Trial Set For Fall in Child Custody Case that Includes Allegations of Sexual Assault and Parental Abduction



The case of Benoit v. Gilson was back in court on Wednesday, with Judge Kathleen White setting an October trial in a bizarre case where the mother, who has fled to Europe with her kids, will be allowed to be deposed and then to testify via Skype.

Claire Benoit, then a Davis resident, 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.

At that point, fearing for the safety of her kids, Ms. Benoit “disappeared” into Europe, seeking what turns out now to be a failed asylum in the Netherlands.

In an email exchange in January, Deputy DA Tiffany Susz, who appeared on Wednesday, warned Ms. Benoit that she was in violation of a judge’s order when she did not return to Yolo County with her kids.

Ms. Benoit wrote 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.”

Ms. Susz on Wednesday reported that the People have not heard from Ms. Benoit in some time and do not know where she and her kids are.  She said that she did receive a communication from the State Department that their asylum claim had been denied in March.

Attorney Kim Robinson, representing Ms. Benoit in absentia, told the court that Ms. Benoit has no intention of being here and that they need to find another solution, other than getting her here, to allow Mr. Gilson to pursue his custody matter.

Judge White made it clear that she is unhappy that Ms. Benoit has refused to comply with lawful court orders in this case.  However, she is also mindful that there are serious allegations involving domestic violence and sexual assault that have been raised – allegations that Ms. Susz has previously acknowledged in court to have validity.

At the same time, Mr. Gilson has the right to due process and she said that the court cannot be held hostage by Ms. Benoit’s refusal to participate. She has issued protection for Ms. Benoit should she return, which would include a no contact order and other protections.

However, the DA’s office has previously refused to commit itself to not prosecuting Ms. Benoit, and Judge White on Wednesday indicated that the consequences for her non-compliance with the court have not been determined yet.

At this point, Kim Robinson offered that Ms. Benoit could participate by Skype.  Judge White responded that, while she did not know the legality of proceeding that way and that it is not ideal, she would look into it as Skype would be better than no participation at all.

At this point, she set a one-week trial for October 11 through October 14.  Judge White ordered that Mr. Gilson, who is not represented by an attorney and cannot afford one, would have to depose Ms. Benoit before he could be deposed.  However, she allowed Ms. Robinson to conduct normal discovery in this matter prior to a July 15 deadline for Ms. Benoit to be deposed.

Ms. Robinson wants access to psychiatric and other records which would allegedly show that Mr. Gilson has a long criminal history and suffers from bi-polar disorder.

In the meantime, Deputy DA Susz warned the court that the statute of limitation for a Hague Petition runs out in October.  Under the terms of the Hague Convention, an application can be made when a child is taken across an international border without the consent of a parent who has rights of custody.

The complicating matter is that the court has not ruled on whether Mr. Gilson has rights of custody at this point, and, given the allegations of domestic violence and sexual assault, he may be stripped of any rights altogether by the court.

But the statute for that is one year, and that will have run about the same time the trial is conducted.  As Ms. Susz pointed out, if that timeline remains, the statute will have run and it will limit Mr. Gilson’s civil remedies.

It was Mr. Gilson who asked for an ex parte hearing seeking visitation and potential custody with his children. That started a long string of events that has now culminated in a custody trial set for October.

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 Ms. Susz 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 Thomas 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 at the time, “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 had tried to contact her, but Ms. Benoit had 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.

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 was a lawful order for Ms. Benoit to return to Yolo County and make an appearance on March 14.

The DA wrote, “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 added, “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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22 thoughts on “Trial Set For Fall in Child Custody Case that Includes Allegations of Sexual Assault and Parental Abduction”

  1. The Pugilist

    I’m curious – we had a long debate over the Nan-Hui situation last year – this is a similar case – in fact stronger – unlike Nan-Hui, Benoit has been told by the court to bring the kids back and go through the process.  She does have perhaps a stronger case for abuse, but that actually compels her to come back.  And yet it appears that she won’t be charged with parental abduction.  Curious where all the critics of Nan-Hui stand on this.

    1. MamaBear

      I don’t know much of Nan-Hui’s case, but I from what I know – I feel she was wronged. Her and her daughter.

      I have not felt comforted by any of the DA’s safety offers because it doesn’t really make sense. I have provided evidence for all of my allegations; medical records, police reports, confirmation of his mental status. Yet there’s been so much pressure for me to appear so that they can “see” whether I am lying. I have always been taught that evidence is the best reference point for the truth. So my required appearance makes little sense to me.

      Also he had no rights when I left. When I return, they could give him rights – even if it is a disservice to my children. After the November ex-parte custody rulings, I worry that the court is capable of doing something like that again. Then I would have no recourse to protect my kids. And knowing Gilson is doing this for devious reasons, makes the possibility of him gaining custody all the more scary. My trust was damaged by the proceedings in the first hearing and then moreso through the results of Gilson’s tactful use of ex-partes. (He did this all on purpose to create this situation). I provided evidence of this as well.

      Throw everything I have said out the window along with all of my evidence. Assume my medical records, and proof that Gilson had all my contact details and deliberately messaged a phone he knew I did not have to “serve notice” of his first ex-parte. Ignore all of that.

      There’s still this:

      They know he is on probation for very serious domestic violence. And they also know that he is classified as permanently disabled by bi-polar disorder. (Not an easy permanent disability to qualify for in CA). They know he was at the birth of neither child and has had really miniscule and erratic involvement in their lives. And they can (if they choose to) verify his history of multiple violent suicide attempts via John Muir hospital. They’ve refused to do this.

      A few hearings ago the DA requested that when I return, I am to turn over our passports, check into the local shelter with my kids to establish residency there, and be restricted of any movement (even for a day trip) outside of Yolo county…. (I believe the trial date has reversed these specifications)

      The job and home I had planned to return to in January is no longer available to me as this case has delayed our return. So my kids and I would be returning to Yolo county to live in a public shelter, with no livelihood (Gilson has never provided support – the benefits I was attempting to get for my son were from his mental disability income), all so that they can evaluate whether a violent mentally ill felon is eligible for supervised visits??? And at the last hearing they suggested they were going to do a custody evaluation – which negates any security I could have that his access will be indefinitely limited to supervised visits. What is an evaluator going to observe in the allotted period of time that could possibly outdo the known facts about his temperament and mental issues?? Nevermind the fact that his behavior behind closed doors will be a world apart from his staged persona.

      It sounds too nonsensical to trust. And the worst case scenario is a risk I cannot, in good conscience, volunteer my children for. I have begged and pleaded for another way. I would have never foreseen myself being in this position with a court. I am just grateful I can appear by skype to the trial. Kim Robinson has been really great and I appreciate Davis Vanguard as well.

      1. The Pugilist

        Appreciate you posting that as well.  Should clarify that I felt Nan-Hui was wronged in the process as well, but there was a lot of debate over that case and I’m concerned that the DA is now doing similar things here without all of the attention.

        1. MamaBear

          That’s believable. I really don’t know much about laws. I wish in the case of kids it was just more a common sense best-interest of the child sort of approach… Seems like it would be cheaper and easier for the common mom/dad to navigate without these accidental entanglements.

      2. hpierce

        Bonjour, Ms Benoit… comment ca va?

        You have made your choices, right or wrong, and are willing to play this out to make sure the statute of limitations runs out… BRAVA!

        You have successfully “gamed” the system, either to truly protect yourself and/or your children, or to ‘get your own way’…

        Brilliant strategy to use this blog, knowing that the Vanguard, under the aegis of “reporting”/confidentiality, will not disclose the IP address you used to post, even if you are accused of a crime, which you are not willing to effectively respond to.

        Truly, well done… making sure the issues are not evaluated on their merits, but by individual fiat.  Hat’s off to you.

        1. The Pugilist

          “Truly, well done… making sure the issues are not evaluated on their merits, but by individual fiat.  Hat’s off to you.”

          Actually there will be a discovery process and a trial, so it doesn’t appear that she is preventing the issues from being evaluated on their merits, all she is doing is making sure that the courts don’t err and put here child(ren) in the custody of a rapist.

        2. MamaBear

          This whole thing deeply saddens me hpierce. I have far less animosity for my ex – who has a very real illness and whom was my first kiss at 17, than I have for the people I expected to contain this situation. I understand his limitations. I am disappointed by theirs.

          My children and I could have been safe and our rights respected without creating a pretense of winner/loser. I have compassion for my ex and I care about him. But my compassion for him does not outweigh my obligation to my children.

        3. hpierce

          I do not doubt your profession of sadness, “mamabear”… please ensure that the children are spared from being involved, as much as possible…

  2. hpierce

    Oh, and BRAVO to the VG for not sharing the IP address with the Courts… true commitment to journalistic integrity, and to true “justice”…

    1. The Pugilist

      Why don’t you just hold out a red flag that says come get me to the DA’s office.  I’m sure David appreciate’s your sarcastic support.

      1. hpierce

        It was a “freebie”… David and the VG would never comply with any request for information…

        Yet, it appears that one person, accused may go thru the ‘justice system’, possibly convicted/losing any rights, without the opportunity to ‘face his accuser’, and another is “immune”.   David was truly correct in describing the case as “bizarre”… I see two possible “perps”, but only the children would I see as ‘victims’… am thinking the kids would be better off in foster care…

        1. MamaBear

          Yes my ex said also said in one of the hearings that my kids should go into foster care. I know he is very angry that he feels  he has little control right now. That is important to him… more than anything.

          He gets to depo me so he will face his accuser and I will face him.

        2. hpierce

          Was not clear that you were willing to do the deposition thing… I truly respect your willingness to have at least an “arms-length” fact-finding…

          In any event, know I and many, are “rooting” for the children, however this plays out…

        3. Miwok

          He gets to depo me so he will face his accuser and I will face him.

          Better to be on Skype than in person. People like this are hand grenades with the pin pulled. They think they are in control, and then people are abused, assaulted, and kids have life long memories of their parents, both of them.

          Kudos for being able to defend yourself and your kids by escaping. I finally did, and it is still difficult to be around these people 40 years later.

  3. MamaBear

    hpierce, my guess is that you do not have children yourself. No good parent would place reverence for “due process” above the best guarantee of safety for their kids.

    Anyway, to be clear – my plans were to return in January for the normal hearing. My kids and I were virtually blackmailed into staying abroad through ex-parte proceedings that could be argued as violations of “due process”

    While I am fortunate and blessed enough for this detour to have been an enjoyable experience for my children, I have lost much. Definitely was not my plan of choice. And believe it or not, I have nothing to do with available dates on the judge’s calendar.

    1. hpierce

      Your guess is wrong… 3 fold… “safety of the kids”, I’ve seen in other families, is “in the eye of the beholder”… in a perfect world their would be “one view” by both parents… it is not an ideal world… ask any of fathers who’s wife took the kids to Jonestown as they thought it was in the best interest of the children… ask any mother who’s husband took the kids to Waco for the same ‘reason’… what I am saying is that sometimes a neutral third party needs to sort out what is in the best interest of the children…I do not see any absolute right of either parent to decide that…

      1. MamaBear

        Ya, when there are highly subjective variables I agree with you a third party should be entrusted to evaluate. But when one parent has a history of attempted murder and severe domestic violence in front of two of his other children… AND he is actively classified as permanently disabled by bipolar disorder. Then I think the level of risk implied by those factors alone should be a matter of what the saner non-violent parent feels comfortable with. Especially when that parent has been the sole lone provider and only consistent presence in the life of the kids.

        Anyway, opinions are like rectums. you don’t know me to trust what I say. But I know my motivation is a love for my children above all else. And I also know that I really care about their unfortunate father. If he were even remotely safe, I would gladly share custody 50/50. I am not a possessive parent. Good day to you.

  4. MamaBear

    Ya hpierce I guess I do not understand what my standing in the court will prove that my evidence will not. I was just really shocked that the case went this far. It seems like it would be obvious that a violent parolee with severe mental illness is not ideal for two small toddlers. Nevermind the rape, the fact that he has at least two more small kids by other women *in addition to the others he had before*, and nevermind the things I have witnessed him to do (which I wont post here).

    I don’t want my kids ending up another tragedy. No one rooting one way or another (nor Gilson) will be as devastated as I if something happens to these babies. When my 3 year old daughter had heart surgery Gilson told me only to call him “if she dies”.

    So you can compare to what you know of other cases. But I am only basing my actions on what I know about mine. I have known Gilson 19 years.

    (thank you for rooting for my kids. I appreciate that. They got a raw deal being born to this mess. Its my job to make it as good as I can for them.)

    1. The Pugilist

      The only real question is whether you believe you can trust the system to protect your kids.  Your ex-will get his day in court and then most likely Judge White will exclude him from contact – although perhaps grant him supervised visitations depending on the nature of her findings.

      1. MamaBear

        My trust of the court has been badly damaged by their inability to consider the human factor throughout all of this. If you look at the facts and evidence of this case, it is understandable that I would be scared. And if someone has a child, they know we are all law abiding so far as the laws don’t threaten our kids. I forgave Gilson for everything, Ive known him all my life, and my son is a GIFT. I held no ill will toward Gilson. I just know he is really very unstable and prone to violence among other things. And I blame this mostly on his condition. Which is why forgiveness comes easy.

        Anyway, I have no desire to be a criminal. Which is why I have done all I can to avoid that. I just want this nightmare over, and to move on with my life and give these kids their best chance. The irony is this case could have been less ugly if some empathy and common sense had been allowed earlier on. It is what it is. Trusting God at this point.

  5. Tia Will


    I believe that your highest allegiance is and should be to your children. I know from direct experience that our legal system is heavily weighted towards parental rights over the well being of the children. True, it can sometimes be difficult to sort out conflicting claims. However, it is my firm opinion that evidence of violence and severe mental illness should never take a back seat to any biologic claim.  The safety and well being of children should always be the driving principle in custody cases and this too often is simply not the case.

    So for acting on behalf of your children, I will echo hpierce’s words minus any sarcasm….”truly well done”.

  6. The Pugilist

    “what I am saying is that sometimes a neutral third party needs to sort out what is in the best interest of the children…I do not see any absolute right of either parent to decide that…”

    I don’t think that can be universal however, we see too often that courts do not act in the best interest of the children.  I have a big problem with your whole line of inquiry to this mother in this comment thread.

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