Published April 5th, 2022 at 10:19 AM
Former Missouri First Lady Sheena Greitens says in a new court filing that she has photos and other evidence to back up her claims that former Gov. Eric Greitens physically abused her and their children as his political career unraveled.
In a statement embedded in a court filing Thursday in Boone County Circuit Court as part of her ongoing child custody battle with the former governor, Sheena Greitens said she tried to resolve differences without a public fight. But she said that Eric Greitens’s attacks on her character, push for records to be sealed and demands that the case be sent to mediation show he cares more about his campaign for U.S. Senate than his sons.
Her attorney, Helen Wade, wrote in the latest filing that Sheena Greitens asked for mediation on eight previous occasions and her ex-husband refused.
The abuse claims, made in an affidavit filed March 21, stated that as he faced criminal charges and possible impeachment in 2018, Eric Greitens repeatedly threatened to commit suicide unless she showed “specific public political support” for him. In one incident of child abuse, that she swore in the affidavit occurred in November 2019, one of their sons came home from a visit his father with a swollen face, bleeding gums and loose tooth and said his father had hit him.
Eric Greitens, both publicly and in court filings, has challenged those statements, noting that prior to their divorce in 2020, Sheena Greitens signed a document stating there were no undisclosed material facts and agreeing to a parenting plan of joint custody. In his first statement issued after the filing, Eric Greitens called his ex-wife “a deranged individual” and said she had “a documented history of mental illness and emotionally-abusive behavior.”
But in last week’s filing, Sheena Greitens said she did report and document the abuse. She only agreed to the parenting plan as the best option to move with their two boys to Texas.
“In fact, they were reported to multiple lawyers, therapists, and our mediator, in 2018 and afterward,” Sheena Greitens said. “I will provide contemporaneous documentation of the relevant communications, as well as photographic evidence of my child’s 2019 injuries, to the court at an appropriate time.”
She also challenged his characterizations of her mental health. The “documented history” is therapy she sought from January 2018 to April 2020, first in an attempt to save their marriage and later to cope with her ex-husband’s behavior.
In the filing, Wade wrote that Eric Greitens “has launched an all-out, calculated, and purposely public attack on (Sheena Greitens) – outside the confines of the courtroom, off the witness stand and notably without being under oath.”
Sheena Greitens is trying to move court control of the child custody case from Missouri to Texas, where she works as an associate professor at the University of Texas. At the time of their divorce, she was employed at the University of Missouri.
The allegations of domestic violence come as Eric Greitens is attempting a political comeback as a candidate for the U.S. Senate in a crowded Republican primary.
Prior to the allegations becoming public, Greitens was leading in polls. Since then, he has slipped into a statistical dead heat with his leading rivals, U.S. Rep. Vicky Hartzler and Attorney General Eric Schmitt.
The affidavit overshadowed another event, a guilty plea from former FBI agent William Tisaby admitting evidence tampering in the 2018 investigation, that Greitens had hoped would boost his image as a man wronged by political enemies.
Greitens has used right wing media to tie the two events together, accusing Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and former presidential advisor Karl Rove as masterminding the affidavit.
In her latest filing, Sheena Greitens denied she had consulted with any of her former husband’s political enemies prior to filing her abuse claims.
“I drafted the previously filed affidavit,” Sheena Greitens said. “Neither Karl Rove, nor Mitch McConnell, nor any other so-called political operatives drafted it for me. The only person I have been ‘victimized’ by is Eric.”
The next hearing in the case is set for May 10, when Associate Circuit Judge Leslie Schneider will hear arguments on whether to order AT&T and Verizon wireless to turn over phone logs and text messages for phones assigned to Sheena Greitens, her sister, Catherine Linkul, Rove and Greitens’ campaign manager for his 2016 run for governor, Austin Chambers.
Rove, Sheena Greitens and Linkul, who works for Pathway Public Affairs, a consulting firm run by a close ally of McConnell, did not respond to messages seeking comment. Chambers said Monday that he had no contact with Sheena Greitens about the affidavit before it was filed.
“I did not talk to her about the contents of the affidavit,” Chambers said. “I learned about the affidavit when it was filed, like everybody else.”
Several of the allegations Sheena Greitens made in her March 21 affidavit are familiar to law enforcement and service agencies that deal with domestic abuse. To help victims understand the level of threat in their relationship, a questionnaire called a “Danger Assessment” asks 20 questions about coercive or violent actions.
The allegations of abuse contained in Sheena Greitens’ affidavit would check off seven of the 20 actions included on the assessment, including threats to commit suicide, controlling daily activities and physical violence. That, according to the scoring matrix, would put a person in severe danger as they left the relationship.
In Kansas City, police use the Danger Assessment on domestic violence calls and help victims connect to services, said Lisa Fleming, CEO of the Rose Brooks Center, a domestic violence shelter in Kansas City.
“It lets them know, and that is the really blunt, direct message, that people in your situation that have experienced similar things have been killed and we are worried about your safety,” Fleming said.
The creator of the Danger Assessment, Jacquelyn Campbell, a professor at Johns Hopkins University, conducted research to test its predictive value in cases where women were murdered by partners. Campbell found that more than half of women involved in attempted murder cases had been in the extreme danger category, one step above where Sheena Greitens would have scored based on her affidavit.
The assessment helps victims make choices to keep themselves and their children safe, said MaryAnne Metheny, CEO of Hope House, a shelter in eastern Jackson County.
“That is part of the goal,” she said. “When the police officers ask those questions, they can say, based on how they answer, that research has shown you are at a high risk of being killed if you stay in this relationship.”
A person inside an abusive relationship can feel trapped, underestimate the danger or realize that others have experienced similar abuse, Metheny said.
“People don’t understand how difficult it is to navigate out of that,” she said.
Schneider will be the judge of which side is more credible when Sheena Greitens’ motion to move the proceedings to Texas is heard on May 27.
Eric Greitens, through attorney Gary Stamper, has told the court she is lying.
“Common sense suggests no parent would agree to share joint legal and physical custody with the fictional parent described in the filing leaked to the press before it was accepted by the circuit clerk and available to the court or the inquiring public,” Stamper wrote.
So far, as Wade noted in her filing, Eric Greitens has not been questioned under oath about the allegations in Sheena Greitens’ affidavit. And in the statement included with the filing, Sheena Greitens said the pattern she saw in 2018 to 2020 has begun again.
“Eric’s behavior since 3/21 is consistent with several patterns that I have previously experienced,” she said. “When his public future is at risk, he becomes erratic, unhinged, coercive and threatening. He accuses me of things that are untrue and generates conspiracy theories about me collaborating with his ‘enemies’ when I have done no such thing. He uses words like ‘nasty’ and ‘vicious’ to describe my behavior, and threatens to take my children away.”
Last week, Gov. Mike Parson – who took office when Eric Greitens resigned – noted that swearing to a false affidavit carries the risk of a perjury charge and added that he had a “great deal of respect” for Sheena Greitens.
“I have no reason to doubt Sheena Greitens on what she said,” Parson said.
In her statement included in the latest court filing, Sheena Greitens warned that she is under immense pressure to tell her story through the media. She is trying to avoid that, she said, but the delay until May 27 will make that difficult.
“I would like to continue to restrict my comments on this to the courtroom, but it will be difficult to do so if we cannot resolve the question of where this case should be decided until May 27, because I expect I will have to go through two months of untrue public attacks on my character, motherhood and professionalism,” she said.
Since her affidavit was filed, Eric Greitens has produced a video attacking her claims, done interviews on friendly conservative media and used press conferences with his attorneys to claim he is the victim of a coordinated political attack.
The affidavit was unnecessary for a case only about jurisdiction, attorney Tim Parlatore said in a Washington, D.C., press conference where he tried to link Sheena Greitens to Rove and McConnell.
“They were filed solely for the purpose of having a statement in the court record that could be used for political purposes,” said Parlatore, who has not entered an appearance in court on Eric Greitens behalf.
The attack campaign uses a few facts and makes many assumptions based on those facts. One fact is that Sheena Greitens was in Washington when she signed the affidavit; the assumption is that she had contacts with Rove and, through her sister, to McConnell.
In the latest filing, she denied that.
“I went to Washington, D.C., to discharge my responsibilities as a paid employee and fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, and my conversations there were about American national security and U.S. policy toward China – subjects about which I publish frequently and testified last year to the Senate Armed Services Committee,” she said.
The best place for the case is in Texas, where it would receive much less public attention, Wade wrote in Thursday’s filing.
Eric Greitens wants it in Missouri, Wade wrote, because “this is perhaps the only place in the United States where the respondent believes that he can effectively leverage his influence to punish petitioner for speaking the truth, to intimidate her into retreating into silence once again, and doing so in the name of protecting the children.”
Since the affidavit was filed, Greitens has weathered calls from rivals for the Senate nomination, and others, to withdraw from the race. Some Republican women leaders have also begun to question the party’s official silence on whether Greitens should remain in the field.
He has remained defiant and has only lost a few points in recent polls. Greitens’ success in the Aug. 2 primary could hinge on whether the public believes him or his ex-wife. In her latest statement, Sheena Greitens said her concern in how the political fight bleeds into the court proceedings.
“Because this is so public,” she said, “I am desperately worried about how it could impact the legal process, and feel immense pressure to respond to set the record straight – or else risk my silence, or delay in responding, being construed as an endorsement of the truth of Eric’s false public statements.”
Rudi Keller covers the state budget, energy and the legislature in Missouri. This story first appeared on the Missouri Independent, a nonpartisan, nonprofit news organization covering state government, politics and policy.