DA Threatens Mother with Criminal Sanctions for Shielding Kids from Abuser


On Friday, Yolo County Deputy District Attorney Tiffany Susz, in an email that the Vanguard received a copy of, sent an ominous email to Claire Benoit, warning her that she is “in violation of the Yolo County Superior Court Judge’s order. The court’s order from January 27, 2016, required you and the children to return to Yolo County by today’s date. It is now 5:32pm and you have not returned to Yolo County with the children.”

The DA wrote that she believes Ms. Benoit has no intention on returning to the United States until she receives a decision on an asylum claim that she has filed in the Netherlands.  Ms. Benoit disagrees with that interpretation.

Ms. Benoit writes back, “Please forgive me for protecting myself and my children. Please allow me to again remind you that this man is on probation for attempting to murder his ex-wife in front of their children. And also please allow me to respectfully remind you that my youngest child by him is the documented product of rape.”

She asks, “Does being reminded of these details help you understand why I am careful what I put on shared correspondence?” Moreover, she adds, “You say you are neutral but I have to be honest with you; neutrality doesn’t resonate in your actions and demands. On some level you must understand how preposterous my being incriminated for contempt of court is when you haven’t once followed up on the documentation and information I have provided you regarding my rape. Isn’t that a bigger issue?”

In a case that is playing similarly to the Nan-Hui Jo situation from a year ago, Claire Benoit could face similar criminal charges if her case continues.

In early January, the case was before retired Yolo County Judge Thomas Warriner in Family Court.

Davis resident Claire Benoit took her four children on a visit to France in the fall of 2015. She had full custody at the time. Eric Gilson, father of her two toddlers, was allowed only supervised visits, after a hearing in September of 2015 regarding allegations of domestic violence

Mr. Gilson asked for an ex parte hearing and Judge Kathleen White awarded him unsupervised visits on November 2, despite his history of violence. He then reported Ms. Benoit to the Child Abduction Unit of Yolo County for taking the children.

At a second ex parte hearing on November 16, the deputy district attorney was present, but did not bring Mr. Gilson’s violence to the attention of the court. Surprisingly, this time Judge White gave Mr. Gilson full custody of the toddlers when she was unable to reach Ms. Benoit by phone.

The judge ordered Ms. Benoit to return to the U.S. to appear for the next hearing.

But, according to Ms. Benoit, it was a fear of domestic violence that made her concerned about returning with the children. Ms. Benoit told her attorney that “the children will be unsafe if left with the father, he is a dangerous man.”

At the January 8, 2016, hearing, Deputy DA Susz brought Mr. Gilson’s extensive criminal record to the attention of visiting Judge Warriner, explaining that “some of the allegations by mom have been corroborated but we are still investigating this case.”

Court records showed a conviction of felony domestic violence, causing corporal injury on a spouse, and felony stalking by Mr. Gilson involving his ex-wife. He is on probation for those convictions in another county.

Judge Warriner stated, “I can’t ignore those convictions.”

Ms. Susz requested an order for Ms. Benoit to return but Judge Warriner refused to make any order until the mother was contacted.

The attorney for Ms. Benoit explained that “the mom has concerns of mental health illness and Mr. Gilson has not been taking his medication. Your honor, she has a legitimate cause to keep her children safe.”

“We are only asking for a verifiable address for her and the children,” the DDA stated. She told the court that the district attorney’s office has tried to contact her but Ms. Benoit has not responded.

“We asked her to check into a U.S. Embassy and call us,” stated the DDA.

Ms. Susz said they have offered to pay for her safe return and to put her in protected housing. But Ms. Benoit will not comply, asserted the DDA.

The attorney for Ms. Benoit told the court that her client is frightened they will arrest her if she goes to the U.S. Embassy for verification of her address, which she had already provided to the district attorney.

When the district attorney’s office contacted her on November 16, Ms. Benoit stated that she had been unaware of the court hearing.

Judge Warriner sent the attorneys to the mediation room to try to contact Ms. Benoit. Judge Warriner stated, “I am not making any order without her present, so go try to make contact with her, “

It was unknown at this time whether a contact attempt was successful, but the matter will be heard again on a later date.

Meanwhile, in a letter to Judge Kathleen White from early 2015, Ms. Benoit noted that she had petitioned the court to establish paternity so that her youngest son by Mr. Gilson could receive financial benefits, and she was not expecting any conflict.

She alleged that her son was “the product of rape” but was told by Judge White that “rape was irrelevant to our children as it was an abuse of me – ‘not the kids.’”

She further noted that Judge White required that she “only share abusive incidents that were ‘less than three months old.’” She explained in the letter, “I felt totally defeated as I had expressed in the court that my children and I had not heard from Eric for more than four months preceding my petitioning your court – therefore I truly was left with ‘nothing’ to substantiate my fears before you.”

She added, “I wish I’d have taken the time to procure the right counsel but as Eric had been mostly absent from our lives and as most abuses have relative documentation – I was naive in assuming that I didn’t need any. I do believe had I have gotten professional advice, I’d have not made these mistakes that left my children wide open for rulings that have placed them in imminent danger. I am begging you to afford me the opportunity to present my side of this story by phone in hopes that you will modify your recent custody order that threatens the lives of my children by Eric.”

The DA’s position remains that there is a lawful order to Ms. Benoit to return to Yolo County and make an appearance on March 14.

The DA writes, “It appears from your declaration that you do not intend to appear at that court date. Will you please confirm this?”

Ms. Benoit responds, “Please review my declaration again before going to the judge. The recant you just shared is inaccurate.”

Ms. Susz adds, “The January 27, 2016 court order has provided you with sole legal and physical custody of your children without visits to Mr. Gilson. The court also noted that it is only contemplating supervised visits with Mr. Gilson. Additionally, we have offered safe shelter for you and your children, which you have refused. We have offered you and the children a financial means to return to the jurisdiction, and safe housing upon your return, yet you have chosen not to return.”

—David M. Greenwald reporting

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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  1. Biddlin

    Contemptuously irresponsible and inaccurate to compare this case with  Jo’s. Ms Benoits cooperation and communication has been constant. The level of real and imminent danger to the children and Ms Benoit is obvious and the ex’s documented proclivity for violence much higher.

    “contemplating supervised visits with Mr. Gilson.”

    That would be enough to keep me in The Netherlands. Unlike Korea, they have excellent universal education and health care and a cultural tradition of cherishing children.

    1. David Greenwald

      I only said that the case is playing out similarly to the Nan-Hui case from a year ago. And I meant in terms that it might turn from a custody case into a criminal one. The advantage that Ms. Benoit has is there isn’t a language barrier between her and the authorities in the US.

  2. Tia Will

    From my direct experiences with women fleeing from violent men with whom they have been in intimate relationships, combined with my experience in our courts honoring the biologic fact of parenthood over the well being of the child, even in cases of repetitive abuse and or rape or incest, I do not believe that it is in the best interest of Ms. Benoit’s children for her to return to the United States or to set foot in the US Embassy which would be the equivalent of a return. Yes, one has a duty to obey the law. But one has an even higher duty to the protection of one’s children. It is my belief, based on my personal and professional experiences, that in this case of clearly documented violent behavior, she should follow this higher duty to the best of her ability.

    1. jill snow

      Tia, while you have a very good head on your shoulders, I can assure you that the State of California is EXTREMELY skeptical and biased against those of us who have been physically harmed, threatened, isolated and stalked by our abusive former spouses.

      California’s current regime is apparently unconcerned with the protection of abuse victims, even parents! The adage of “what’s in it for me” applies with the State; if California can’t profit, it would just as soon turn a blind eye and pretend the problem of abuse is non-existent.

      You would almost think we are living in the dark ages — in 2016! Are courts such as Yolo County, Sacramento County, and Contra Costa County, to name a few of the worst offenders, (but by no means is this an exclusionary list), concerned with things like battered woman or men, battered parents? NO! They’re concerned about their own political agendas, and if that means displacing children to eventually get scooped up by the foster system, creating state revenue, or prolonging cases to justify job security and sustenance throughout the State government, or any other of a litany of illogical and despicable reasons, so be it.

      California’s family court system, after showing small signs of rehabilitation in the last decade, is clearly devolving and deteriorating once again. I beg for the day that some politician, activist, or key stakeholder breathe life into the family court system again, for the longevity, health and welfare of all Californians.

  3. Napoleon Pig IV

    It is clear that Susz worships “the law” more than decency or common sense (or is she just enjoying a power trip, being a deputy da, and all?). As for judge White, is she lazy, stupid, or poorly educated, or all three?

    Is it really any wonder that respect for “the law” and its idiot minions decreases every day? A “lawful order?” What a crock.

    Is the only requirement to be a judge, or to work for the da’s office in Yolo County, to have opposable thumbs?

    1. jill snow

      It’s Yolo County, Alameda County, Contra Costa County, Sacramento County family courts. The list goes on. The minimum requirement for getting hired there seems to a feigned interest in the (tired and meaningless buzzword that is) the “child’s best interest” and maybe a LCSW or MFT license – particularly for recommending family court mediators. These licenses comprise the lowest tier of any type of training requirement needed to jump on the payroll in any of these counties and add your .02 to any weighty matters that could potentially strip families of finances, dignity, and custody.

      Recommending mediators in many of these courts start the dysfunctional ball of destruction rolling when they drag their personal biases and personal feelings into the mix of custody cases, blatantly ignoring critical evidence and basing custody recommendations on fancy, whim, and uneducated, infactual subjectivity.

      California, your court systems are pathetic, and have impacted the decency and quality of lives of so many of us LAW ABIDING CITIZENS who have never abused drugs, alcohol, injured or harmed others, and continue to provide health and safety for our families, in spite of the imposition of your toxic rulings.

  4. The Pugilist

    Why is the DA involved in a family court case?  Why is she doing the bidding for someone she acknowledges is a child abuser?  The courts are allowing custody visits for a rape-child?

  5. skeptical

    Ms. White is not lazy, stupid, or poorly educated.  She is ill intentioned.  The court has compelled children to live with all kinds of abusers, sending a child to be drowned by her own mother (McAdam), forcing a teenage girl into a household where she was raped by her mother’s boyfriend (McAdam), causing a teenage boy to hang himself (White), bankrupting a father into suicide (White), and the list goes on, and on….

    1. Napoleon Pig IV

      So if Ms. White is [edited] how do we get rid of her and others like her?

      Is there a process that doesn’t take until the cows come home for dumping worthless and evil judges, or do lawyers and politicians do such a good job of protecting their own [edited]….

      [moderator: post edited. Please keep the conversation civil.]

      1. Napoleon Pig IV

        Dearest Moderator,

        I suppose it’s unclear how you define “civil.” Since I did not use any profanity, but rather used vivid metaphors and similes, I’m surprised you found those descriptions less acceptable than “worthless” or “evil.”

        I think most of us consider an elected or appointed public official to be fair game for sarcasm, irony, insults, humor, or even sycophantic praise. However, I hope you’ll note that I do not make personally insulting statements about other posters. I also don’t use asterisks to sugar-coat words that most people consider profane, a practice that seems not to be considered “uncivil.”

        So, it is with actual respect that I note the rather subjective definition of “civil” used to determine what will and won’t be allowed in this blog – a right of determination I do not challenge, merely seek to clarify.

    2. jill snow

      Maybe Ms. White is getting financial kick-backs from the foster care system, and prefers to send children back to the abusing parents in hopes that the child will eventually be taken from both biological parents and the State will be able to profit from the acquisition by a foster parent.

      Good game, California!

  6. jill snow

    Why would this mother not even consider this supposedly reasonable from the DA?

    From my experience and observation of California family court, it is likely a “bait and switch” tactic on behalf of the DA to lure her back, then slap her with punitive actions that were never previously discussed or mentioned.

    The lack of transparency, organization, and lack of good information within California family courts makes it a corrupt, vile, and disgusting place for many, especially victims of domestic violence, who have been mind-****ed for years as it is.

    California courts, and I’m sure many other states as well, are skeptical of DV victims. All of us who’ve been with an abuser, whether we’re a man or a woman, are scrutinized to the “nth” degree and frequently disbelieved in family court.

    What she’s been through is probably bad enough; not saying it’s an exact justification for denying the system. But perhaps she is well aware that upon her return, she will receive huge penalties from the courts, whether in the form of custody removal, monetary fines, imposed supervised visitation on her, or any of a litany of possible punitive results.

    From Alameda to Contra Costa to Yolo and Sacramento counties, our court systems are rife and plump with dim-witted judges, inexperienced recommending mediators, and a series of politicians and bureaucrats who simply are incapable of considering key facts or properly communicating them. It’s sickening. California should use its budget surplus for important reform, instead of for the unnecessary imposition of additional frivolous regulations.

  7. Napoleon Pig IV

    It’s been nearly six months since this article was posted, and this good citizen and her children are still being pursued by an inept judge and a junior DA with questionable motives. How much does it cost and how long does it take for a regular person to achieve justice in Yolo County? Is justice simply for sale to the highest bidder? It would seem to be the case with this court. What do you suppose really drives the actions of this particular person ludicrously called a judge and this particular junior da woman, ludicrously claiming to represent “the People?”

    It’s actually a bit surprising that so many people put up with the status quo. But then, if you hang around a barnyard long enough, you stopping noticing the smell of pig scat. Oink!

  8. Marina Kalugin

    uhhh…recall campaign…an old refrain that used to be done ( or at least threatened in these parts…I think I am the only one that has been bringing it up on various threads)

    or how about some volunteer to pay for a pi to investigate the DA????  sometimes that works wonders also…

  9. Tia Will


    Perhaps they are concerned about the welfare of the children, an aspect of that that clearly does not concern you”

    If that is truly the case as has been suggested here previously in our electronically sophisticated world wide system, I am quite sure that there would be ways of vetting investigators near where this family lives who could make an assessment while Ms. Benoit remains abroad with her children. I see no evidence that only CPS in Yolo County would be capable of making such an assessment.

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