’s mother, Maria Brown of Yucca Valley, later recalled.
She believes Garcia was referring to the five-page suicide letter he e-mailed Tagle Saturday, Jan. 30.
She called 9-1-1 around 2 p.m. after receiving the letter, and Hesperia deputies began searching for Garcia and his son.
A sheriff’s helicopter spotted Garcia’s truck traveling on the snowy mountain roads, but road units were not in close pursuit because the roads were dangerous.
Sheriff’s Lt. Dwight Brink told the Hi-Desert Star’s sister newspaper, the Mountain News, that Twin Peaks deputies who had pursued Garcia after deputies from the Hesperia station had trailed him into the mountains arrived at the scene only seconds after the fatal shots were fired.
“It was hard to keep him in sight,” Brinks added.
The deputies backed off their pursuit in fear that an innocent person might be injured.
There were very treacherous conditions for a chase,” the lieutenant said.