First Wife in Custody Case Tells Story of Abuse and Torment



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


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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30 thoughts on “First Wife in Custody Case Tells Story of Abuse and Torment”

  1. ryankelly

    I think Ms. Susz is on the wrong side of this.  The DA should not involve itself in this family law case.  The arrest warrant is out of line and may work to make women feel they have less, not more options when dealing with abusive, controlling men.  Do women in Yolo County need the DA’s permission to flee their abusive situations?

    1. Davis Progressive

      think you’re spot on here.  think about it, not only is the dda saying that you need our permission to protect your kids and flee your abuser, but we may side with your abuser over you.  it’s not a trust-building situation for the victims of dv .

  2. skeptical

    From what has been presented, the District Attorney and the judges are in the wrong (typical and not surprising).

    Remember, Ms. Susz is following direction from Jeff Reisig, the District Attorney.  What is the response from that office?  Then follow those comments with responses from all the politicians who supported Reisig.  Where are the County Supervisors, State Senator, the other “judges”, and other electeds?  Has anyone sought their explanations?

    Also, how did the Vanguard discover this story?  I would like to learn more about the back story.

    1. David Greenwald Post author

      I don’t generally disclose sources, but there advocates of children who monitor these cases and let us know about. We’re going to start putting some resources into the family court system this fall to monitor it like we do the criminal courts.

  3. hpierce

    A thought… seems that the children are “victims” as well, with nothing to say about where they live, etc.  Seems like they are in danger of being “pawns”, however well-intentioned their mother is about their welfare.  Almost seems that they need their own legal counsel, with only their best interests in mind.

    1. MamaBear

      hpierce, I’m sure your comment is well meaning but neutral party deciding the fate of kids is only appropriate in cases of couples conflict where BOTH parents have been active in their childrens lives to some extent.

      And also, imho, in cases NOT involving documented history of serious violence, mental illness, and addiction of one party.

      To say a stranger should come into our lives and decide who and where my kids live is absurd. My kids by Eric are 2 and 3 years old and have zero bond with that man. He has never assumed any responsibility for them – whatsoever.

      So at this point, having some third party come in and decide how much risk my kids should be exposed to, and discern where they think my 2 and 3 year old want to live – is ridiculous and a violation of my right to be a mother. This is not okay.

      This case is sending a blaring warning to women to stay out of family court. That is what it is doing. Because prior to MY petition for est of paternity, Eric didn’t have this DNA test which his only attachment to my kids.

      1. hpierce

        Interpret how you will… I am in no position to “judge” anything… gladly so.

        I raised a question/concern.  Nothing more, nothing less…

        That said, it is interesting that you assume only women need to stay out of family court… oh, yeah, forgot the first rule… men are always the ones in the “wrong”… the corollary is women are NEVER in the “wrong”.  How stupid of me.

        1. MamaBear

          I specified women only because in cases like mine –

          non-married and with a history of DV, and where the father was absentee (nevermind the rape), Eric had no rights to my kids. He had never taken it upon himself to petition the court for rights. He had no interest.

          So I invited this by petitioning the court for their help. And then I empowered Eric’s means of harassing me through the DNA test I requested.

          Prior to that he was not a part of our lives and would not have had any basis to harass us this way. The DNA test changed everything.

          As a woman, I was okay before I involved the court.

          Men cant be in this exact position because of biology but that’s not to negate that there are protective dads and dangerous moms. Just not in my case.

          I don’t think good men and fathers would want someone like Eric representing their cause. Not a good look.

  4. quielo

    This whole series of threads seems to be out of “The Twilight Zone”. Based on a couple of brief articles people are ready to declare allegiance. On what basis the Vanguard declares one person the “victim” and another a “predator” is unclear to me.
    So a woman declares she is married to a violent crazy person. I have known many violent crazy people and they often attract other crazy (and sometimes violent) people. Therefore the first order of business is to evaluate the mental health of the spouse. If in fact the woman named in the article is the same person who is posting under “mamabear” then I have to say her writing do not indicate a person who is well wrapped. Though it is entirely possible that “mamabear” is in fact Sarah Palin or someone else impersonating Claire Benoit. The court must be aware that the best interests of the children may be served by removing them from both parents and if I had to bet, this is the outcome that most concerns Claire Benoit. 



    1. Davis Progressive

      “On what basis the Vanguard declares one person the “victim” and another a “predator” is unclear to me.”

      seems to be on the court record of gilson matched against the account of the two women.  what am I missing?

        1. Davis Progressive

          Quielo: You don’t know the court system or understand the law.  You’re dealing with a sensitive situation and you’re not helping, why not just stop?

      1. quielo

        That is an interesting question DP. David has posted earlier that “generic insults” were prohibited. Yet MomaBear is allowed to post “Quielo, Jesus loves you. Everyone else is another story.”. Is there an exception for the mentally ill?


        Your comment “you’re not helping” begs the question “who else is helping and to what end”. My position is clear, it’s in the best interests of the children to have the mother and father be assessed for competency. Others on this board presume, based what I have no idea, that if the father is sick the mother must be OK and they are best served by a life in exile with the mother. 

        If you can convincingly demonstrate that the mother is a safe, sane, and responsible parent for these children I will not post again.

        1. Davis Progressive

          What’s the insult?  You have a woman posting here who was beaten and claims she was raped, and you’re acting completely insensitively.  Why?  To what end?  You understand there is a real person on the other end?

    2. MamaBear

      I really appreciate the DV covering this case.

      Quielo, I was never married to Eric. Veronica is his ex-wife.

      I do believe the people we choose are indicative of who we are when we choose them. Women with low self esteem or any myriad of vulnerabilities tend to go for abusers. Leaving takes courage and growth.

      Tina Turner did it. As have many lesser knowns.

      Maybe my frustration, anger, referring you to publicly accessible evidence that validates my position makes you think I’m not wrapped tightly. You’re entitled to that.

      But I know my kids are not better off with a man suffering from severe debilitating mental illness, an adjudicated history of serious felony domestic violence (for which he is on probation), and all the etceteras I’m not going to bother sharing with you.

      I also know my children would be SEVERELY traumatized by any available foster home. My children are well loved and cared for and the state budget hardly creates excellent living circumstances for kids. I wont say names but I’ve seen some praised foster parents in Yolo county collecting leftovers from other people houses to feed their foster kids and leaving their ethnic hair uncombed for days. Quielo, goodbye.

      Your suggestion is outlandish and Id have so many lawsuits filed against this jurisdiction it would make the earth shake. No, that wasn’t a fear but if it’s a possibility I shall certainly be contacting Human Rights agencies in a flash. Thanks for the heads up on how cuckoo this system can get.

      1. quielo

        Mamabear, It’s not my place to judge and I think I have been consistent in that. It is the court’s place to judge and while David has correctly pointed out they are not infallible it is the right place to start.

        1. MamaBear

          Quielo, you contradict yourself every other statement.

          When a potential of serious harm – not excluding death, exists for my kids in the hands of this verified highly unstable violent individual, it really should not be the court’s place to decide how much risk I must subject my children to. Children that I alone, have supported and raised.

          That said, I do understand they have a job to do. Which is why I have hired an attorney and made every effort to comply with orders for the sake of respecting the status quo. To uphold a necessary level of reverence for the system (despite my personal convictions).

          My request to appear by skype is a fair accommodation given what has already been proven in this case. Clearly Judge White realized that. I appreciate that she was underinformed in the first ex parte hearing in November. I blame the Deputy DA for that. Tiffany has, herself, continued to make a number of similar mistakes that undermine the integrity of the process she wants to hold ME accountable to by the last letter.

          She is in the wrong. 100% and if you cannot see that, you are entitled to your opinion. Good day to you. You’re very welcome for my attention.

  5. MamaBear

    To be clear:

    I have been very open about the details of my case because I believe wholeheartedly that what is happening is on some level illegal, unethical, and an absolute abuse of my rights and the rights of my children.

    Not trusting the deputy assigned to my case at this point, I’m keeping information circulated.

    I don’t claim ANYTHING that does not correspond to evidence. And by the grace of God, I do have some strong supporters who recognize what is happening.

    So there is a lot I am still keeping to myself.

  6. MamaBear

    Quielo you can say I’m not well wrapped for whatever juvenile judgments you seem intent to pass.

    But I have never in my life beaten someone near the brink of death, committed violence in front of children, been in drug rehab, defrauded the military out of tons of money, hung myself, injected myself with antifreeze, nor attempted suicide in any of the other ways Eric is known and documented to have tried to. Therefore, your disagreeing with my sense of humor or my loyalty to my kids hardly qualifies me as an unfit parent… You are silly and I suppose with all the stress this case is causing me- it is equally foolish of me to entertain you.

    It’s in God’s hands. And I say that in terms of a darn good attorney and the truth being on my side.

    Again thank you to the Davis Vanguard.

  7. Tia Will

    There is a duality in our legal system that frequently does not work in the favor of children who are too young to give their own testimony and state their own preferences regarding parental rights. The duality is the sometimes conflict between biologic parental rights and the well being of the child.  The following is not a judgement by me, but a summary of a conversation I had with a lawyer specializing in family law at a medical meeting I was attending. This lawyer had no previous knowledge of my personal situation and so was completely unbiased in that regard.

    What she explained to me is that before the children have reached an age where they are judged to be a sufficient maturity, the court relies heavily on the concept of biologic parental rights. This is not because the court is indifferent to the well being of the child, but rather because of conflicting testimony from the parents, it is often difficult to ascertain what is in the best interest of the child. Therefore, they are essentially forced to default to what is confirmable fact….biologic paternity.

    However, we all know that biologic paternity ( or maternity for that matter) does not provide evidence of ability or willingness or suitability to care for a child. I would suggest that another standard might also be considered. That standard would be, who has actually cared for the child ?  Who has provided the money for the child’s physical support ?  Who has taken care of the child ?  Who actually nurtures the child ?  In the case of a parent who has been absent for whatever reason, what contribution are they willing to make to prove that their interest in the child is genuine and will be ongoing ?  For example, if they have been absent due to incarceration, or voluntary separation such as moving to be with a new partner, or to take on a new job, are they willing to accept gradual reincorporation into their children’s lives by providing monetary support, followed by limited contact say by phone or Skype, followed by monitored visits with the hope that some day they will be granted unsupervised visits ?  Or are they acting simply to obtain power over the children and/or the children’s guardian parent ?


    1. MamaBear

      Well said Tia. That is among the core issues I have with this case. The burden of proof has been placed on ME, the ONLY parent who has ever supported and cared for these children in every way. Out the gate, this feels completely illogical.

      Then I believe I met that burden with a preponderance of credible evidence.

      Still this has seemed to be ignored.

      I have provided documentation to prove that this man has committed perjury every single time he was in court. He even gave the DA pictures of one of his other children as evidence that he was present when my babies were born.

      I am being bullied for the tiniest request for accommodation that allows me to honor the court AND protect my babies.

      And this absentee parent, with loads of evidence stacked to verify all of my fears and concerns, has been able to keep this nonsense going with the very biased assistance of the deputy DA.

      I could never trust any court appointed official claiming neutrality after the conduct I have experienced with Tiffany who verbalized neutrality every step of the way while coaching Eric and filing his papers.

  8. MamaBear

    Quielo, I think your question has been addressed several times over. Your repeating it lends me to think you may have an ulterior motive for being on this thread. I guess if you repeat the same question 10 times, and it is ignored on the 10th round, you will have cast some suspicion.

    So I will go back to what you said, the case will be decided in court, not here.

    What is most ridiculous about this case is the warrant for my arrest. I think anyone wanting to keep faith in our judicial system would expect to see that retracted at the next hearing.

  9. Tia Will

    I could never trust any court appointed official claiming neutrality after the conduct I have experienced with Tiffany who verbalized neutrality every step of the way while coaching Eric and filing his papers.”

    If this is found to be true, and I suspect is readily verifiable, it would seem to me to be sufficient reason for this particular lawyer, and any one else involved in aiding and/or approving this approach to be removed from any further involvement with the case.

    1. David Greenwald Post author

      Tia: I don’t know it to be true, but based on what I have seen, I suspect that’s the case. I have a copy of his ex parte motion and it was sent on DA letter head.

    2. MamaBear

      Tia, I totally agree. Even if she entered this case with an intention of neutrality, she has been boxed into position where it is not even possible. Not sure what the basis of her bias is, but it is really evident.

  10. Napoleon Pig IV

    Do “the People” have a way to indict and try Tiffany Susz for incompetent prosecution? What about an indictment for deliberate abuse of legal process and power? Wouldn’t discovery in that case be interesting? Or, is there such a thing as discovery in a criminal case?


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