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Monday, September 26, 2011

In Defense of Barbara Sheehan - Part I: A History of Violence. [Tanya Brannan, Purple Berets]

In Defense of Barbara Sheehan
Part I: A History of Violenc
e
© Tanya Brannan 2011
Founder of Purple Berets

On Monday, September 19, Barbara Sheehan took the stand in her own defense against a charge of second-degree murder. On February 18, 2008, her husband, retired NYPD crime scene Sgt. Raymond Sheehan lay dead of gunshot wounds in the couple’s Howard Beach home. Barbara, on her knees with two guns in hand, immediately admitted she had shot him.

For three days, I sat in a Queens criminal courtroom as Barbara Sheehan told a jury the story of her twenty-four year marriage and the violence that led up to the shooting. Here in a nutshell is that story.

The Early Days

The real violence in the relationship started within a few years of their marrage with the birth of their second child, a son also named Raymond. Barbara’s husband Raymond worked nights, and was home with the children during the hours Barbara worked. "He would call me constantly at work," Barbara testified. "Come home, the baby’s diaper needs to be changed. Come put the barrette in Jennifer’s hair." Each call was angrier than the one before, each time he was more demanding, until finally Barbara would leave work and go home.

There the pushing and shoving would start. Barbara would cry; Raymond would apologize, send flowers, promise not to do it again; the promise was never kept. In addition to the violence the verbal abuse was soul-killing. He harangued her constantly; called her stupid and fat, a horrible mother and housekeeper, worthless as a person. He blamed her for everything – the traffic ("If you’d been ready we’d have left sooner and would have missed this"); his drinking ("If you’d sat next to me I wouldn’t have drunk so much); everything was Barbara’s fault.

Things went on like this for years. The only thing that changed is that at some point he stopped apologizing. The violence escalated, now occurring two or three times a week and increasingly severe. He started to knock her down and then step on her or spit in her face; he’d trip her, calling her clumsy; then he began to choke. At first he hit her on her back and upper arms – places that wouldn’t show – but eventually he didn’t care anymore. He’d punch her in the face, in the arms, blacken her eyes.

A Painful Litany of Violence & Degradation

Barbara Sheehan’s days on the witness stand were a litany of monstrous violence – violence that was clearly building to a crescendo. Among the specific incidents she detailed were these:

•In the summer of 1994, Raymond came home from his brother’s bachelor’s party "too drunk to walk" and angry. That night he beat her so badly he broke her eardrum. By the next morning she was black and blue from head to toe and had two black eyes.

•By the mid-1990s Barbara wasn’t allowed to go anywhere alone. Raymond would track her constantly, track her down wherever she was. When she’d return from the grocery store he would demand to see the receipt so he could see what time she‘d checked out. If he thought she had taken too long getting home he’d start screaming and hitting her.

•His last four years on the police force Raymond work as a sergeant in the crime scene unit. By this time his threats to kill were relentless – first he would kill her, then the children and then he would "go out in glory." He’d bring home pictures of dead bodies at crime scenes saying, "That’s what you’ll look like if you ever try to leave me." He always said he could pull off the perfect crime because, with his crime scene training, he knew exactly how to do it.

•In 1999, on returning from their 10 year-old son’s baseball game, Raymond was screaming and rageful, berating his son because he hadn’t played well enough. "I told him not to talk to our son like that," Barbara said. In response Raymond took a pot of simmering pasta sauce off the stove and threw it at her, scalding her arms and torso. Then he pushed her to the floor into the steaming sauce, yelling , "Clean it up!" and "Don’t you ever tell me how to treat my son!"

•In 2002 the family went to Lake George on vacation. Raymond had gotten drunk and fallen asleep at the pool. Barbara woke him in time to get ready for dinner. When they returned to their room Raymond chased her around the room in a rage. After their daughter Jennifer ran out of the room in terror, Raymond beat Barbara to a pulp, leaving her with two black eyes.

•Later that year Raymond retired from the NYPD. But still he carried at least two guns with him at all times – even at home – one at his waist and one in an ankle-holster. When he watched TV a gun would rest on the coffee table. Even when he was in the shower, a gun lay always within reach. By this time the threats to kill were constant.

•In August 2007 Raymond and Barbara went on vacation to Jamaica with their son and another family. They were all going together to a VIP dinner that evening. After Barbara got ready for dinner, she woke Raymond, knowing it always took him an hour or two to shower. She went downstairs to tell everyone to go on and they’d meet them at the dinner. When she got back upstairs Raymond was still sleeping. She woke him again, and he went into a rage.

"I said I would just go on without him. He chased me down before I could reach the door. He beat me, grabbed me by the hair and beat my face against the cinder-block walls again and again – all over room, from one wall to another. I had a big gash on my head – there was blood everywhere."

When the couple went to the hotel desk for directions to a hospital, Raymond wouldn’t let Barbara talk. He said she had fallen in the shower and hit her head on sink. They went into the restaurant to tell the others where they were going. Barbara’s head was wrapped in a bloody towel.

"This incident really scared me because now he abused me in front of everyone – he didn’t care anymore if people knew what was happening," Barbara testified. "That made me realize how dangerous he was – that he really had no regard for me or my safety." From that point on, she knew anything could happen.

In December 2007, Barbara threw a family party for their son’s 18th birthday. The whole family was there – Barbara’s parents and siblings as well as Raymond’s brother Vincent and wife Linda. The men were watching a ball game when Raymond, drunk as usual, called Barbara’s father a "dick" and a "fucking c---." When Barbara’s brother defended their dad, he and Raymond got into a screaming argument. Raymond stormed out in a rage. When he returned later, he ran at Barbara screaming and out of control. Linda told him not to do that "in front of us."

After that Barbara was all the more terrified. Now Raymond didn’t care who saw what he was doing, even her family. After that night Raymond demanded she cut off communication with her family, a tight-knit clan most of whom lived within a few blocks of each other. The shroud of isolation was drawing tighter.

That night, Linda gave Barbara the phone number for a domestic violence hotline. They told her she was in the most dangerous position possible – because he was a cop and because the violence had spiraled out of control. Barbara started making plans to get away – saving money for her escape, telling officials at her work what was going on. She knew time was running out.

~~ Tanya Brannan is founder of Purple Berets, an in-your-face women’s rights group in the San Francisco Bay Area.
[police officer involved domestic violence oidv intimate partner violence ipv abuse law enforcement public safety lethal fatality fatalities murder california new york state politics feminist feminism activist activism in yo face]

2 comments:

  1. If anyone has ever experience this type of abuse, it begins just verabally and then the dangerous stage of violence. the physical abuse, i know first hand how devasting this is to one's soul. I lived tortured and abused, but my abuser is still alive and still a cop. I have been victimized by judicial system and his police dept. He got away from all the crimes committed on his family. I pray that a jury find Barbara Sha\eedan innocent and it was self defense. because it was, i wish people understand the life of a abused family.

    ReplyDelete

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