Next week, Deputy DA Tiffany Susz will reportedly seek an arrest warrant for Claire Benoit, who fled to Europe last fall with her children rather than risk exposing them in custody court to a man she believes is a dangerous predator.
Two weeks ago Eric Gilson sought access to two children from his previous wife in Contra Costa County. He was denied that access. As the court order reads: “No later than 8-14-16, Father shall begin on-going weekly psychotherapeutic counseling for the purpose of addressing power and control dynamics.”
His first wife, Veronica, told the Vanguard this week that she and Mr. Gilson had a relationship for over 10 years, and had two children together plus another child from a previous relationship.
They met in Arizona where he was on the run at the time under an alias name, unknown to her, from authorities in California. She explained, “He began severely beating me very early on in our relationship. He blamed it on his mental illness (when he was finally honest with me about it) & his lack of having a father (he advised me he was told his entire life his mother was raped & he was conceived.)”
She continued, “There have never been any boundaries or severe consequences for Eric’s behavior, by his mother, his family, the prosecution in the felony domestic violence case, and now, he is fighting both Claire, and I, in court for access to our innocent children that have witnessed his abuse for far too long.”
Veronica went into detail about the treatment she received from Mr. Gilson. She explained, “I was punched, kicked, slapped, choked to the point I was unconscious too many times to count, however, several times, I lost complete control over my extremities (and faculties).”
While she said that Mr. Gilson never directly physically abused the children, they endured years of “mental abuse.” She said, “They witnessed many episodes of severe beatings from Eric.”
As she says, “It breaks my heart now to think about what their little innocent minds and hearts had to have experienced all those years. I sought counseling for all 3 of my children for 2 years. They exhibit signs of trauma now whenever Eric is mentioned. “
Things only would get worse for Veronica when she finally attempted to leave Mr. Gilson. As she put it, “he went crazier than ever.” She described one incident where he beat her up after breaking into her home.
He also stalked her. She said, “I woke up several times in the middle of the night to him smiling a devilish grin with a butcher knife in his hand telling me how he was going to murder me. “
While Veronica maintains that Mr. Gilson always avoid full responsibility for his conduct, the court document shows that he has a 2007 conviction for corporal injury to a spouse. He has a 2008 conviction for battery on a non-cohabitating spouse. He has faced a series of charges in the last few years, including stalking, criminal threats and unauthorized wiretapping, as well as a violation in 2012 of a domestic violence restraining order.
All of this backs up the account that Veronica gives. Her abiding belief is that Mr. Gilson is “severely sick” and she does not see him getting better. She believes that his “having contact with any of these children is detrimental to their well being and safety.”
While the Contra Costa court ordered him to attend therapy before he can seek any sort of reunification with her children, she is “terrified” by that notion. “I know how calculated and manipulating Eric is,” she said. “He is fully capable of tricking even a therapist if he wants to. I believe he suffers from far more than bipolar illness, I have seen split personalities with my own eyes. So have my 2 oldest children. “
It is this type of fear that undoubtedly has led Claire Benoit, in a similar circumstance to Veronica, to flee to Europe, believing that the system will not protect her family here.
The Vanguard also received a copy of a June 2014 Clinical Social Work Assessment from Sutter Hospital which indicated “Suspected Child Abuse” and “concern regarding the safety of pts. Children to FOC’s mental illness and abusive behaviors.” It goes on to note, “Due to concerns about the safety of pts. Children, LCSW [Licensed Clinical Social Worker] reported to Yolo County CPS.”
It further notes, “Pt. reports that CPS report was made earlier in the pregnancy due to the forced sexual encounter that resulted in this pregnancy.”
Ms. Benoit has told the Vanguard, “The rape that conceived my son is also medically documented and was reported by two third parties. Eric raped me in a room next to my children, knowing they were awake and my eldest daughter overheard everything.”
Yolo County Deputy DA Tiffany Susz is continuing to pursue Ms. Benoit (who has full custody of her children) despite her awareness of Mr. Gilson’s criminal record. In January she told Judge Thomas Warriner that “some of the allegations by mom have been corroborated but we are still investigating this case.”
Like Vernoica, Ms. Benoit worries that Mr. Gilson is good at playing the system. She cited that the domestic violence classes that Mr. Gilson attends have noted that Mr. Gilson is “very good at playing the game but most likely has a very serious personality disorder.” Ms. Benoit believes “the guy is a loud ticking bomb.”
The question for many is whether the system is capable of protecting women like Claire Benoit and Veronica and their children from dangerous predators.
—David M. Greenwald reporting