In this week's cover story, SF Weekly takes a look at some of the tragic results of mistakes by California's family courts. These courts' insufficient provisions for investigating child abuse and spousal battery have led, in multiple instances, to children being placed with dangerous parents.
Because allegations of all kinds are often traded by feuding ex-spouses going through divorces, our story focused solely on cases where definitive evidence of child molestation or domestic violence existed in the form of a criminal conviction -- and, in one tragic case, through a clear murder-suicide.
Establishing this criminal conduct, as well as the family courts' inadequate procedures for addressing it, involved documents -- lots of them. Here are a few highlights from among the hundreds of pages of court records we reviewed:
Karen and Rex Anderson
A court-appointed psychological expert told a judge that San Jose resident Karen Anderson was engaged in "paranoid thinking"
when she raised concerns about possible molestation of her daughter by her ex-husband Rex Anderson. The court awarded primary custody of the girl to Rex. Several years later, he was charged with multiple sex crimes, pleaded no contest
, and was sentenced to 23 years in state prison.
Derrick Perryman and Shari Rivers
San Francisco resident Derrick Perryman pleaded guilty to misdemeanor domestic violence
in Alameda County, where he had been charged in connection with an incident where he struck his baby's mother, Shari Rivers, leaving her face bruised. Nevertheless, San Francisco Family Court Judge Lillian Sing chose to award him joint custody of the child -- over Rivers' objections -- reasoning that it was better for the baby to have regular access to both parents. Here is a transcript of the courtroom proceeding
that led to Sing's order.
Emily Gallup case
Emily Gallup was a family-court mediator in Nevada County, but was fired after her supervisors criticized her
for researching parents' criminal backgrounds too extensively. After she filed a grievance against the county over her dismissal, an arbitrator ruled that concerns Gallup expressed about how business was done in the family court were reasonable -- and ordered an independent audit
of the county's court system.
Katie Tagle and Stephen Garcia
Yucca Valley resident Katie Tagle asked for a protective order against Stephen Garcia, the father of her nine-month-old son, Wyatt, after he sent her emails threatening to kill the boy. San Bernardino County Family Court Judge Robert Lemkau told her in open court
he believed she was lying, and allowed Garcia continued custody. Shortly thereafter, Garcia sent Tagle a suicide note while Wyatt was in his care and proceeded to kill his son, and then himself, with a handgun.