Domestic Violence

Sheehan Says the Cop She Married Blocked All Exits

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Barbara Sheehan will soon be tried on homicide charges for shooting her husband, a retired police officer. Sheehan recently talked to Susan Stromberg outside a Queens courtroom about routine marital violence and why she felt she couldn't leave. Part 2 of 2.

NEW YORK (WOMENSENEWS)--Barbara Sheehan wanted to leave her husband Raymond many times before the day she ended his life by shooting him with one of the guns she says he often pointed at her. She now faces murder charges in Queens, N.Y., for the slaying of her husband, a retired New York City police officer.

Outside a courtroom, she recalled the years when he was still on the force and her awareness that, as a law enforcement officer, her spouse was a member of what she believed was an extremely tight-knit community whose members would protect their own.

The domestic hotlines she was in contact with told her to leave and disappear. "But where do you go?" she asked. "He had a means to find me if I left."

Her husband had frequently threatened that there was no place Barbara Sheehan could go where he couldn't find her and that if she ever attempted to leave him, he would kill her family and the couple's children.

Barbara Sheehan--who is charged with second-degree murder and faces 15 years to life in prison--says she felt trapped and believed the police wouldn't help her over one of their own.

"I couldn't call 911, he was 911 . . . I knew they would never have arrested him," she said. "And then what would happen when they left?"

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This sense of entrapment is common for abused women married to police officers, says Diane Wetendorf, an author and consultant on police-perpetrated domestic violence. Battered women often view the possibility of safely escaping a police spouse as impossible, she says.

"There aren't the options that many people think there are," said Wetendorf, who is not affiliated with Barbara Sheehan's case.

Many abused spouses of police officers are afraid to call 911 for fear that responding officers will not believe them or side with their abuser, says Wetendorf. Those successful in reporting abuse often face harsh retaliation, she says.

Shelters Fall Short

Raymond Sheehan once caught his wife calling the police, she says. He grabbed the phone and began beating her on the head with it, yelling that he was a sergeant and that the cops would never believe her.

Attempts to escape to battered-women's shelters are also fraught with hazards. Police officers usually know the locations of women's shelters and often work closely with them, which can eliminate them as a safe haven from an abusive law-enforcement spouse.

Also, says Wetendorf, some shelters for a variety of reasons, turn away spouses of police officers.

"Many women have reported to me that they have called shelter after shelter after shelter and been turned away when they hear the abuser is in law enforcement," said Wetendorf.

Barbara Sheehan says her husband's repeated abuse got progressively worse over the course of their marriage, but that there was a definite turning point that escalated her fear.

In a hotel room in Jamaica in the summer of 2007, her husband began to get agitated over the issue of what time they were to be at dinner. Barbara Sheehan says he grabbed her and began bashing her head against the cinderblock wall. She ended up in the hospital with stitches in her head and two black eyes. The couple told the hotel staff she had fallen in the bathtub.

It was after that trip that she began talking to friends about the abuse. With one friend--a coworker familiar with Raymond Sheehan's frequent screaming calls to his wife at work--she worked out a code so the friend could be alerted if something were ever life-threateningly wrong.

When the issue of another trip together came up in February 2008--this time to Florida--she feared for her life and refused to go. "I was afraid to go to Florida," she said. "I thought he would kill me in Florida."

Fighting Over Florida

The night before the trip, the two drove to Connecticut to visit their son, says Barbara Sheehan. Her husband was angry during the drive there and had hit her several times in the car. On the way home, he yelled at her about not going to Florida. When she still refused to go, he punched her in the face, causing her nose to splatter blood. He then began yelling about the blood she was getting in his car.

At one point on the drive, he tried to push her out of the car. She says she held onto the door to remain inside, certain that he would run her over if she got out of the car.

Back at their Howard Beach home, she saw her nose and knew she needed medical attention. Afraid to ask him to take her, she left the house on foot to walk to the hospital. He eventually drove up and took her to the emergency room, but refused to leave the car. He warned her not to tell anyone, threatening to kill her family and "go down in glory" if police arrived, she says.

While she was inside, he called her repeatedly with threats and eventually demanded that she return to the car. She told the hospital staff that she had banged her face on a door and left without being treated.

The Next Day

That night, she slept in a separate room. When Raymond Sheehan woke her the next morning and she still refused to go with him, he locked her out of the house. After a while, she gave in, and he let her back inside. When he got in the shower, she went to her friend's nearby home--the one with whom she had worked out the code--but was fearful he would discover her missing and returned.

When she came back in the house and climbed the stairs to the second floor, she says she saw her husband open the bathroom door and point a gun at her, threatening her life. She ran into the adjoining bedroom and grabbed his second gun and ran toward the stairs for safety.

But, as she passed him again, she says, he came at her with his gun pointed directly at her and she fired the gun in her hand five times. He slipped down to a sitting position and dropped his gun next to him, but still continued to scream that he was going to kill her. When he reached for his gun, she grabbed it before he did and fired six more times.

"It was definitely self defense," she said. "There was no doubt in my mind he was going to kill me."

The friend with whom the code had been worked out called her three times without any answer and finally called 911, telling them that she thought Raymond Sheehan had killed his wife.

Barbara Sheehan's murder trial will likely be set later this summer. A central question still remains over whether expert testimony on battering and its effects will be allowed.

Susan V. Stromberg is an attorney and freelance writer.

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When I read this article, my jaw dropped because I felt like a lot of what I was reading-is my life. I too, am married to a police officer and my life is hell. No matter where I have moved in the past, he has found me. I could write a book on all the things he has done and still does. I think that a lot of people he works with probably doesn't have a clue. And the ones that do, would never go against him if I called on them. He took my car right out of the parking lot at a grocery store and left me there, because he saw my car in the parking lot and came in the store, and didn't see me. So when I came out-he was getting out of one of his buddies cruisers and getting in his own cruiser (both of them were on duty. When I said where is the car? He ignored me, and when I asked him again-he told me to go F+#* myself and then I told him to take me to my car. It was snowing and cold outside-I got in his car and he SCREAMED at me as he drove like a maniac, calling me names and berating me. We ended up at the police dept. parking lot where the car sat. I took the car and went home-he followed me. The stories and things he has done to me is lengthy to put on here. I saw myself in the story I just read, up to a certain point. I know that people have been told things about me that are not true. So, he makes me look "bad" or "crazy" to people he works with. I offered to make this delicious new recipe for hom to take to work one day for his shift. He refused to take it. He has done that more than once to me. I finally figured out why-he has torn me down so bad to people around him at work, that if they saw the REAL me-not the one he paints a picture of (to make me look bad), that they will see the truth.
He's shut the tv off on me as I am watching tv, as he walks past the tv, calls me names on a daily basis, smashes things around the house, pushes me down all the time, grabbed a big knife from my butcher block of knives in my kitchen and started screaming "let's kill each other today". I never touched the knife at allan even though he was trying to force me to grab it. I told him he needs help-he told me to go ahead and call the police-I AM the police and said it didin't matter and they won't believe me. I was laying on the couch one night watching tv, he came in and told me to go to bed right now-I said no, I'm watching tv, he flipped the couch from behind and I fell onto the floor-then he walked up and shut off the tv as he called me a bitch. The stories are endless and I feel helpless. I'm honestly afraid for my life as each day and week goes by-he is getting worse. He is on this kick now-of saying "I don't give a sh-t about anything anymore-what do I care what people think about me-I'm 62 yrs. Old" this is said to me a lot lately when he has a "blow up" like he does and I asked him what he would do if people knew how he really is.
Anyway-after reading that story-it sounds a lot like my life. I see a counselor once a week, and she documents whay I am telling her in the event he kills me or I come up missing. I thought maybe I could leave and start over in a new state and town-but unfortunately-he can run my license plate and will be able to locate me. I don't know the answer and I am living a nightmare that nobody has a clue about. Tonight it is the quiet before the storm-he tried to call me, for no specific reason today from work, and came home screaming at me about it. He is in his "silent" mode and has been all night. He is in his room and I am downstairs fighting to stay awake-I'm afraid to go to sleep-he is on dayshift-maybe I'll lay down in the morning after he leaves. My nerves are shot-all the abuse is making me so depressed, scared and feeling old.
If something happens to me-you have a "crumb" of a piece of thw things he is/has done to me. My shoulder/arm still hurts from his pulling something inside of my arm when he was hurting me.I feel alone and isolated. Who and where can I talk to other women in my shoes?

Was married to an abusive (rape, slugging,psychological abuse) asst. attorney general. I won. He was placed on a year's probation and restraining order.
His fellow attorneys (some female) testified on his behalf when I then requested his law license be suspended. His boss (female attorney general of a state) kept him employed and paid during case. I won. There are some policemen and attorneys who know how to corner the abusers and help the victims win. I hope she has some good help and guidance.

This is a very heart-wrenching real situation; thus, it is more than a story, it is life for this woman and her family. My empathy is with her throughout her trial and after, to get her life together again, hopefully without further of such need to protect her life. I hope others reading this will put pressure on governments, police departments, and women's shelters to take responsibility in protecting affected women and children and for helping the men to rethink and change their personal lives to be loving and emotionally healthy people at home.

From a social worker's perspective this is clearly a case of self defense and battered women's syndrome. However, from my experience the courts are usually patriarchal and will side with the man in a heartbeat.

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