NC Man’s Death Highlights Defects in Family Courts

September 20, 2013 by Robert Franklin, Esq.

A Durham, North Carolina man, Derek Walker, 26, was killed by police after he pointed a pistol at an officer. Walker had stood in a well-traveled part of the city for over an hour, brandishing a pistol. After an hour of negotiation, he finally directed the gun at an officer and was shot to death.

That was his wish. Just hours before the standoff with police, Walker posted statements on his Facebook page to the effect that he wanted to end his life, as described here (WKRG, 9/18/13).

A man shot and killed by Durham Police Tuesday had recently lost custody of his son, a close friend of the family said…

The man, who was identified by a family friend as 26-year-old Derek Walker, died shortly after being transported to an area hospital.

Just a day prior, Walker had taken to his Facebook page saying, “Don’t call me and don’t talk to me because I’m not responding. I hope I die very soon and a fast death because this world I live in is sorry.”

In the post, Walker, who was a mortician at Hanes Funeral Home, painted a bleak picture of a man who had lost custody of his son following a bitter custody battle.

“I can’t take [what] my son’s mother is putting me through,” Walker wrote. “She has filled [my son’s] head up with so much false stuff. He has told me I’m a bad father, I’m not a good dad.”

He continued, “I’m ready to die because I have no reason to live right now.”

Many friends and family members tried to reach out to the 26-year-old after the chilling post, asking him to call them and offering words of encouragement.

But nothing could stop Walker from taking the steps that would lead to the end of his life.

“He was a father who had been dealing with a nasty custody battle within the court system,” friend Truitt O’Neal said Tuesday night after learning of Walker’s death. “He was extremely and emotionally drained.”

Strangely, Walker’s ex and the mother of his child, Latasha Alston, claims that there was no bad blood between them. Here’s what she said to reporters (WNCN, 9/18/13).

The woman who had a relationship with a Durham man who died in a police shootout Tuesday called him “a great father” and said she was shocked by the dramatic turn of events…

“He will truly, truly be missed by us,” Latasha Alston said Wednesday. “He was my son’s heart. I’m sorry it happened like this.”…

But Alston said she was never in a custody battle with Walker over their son and said they had joint custody since 2007.

I suppose Alston is claiming that she and Walker were “cool” to cover whatever guilt she may be feeling about his death. Court documents show they were anything but friendly. In fact, they show a five year fight between the two often over petty things.

Documents obtained by WNCN paint a different picture of their relationship.

Court documents show the two had been in a custody battle for years.

The documents show they had joint custody of their son. The records also show Alston asked the court to change that and wanted to take away Walker’s weekday custody because school had started.

The documents show that on Sept. 9, Alston accused Walker of “acting out” at their son’s school and in front of the child, getting the boy “very upset.”

She asked the court to waive mediation, because, documents say, she said, “We don’t agree on anything.”

Walker’s death was plainly a suicide. He didn’t pull the trigger, but he made sure the police did. He announced his intention on Facebook and then went out and provoked the confrontation that led inevitably to his death. His Facebook message made clear why he was doing so – he’d lost his son.

Tragically, he’s not the first and he won’t be the last. His death, like so many others, should be a wake-up call to family courts and state legislatures. The message is this: fatherhood is a vital part of men’s being. Take it away and you strike a blow at that being, and sometimes the blow is fatal.

About 75% of all suicides in the United States are men. The loss of a child in a custody case actually increases the likelihood of a father’s suicide. Fathers suffer terribly when they go, by court order, from everyday caregiver, support, protector, teacher and confidant of their children, to occasional visitor. For every one of them it damages their self-esteem and sense of purpose. For many it destroys their reason for being.

Mothers experience the same thing. Just a few days ago I posted a piece about a mother who apparently murdered her two children in California and then attempted suicide. Why? She’d lost custody of them. My piece was more about why she’d lost custody, but the fact remains that she, like Derek Walker, lost her reason to live when the judge signed the order.

Of course, in about 84% of cases, it’s the father who’s the non-custodial parent, so dads are more likely to suffer the deep emotional/psychological injuries that family courts inflict.

But whoever is on the receiving end of a court order that renders him/her a mere visitor in the lives of their children, it doesn’t have to be this way. For some reason, courts and legislatures are married to the notion that, post-divorce, children miraculously cease needing both parents. Prior to divorce, we all understand that children do better with two parents. Some 50 years of social science on the matter make that all too clear.

So how is it that, when Mom and Dad divorce or separate, courts conclude that what was necessary before is now not only not necessary, but not possible? Ask yourself what you would think of a father in a married relationship who contrived to take as little part in his child’s life as do divorced fathers with visitation orders. That is, what would you think of a married father who somehow managed to only have any contact with his kid four days a month?

My guess is you’d think he was a jerk; you might even call him a child abuser. Certainly you’d call his behavior child neglect. So if it’s child neglect during marriage, why isn’t it child neglect after? The answer is, “it is.” And that’s what courts order every day, many times a day – child neglect by the non-custodial parent.

Make sense?

It didn’t to Derek Walker. And it shouldn’t to us. Children need both parents, while they’re married and afterward. Courts and legislatures need to bring themselves up to date with the social science on child well-being. Failing that, they can take a long hard look at the words of Derek Walker, a man from whom business as usual in family court took his reason to go on living.

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