My View: The Lonesome Death of Tatiana Garcia

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The September 19 stabbing death of Peter Gonzales has shocked the core of Davis in ways that few cases really have. Many have argued that this exposes the long unaddressed and growing problem of the Davis Downtown.

While I understand that sentiment and agree that we need to address problems in the downtown, I am also concerned that we may be overreacting in some ways to a single incident. As I noted in my commentary yesterday – it is far from clear from the data that the problem is growing.

However, at the same time, as I have watched this unfold, I am troubled by the strong reaction to this death and the lack of reaction to other murders in our community. As some have said, just because we underreacted to other murders does not mean we should not appropriately react to this murder and I can appreciate that viewpoint.

I can also appreciate the fact that this was a murder in the heart of downtown where people go every day and that some of the problems associated with drinking in the downtown have nothing to do with the murder and have everything to do with student-downtown-community relations and how best to merge very different lifestyles and worldviews into a small area.

However, for me there is the troubling and, in my view, unresolved issue of the death of five-year-old Tatiana Garcia, who was drowned in 2013 by her mother Aquelin Talamantes, who last year was sentenced to life in prison.

This one hit home at the time because the murder likely took place around the corner from where I live and where some of my children go to school at Pioneer Elementary. Moreover, the five-year-old was only slightly older than my own daughter at the time.

But, most of all, this murder drives at my heart because it was entirely preventable. The issues of Ms. Talamantes’ instability were laid bare during a contentious custody battle between her and the father of the child.

Finally, this murder gnaws at me because, while the community of Davis is up in arms about the stabbing death of Peter Gonzales, there was barely a murmur of protest in the wake of the death of the five-year-old. There were rarely comments on the Vanguard in a number of articles we ran at the time, and the community failed to demand changes to a system that failed the young victim.

Court documents that the Vanguard acquired shortly after the death of Tatiana Garcia showed that there was a lengthy custody battle between Ms. Talamantes and the victim’s father. There were accusations of child abuse from each parent.

In a declaration from the father, he accused Ms. Talamantes of anger problems, with periods of violence and property damage in front of the children.

Last spring, Barry Goldstein author of the book, The Quincy Solution, was the keynote speaker on Sunday at the 21st Annual Northern California Child Sexual Abuse Awareness Conference. Among other things he discussed the fact that there are different systems for how to handle claims of child abuse in the system.

If it is a stranger, the reports are aggressively investigated by law enforcement and the findings are forwarded to prosecutors, who then file criminal charges and the case proceeds in criminal court.

However, if it is a family member, it is handled very differently. It is not investigated by law enforcement and often custody courts operate under the presumption that the allegations are false and initiated in order to gain advantage during custody hearings.

He writes, “When the alleged predator is someone the child knows, particularly a family member, the approach is completely different. The investigation is led by a social worker. They are required to provide notice to the parents which provides the opportunity for the molester to destroy evidence and silence the child. There is a delay in interviewing the child and the abuser. The purpose of the investigation is to reunify the parent and child and little effort is made to gather evidence.”

Mr. Goldstein cited evidence that false allegations of child abuse, including sexual abuse, are exceedingly rare (less than two percent of all cases that were eventually investigated), and yet the courts award custody to the offenders 85 percent of the time.

He writes in an essay, “Although mothers rarely make deliberately false allegations of sexual abuse, in 85% of cases in which mothers raise these concerns, the alleged abuser is given custody. This means courts are sending an awful lot of children to live with their rapists. The only thing worse than raising these grizzly statistics would be for someone to say it is inevitable and we do not have the ability to do a better job protecting children.”

Mr. Goldstein explained that professionals expect to see physical evidence of abuse before they even consider sexual abuse allegations. He writes, “If the case later leads to a custody dispute, this lack of evidence caused by the substandard investigation is treated as proof the allegations are deliberately false.”

This is clearly what happened in the custody battle for little Tatiana. The custody court had competing claims of child abuse, and, rather than investigating those claims, the custody court granted custody to the mother, an unstable individual – and the welfare of the child was not taken into account until it was too late.

But where was the outcry to fix the custody court system? Last spring, the Vanguard had a program on the family courts and the appalling ineffectiveness of the system that often places the children with their abusers.

The death of little Tatiana, had it provoked the kind of outcry in this community that the death of Peter Gonzales has, might have impelled our state and local officials to do something to correct this system. But, sadly, this death did not impact the community in the same way that the death of Peter Gonzales did, and so, two years later, the same flawed custody system remains in place.

—David M. Greenwald reporting

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About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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19 thoughts on “My View: The Lonesome Death of Tatiana Garcia”

  1. Tia Will

    David

    I think that your piece touches on the very valid issues about the inadequacies of family court,and also raises some larger issues that our society does not choose to deal with.

    1. Whose child is it ?  This would seem to me to depend on when in the child’s lifespan the perceived threat occurs. Prior to birth, some believe that the child belongs to all of us as a defenseless human being. After birth, our society has decided that the child is the exclusive property of its parents regardless of their ability to fulfill that role. From my work with the

    Child Protective Services Team I can attest to the fact that children were returned to their sexual abuser repeatedly despite my affirmation that sexual abuse was occurring in that home. Bear in mind that 10-13 year olds cannot give informed consent so sexual activity in this age range by an adult is by definition, abuse. These are clear cut cases in which our society was responsible to act, and chose not to.

    2. Equally disturbing is the line of thinking that what happens in a neighbors family is “none of our business”. I would assert that when it comes to child endangerment! What happens that threatens the well being of a child is everyone’s business. But this attitude causes us to look away and pretend that we do not see what is happening within our own community.

    3. The “It’s not so bad” school of thought. This recently made the headlines in the quote from the now discredited priest who defended pedophiles by saying he could understand how they could succumb to the temptation that children represented. He then was reported as responding to the question of whether or not he thought the children were to blame, ” sometimes, yes”. A stunning example of victim blaming.

    1. hpierce

      As to point 1, prior to birth, “society” thru the courts, have decided the child belongs to the mother [not any belonging to the father or society as a whole], but if she brings it to term, the father has at least half responsibility, financially.

  2. Anon

    While I understand that sentiment and agree that we need to address problems in the downtown, I am also concerned that we may be overreacting in some ways to a single incident…

    However, at the same time, as I have watched this unfold, I am troubled by the strong reaction to this death and the lack of reaction to other murders in our community.

    This is clearly what happened in the custody battle for little Tatiana. The custody court had competing claims of child abuse, and, rather than investigating those claims, the custody court granted custody to the mother, an unstable individual – and the welfare of the child was not taken into account until it was too late.
    But where was the outcry to fix the custody court system?

    The situations are completely different.  In the case of Tatiana, we have a STATE court system to address.  We have a STATE funded child protective services system that doesn’t always get it right.  We have competing claims of abuse in a custody case put before the STATE courts, an extremely common occurrence in custody battles, where the NATIONAL assumption that the best interests of the child are served by joint custody arrangements.  To prevent such a death in the future would take a 1) change in NATIONAL pubic policy as to what constitutes the best interests of the child; 2) would assume the STATE court is clairvoyant and can determine in a custody hearing who is actually telling the truth and who is lying; 3) would take STATE legislative action to change laws and intrude on civil liberties to do home inspections based on uncorroborated testimony in court; 4) require changing STATE laws and give more power to adult protective services to intrude on civil liberties to protect the welfare of children.  And even if all of that were put in place, there is still no guarantee that Tatiana’s death would have been preventable, since someone would have had to report abusive behavior taking place in the home; the abusive behavior would have had to have been sufficient to trigger an investigation; the investigation would have had to led to the conclusion the abuse was severe enough to have the child removed from the home.  Tatiana’s death was not necessarily preventable, and the system didn’t necessarily fail as it is currently configured or as it could be envisioned.  These are policy choices legislators/citizens have made, balancing the rights of the child versus the rights of the parents.  And usually the child gets the short end of the stick.  What could you as a citizen do against this byzantine system?

    In the case of the death in the night club, involving local city ordinances, the individual citizen can make a huge difference in what it allows to go on in the downtown.  If enough citizens get together and push for it, the local City Council can prevent any further nightclubs from being approved, can insist the nightclubs provide more protection to customers, etc.  And there are models in other cities that have cut down on problems that can be followed.

    In conclusion, you have to pick your battles – you cannot fight them all.  Secondly, people tend to get involved in local issues where they can make a bigger impact.  It is not that anyone is less outraged by Tatiana’s death than the gentleman killed in the nightclub.  It is just that it is far easier to put in place protections that might prevent future deaths in the case of a local nightclub than in the case of child abuse.  Child abuse is a horrendously complex matter, that deals with a myriad of varied issues and involves so many gov’t agencies as well as legislation at the national, state and local level.  I am not saying one shouldn’t try to change it, but it is quite a mountain to climb.  In relation to the downtown tho, nightclub problems amount to walking up molehills.

  3. Tia Will

    Anon and David

    And usually the child gets the short end of the stick.  What could you as a citizen do against this byzantine system?”

    I think that the answer has to be both. We address the local issues with our time and voices and our personal, not financial, influence on our friends and fellow community members through the impact of our personal stories and actions. It is here that we will have the most impact.

    However, individual citizens can have a great impact on byzantine systems by standing up firmly and consistently for what we believe to be right. Great strides in social justice have been sparked by the willingness of a single individual to simply stand their ground when they know they are right. Some become famous such as Ghandi, Rosa Parks, and more currently Malala. But the principle is the same, stand your ground, state your truth, over and over as needed, and even the most byzantine of systems may eventually change for the better.

      1. Tia Will

        Anon

        True. But many people could choose to make a positive contribution to their community as you do ……but choose not to. I find it ironic that you, who spend so much time devoted to the community would make a comment seemingly downplaying the importance of this activity by an argument of the extremes which I included only as illustration, not as role models for all to aspire to. I think that our society is far too invested in individual accumulation of wealth and far too little invested in the well being of others, which would ultimately benefit all.

  4. Frankly

    I think that more people feel a personal risk relative to the bar stabbing/killing; but not so for a situation similar to the one that led to the death of Tatiana Garcia.

    Frankly (because I am), I think you are getting your head and your heart mixed up here.  It is understandable, but I think you need to work on your emotional intelligence exercises because as a journalist you are going to frequently step in it otherwise.

    We all feel emotional pain over the death of both victims in both tragedies.   We all can feel empathy and sympathy for what the loved ones of these two dead people are going through.

    Let’s say that the killing of Tatiana Garcia was a situation where she was the daughter of an affluent family and the nanny killed her.   Then you would have a lot of attention because more people in Davis could project this as being more connected to their actual life.

    Most people in Davis that are commenting on the bar stabbing/killing would naturally not see themselves as connected to a life like Aquelin Talamantes.   Her life was/is another category… one that needs public attention from authorities, but is below the line of like-concern.

    You are complaining that there is not as strong of a secondary response; but read the responses on the KetMoRee incident… they are motivated by a sense of risk/probability of related material and ongoing impacts.   I am guessing that few of the commenters on the VG can personally relate to the Tatiana Garcia tragedy.  That is in another domain of existence that, although we certainly care about it and the people in it, isn’t our existence.

    1. Anon

      Well you would be wrong in my case.  My children went through a custody battle and abuse from a parent.  I strongly identify with Tatiana’s case.  But because I was so intimately involved with the court system and child welfare laws, I know how difficult it is to change the system as it is.  You would literally have to change minds about civil liberties and risk to children.  Good luck with that!

      1. Frankly

        I do not think I am wrong in that you are an exception I think.  You actually reinforce my point that people with a connection are going to have the greatest motivation to opine and to invest time into seeking direct solutions.  Just like the fact that you have daughters motivates you to attack KetMoRee to directly “solve” the problem as you see it.

  5. Tia Will

    Frankly

     I am guessing that few of the commenters on the VG can personally relate to the Tatiana Garcia tragedy.  That is in another domain of existence that, although we certainly care about it and the people in it, isn’t our existence.”

    I would suggest another, less attractive possibility. That is that we simply do not care about the fates of individuals outside of our own existence. I think that this may be part of the reason that some dismiss the impact of racism, or sexism, or discrimination against any identified minority. Since it is not part of our reality, we have a hard time believing, and even more importantly a hard time caring about it at all and therefore wish that those who are impacted by it would simply shut up and go away.

    1. Frankly

      I would suggest another, less attractive possibility. That is that we simply do not care about the fates of individuals outside of our own existence.

      You certainly wear your liberal mindset on your sleeve.

      I care deeply.  It hurts my heart that this five year old lost her life and will not enjoy what is possibly the universe’s one-in-a-zillion odds gift from God to live that life.

      But people generally always pursue their own self-interest before they do so for others.  Unless that child’s death has a connection with a person’s self-interest then there is going to be less immediate motivation to give up any of the precious God-given time to go solve that problem.  The people that tend to give up their time are those with a vested identity interest in doing that work.  And by that they would be pursuing their own interests.  For example, churches and their congregations tend to be very active in helping to prevent this type of thing from happening where they can.  I give money to them and other groups that similarly help.

      In terms of help, do you know what the #1 cause of diverse is?  Money.

      My professional career is to help grow jobs in this state and two others.  With better employment opportunities, fewer families would have money problems that lead to conflict and divorce.

      And then the risk of this tragedy happening again is reduced.

      1. hpierce

        Not disagreeing, Frankly (because you are), but your comment prompts me to say that David’s angst is misdirected… her sister, other family members, friends appear to be complicit in the outcome.  Had they recognized the signs, been active in the legal/social services process, things might have been different.  I feel no guilt whatever, but I agree it was tragic.  Those closest to the situation are the ones who should be excoriated, not VG readers or the general public.

  6. Anon

    Tia: “I would suggest another, less attractive possibility. That is that we simply do not care about the fates of individuals outside of our own existence.

    I think you have a very low opinion of people if you think this…

    1. Tia Will

      Anon

      I think you have a very low opinion of people if you think this”

      I do have a very low opinion of those who minimize the life experiences and difficulties of others because they cannot empathize with their circumstances and feelings. Not all people behave this way. My opinion of people varies, just as I am sure that yours does.

  7. Don Shor

    First off, let me say that I very much appreciate that the Vanguard covers these stories with such depth and persistence, because they are happening all the time and we would have little awareness of them otherwise. The Enterprise doesn’t seem to have the resources to follow up on stories like this to the same degree. And when you do personalize something like this, it raises awareness in a way that might make the public more receptive to changes – new legislation or regulations that could help protect the innocent.

    Second, it has to take a personal toll on those who report the stories and get close to the individuals involved. So I understand how David and Antoinette and the other un-named interns who do the legwork for this could find themselves emotionally invested to a degree we, as readers, don’t feel. That doesn’t mean we don’t feel they’re horrific stories. We just don’t have that personal involvement that you have.

    But anyone who reads a lot of news sources finds that you have to get somewhat inured to the inhumanities and atrocities and horrific things going on in the world. The premise of this essay seems to be that people are selectively indignant. Well, that’s true somewhat. But really I think Anon has correctly identified the issue: people get involved when something touches close to home, and when they can actually effect change.

    I can get upset that our government bombed a hospital in Afghanistan, but there honestly isn’t much I can do about it. I can’t really hope to do anything about the messed up child protection system, other than lend my support to individuals and especially legislators who are learning about it, developing solutions, and proposing legislation. If this article was providing that information and presenting a clear call to action, you might see something happen. If it’s just a lament about selective indignation, that doesn’t give us much to go on.

    I’m sorry this case has affected you so much and for so long, but it doesn’t mean people don’t care.

  8. hpierce

    More I think about it, David, your caption should have been “The Loathsome Death…” Considering the one immediately responsible, and all the family, friends and neighbors who could have helped the “dysfunctional” system get it right.  But you blame the system, and VG folk, and the citizens of Davis.

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