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