“It just started off with little things, him getting upset about simple things like using the last of the coffee creamer,” said Shannon, a 30-year-old Ridgefielder. “Or if his shirts were folded in a way where the collar wasn’t straight, just little things that would absolutely set him off.”
She touched her forehead, near the hairline of thick dark brown hair.
“I still — right here, it’s from a contusion I had. It serves as a reminder of how lucky I was that I walked away with my life,” she said.
“Like a little bump on my skull that you can feel, and that’s from hitting my head on a piece of wood that we had on the back porch.
“Usually, he favored my head, in hurting me — in the face and in the head,” she said. “All of the incidents, really, were in that region.
“That was the most common occurrence,” she said of blows to the head, or hitting her head on things like the floor. “I couldn’t even put a number on that. Choking was another thing he used to do. There were two times specifically where there were marks on my neck, his handprint was on my neck, and I had to wear my hair down and cover it up.
“The first incident was hot coffee in the face. He had no — it’s almost like he had no conscience, no heart, He would literally beat my head against our hardwood floors.
“Everyone thinks Ridgefield is so perfect, but so much goes on with domestic violence,” Shannon said.
Now, her abuser is in jail after being arrested by the Ridgefield Police, and Shannon also has a court-granted order of protection designed to keep him away from her even when he gets out of jail — for 10 years.
The order “protects me, my home, my workplace, and there’s a 15-yard stay-away,” she said. Her former boyfriend cannot come within 15 yards of her.
“The most important thing in her case was that protective order,” said Lynn Nichols, the victim’s advocate from the Women’s Center of Greater Danbury who worked with Shannon as her case went through the State Superior Court in Danbury.
“The protective order was very, very important, because the defendant was such a high risk offender.”
Her boyfriend had history of arrests she didn’t know about when the relationship began.
“He had an extensive criminal background I later found out … one of those charges being an ‘assault one’ which is an assault with a weapon.”
“I don’t know a number, but he was a felon,” said Ms. Nichols, the victims advocate. “He was a felon with a lot of convictions. He did have a conviction for assault. You could tell he’s a violent person.”
The relationship began in November 2010, and the final incident was on New Year’s Day 2012. Early on, she had no idea of his violence.
“We met in an online dating site, and he almost seemed too good to be true,” she said. “But I was like: ‘Maybe this it, maybe this is a good thing.’ He was handsome. He was from what seemed to be a good family. And, you know, he was very good at not showing his true colors until we’d actually gotten a house together…
“I’d dated in the past, and never experienced an abusive relationship.”
The police came to the house Shannon shared with her boyfriend, Brian, twice.
“The Police Department, they really, truly care,” Shannon said.
“The officers there are absolutely amazing in guiding you, and they were instrumental in me actually mustering the courage to leave the abuser.”
The first time she sought police protection from Brian was May 2011. The relationship was about six months old, and they’d moved in together about a month before.
“I’d gone out to dinner with my mom, my aunt and my uncle, and a friend. And Brian and I weren’t speaking at the time. We were having a ‘bickerment,’ you could say. We weren’t really on speaking terms, so I’d gone out to dinner with my family.
“And he was always co-dependent, he was always afraid of being alone, or me leaving him — he was always socially inept, he didn’t have many friends.
“And he assumed that that night I wasn’t truly out to dinner with my family, and so I could already feel that there was going to be tension or an issue to be going home, so I actually stayed at my mom’s that night,” Shannon said.
“And when I woke up the next morning I looked at my text messages, and he’d sent me a text a little after midnight and it said: ‘You’re dead, bitch.’ So at that point I wasn’t comfortable going home if he was going to be there, which only left me one option, which was to press charges for the threatening.
“My brother actually came with me to the police station, and was very supportive,” she said.
“…Brian was later arrested and I was given a protective order, which meant he was no longer allowed to have contact with me, and no longer permitted use of the house.
“He did come to get his belongings with an officer from the Ridgefield Police Department, and he then moved back to his dad’s house in Monroe.”
She later made the mistake of letting him back into her life, and asking the court to amend that first order of protection.
The abusive behavior developed over time.
The first violent episode was in February 2011, when they’d been dating about four months.
“I’d just made us a pot of coffee — mind you, this is before we were living together. And he didn’t like that he didn’t have control. I forget what we were talking about, and I said ‘You’re not running this.’ And he didn’t like that he wasn’t in the driver’s seat, and I don’t even think it was anything significant that we were talking about. He just threw the hot coffee in my face, his cup, and he just left. And I sat there for a good five minutes. I guess I was trying to process what had just gone on.
“And I didn’t contact him. He had reached out to me about two weeks later, and of course I believed the ‘I’m sorrys’ and the ‘I love yous.’ And I forgave him and we tried to move forward.”
After the coffee there were no other assaults for several months.
“No, not really. He would get angry very easily, slamming doors and things like that, but that was the only physical thing. He liked to yell. That was very common for him,” she said.
“He was degrading. He loved the derogatory words … I think the degrading goes into that, the verbal abuse. An abuser’s MO is to tear you down, and it works. Even though I was the primary supporter, I felt that I lacked something, and I didn’t want to be alone…
“But it really didn’t become unbearable until we were living together,” she said.
“It slowly started to just — after he moved in he disclosed to me that he had bipolar disorder and I’d already noticed that he had OCD.”
The behavior Shannon described as “OCD” or obsessive-compulsive disorder would come to have a great impact on her daily life.
“I then had to make the house Brian-friendly,” she said. “…The cabinets and everything being organized in the food pantry — even the plates, our china, had to be organized by size.
“You know, just little things like that, if they weren’t perfect or the way that he thought was perfect, I knew that it was going to be an awful night for me.
“It got to the point, actually, where I would work late so that I wouldn’t have to be home — and I loved my house, absolutely loved my house. And toward the end of the relationship I’d rather be at work, working, than to have to be around him.”
Shannon worked in a clerical position at a medical facility in Wilton at the time, and Brian drove a truck.
“He worked for a distribution company in Stamford, but then later lost his job. He was fired,” she said.
“I think that was part of the problem, that I was the breadwinner, which is sometimes I think tough for men to face.
“Additionally, I’m from a good family here in town, very close-knit, hard-working, and I think that was also an issue for him. I think I was his ticket to normal. Brian grew up with an abusive father. With my family we’re always together as much as we can be, we’re always doing things together as a family, whether it’s our Sunday morning breakfast, or just drop-in dinners at my Dad’s house. And he never had that.”
That there were problems in the relationship was apparent to family members.
“It actually tore our family apart and, essentially, I chose Brian over my family, although not intentionally.”
She ended up not on speaking terms with most members of her family.
“My family, they couldn’t sit back and watch this go on. I probably would have removed myself, too, if it was me having to watch someone go through that.”
He told her about the abuse in his childhood?
“He did after the abuse started in our relationship,” she said.
Shannon changed her mind about the first order of protection about a month after it was issued.
“We asked the court for the protective order to be limited so he could be back at home,” she said. “I was basically swooned, looking back on it in retrospect, manipulated to be back with him.
“He wasn’t a complete jerk all the time,” she said. “He was very capable of love, loving me very deeply, when he wasn’t angry.”
The hot coffee incident was in February 2011, but they were back together in a month and by April they rented a house together in town.
His anger and need for control hadn’t changed.
“I tried everything with him, I put us into couples therapy, and even the therapist told me, ‘run.’
“I got him to the doctors that he needed to get the bipolar and the OCD under control, but nothing seemed to help.”
While they were living together abusive incidents occurred “at least every two weeks, if not more,” Shannon said.
“It was the weirdest thing. He would cry after every incident. And after the last incident, on New Year’s Day, he didn’t cry. He would always be apologetic and say he wished he’d ‘had a different head’ — those were his exact words.
“He knew that he was suffering from a mental illness, and a substantial one. I’m sure it’s a learned behavior, because his father was the abuser, and that’s what he grew up thinking was normalcy,” she said.
“And that was another thing I never understood, I would always ask him and he would say he’d never hurt any of his other girlfriends in the past, and I always wondered why it was me. I felt like he hated me.
“So from the time he came back home in June, until the final incident, which was on New Year’s Day, life was just hell. It was terrible,” Shannon said. “I was the only one working. It got to be difficult, and I think the fact that he was home and I was going out working infuriated him even more.
“As I said, he wasn’t a social person, he didn’t have many friends, so we were kind of bound to the house a lot, which is hard for me, because I’m really a people person, very outgoing, very social, and so I actually became very close friends with my neighbor, who went to high school with me, and she had no idea about what I was dealing with, or what I was living with.
“New Year’s Eve I’d persuaded him to go next door to my neighbor’s house for her get-together for New Year’s Eve, and everything was going great, we were having a nice time, and he had exchanged words with a girl who had been drinking,” Shannon said.
“And it actually escalated to the point where he physically pushed this girl to the ground in front of the entire party. Four of the gentlemen that were actually there restrained Brian and became physical with him, because there was just no getting him to rational,” she said.
“Once I was able to get him out of my neighbor’s house — we’d gone back home, and he was angry with me for reasons unknown — and he went into the bedroom and slammed the door shut and told me to leave him alone. And that was something he typically did, I lived on the couch in the living room, but that was also my solitude, so I didn’t mind it,” she said.
“The next morning, after he was done working on the car, I politely confronted him and asked him why he thought it was OK to put his hands on a female, and his response was ‘She hit me first and I had a right to defend myself.’ And he just wasn’t understanding of the fact that you don’t hit a woman, and that two wrongs don’t make a right.
“So after I’d confronted him it had escalated, and I was on the couch going to sleep and he was infuriated that I’d decided to stay on the couch without him telling me to go there, and he came up to me right in my face, grabbed my hair and pulled all 140 pounds of me off the couch by my hair. He straddled over top of me, and was hitting my face. And then began his signature move, which was holding the sides of my head and just hitting my head into the hardwood floors. He hit my head with so much force that I would literally see stars.
“The last thing he actually said to me on the last incident, when he was over top of me, was ‘You’re lucky I haven’t killed you yet.’ And that was really all I needed to hear, to put it into perspective. I really was lucky.
“This was the night that I said, this is it, I can’t do this any more,” she said.
“So then after that he helped me up — which I couldn’t for the life of me understand why, after an assault like that — and he told me to go into the bedroom to go to sleep. And I said I’d be in in a minute. And he went outside to smoke a cigarette, and while he was doing that I tucked my phone into the strap of my bra and pretended to be going to the bathroom. I texted my next-door neighbor, to please unlock her door, and to go on her front porch. I lived in a house that had 41 steps going up to it, and I asked her to go on her porch and if I didn’t make it down the stairs to call for help.
“Before leaving the house I secretly packed my purse with the things that I needed, with my phone charger, my glasses, things of that nature, so I was ready to go. I had to wait for him to get in the farthest room in the house, which was the bedroom, because we had an alarm on the door and the chimes would go off when the door opened.
“So as soon as I heard him sit on the bed, the squeaking of the bed, I opened the door and just ran for it. And he actually watched me and didn’t chase me — my neighbor later told me that he watched me run over to her house…
“But I made it to her house and without even speaking to her she knew that something was wrong. My face had contusions on it and I had been crying and we just hugged. Then we called the police. Their response time was phenomenal. It was actually four officers that responded.
“After they came and took my statement they went to go arrest him next door at our house, but he knew and he had fled the house. They didn’t end up arresting him until four days later. They’d called him at his parents’ house and his dad brought him down to the Ridgefield Police Station and they ended up arresting him there.”
Shannon admits it’s hard to understand why she let it go on so long, why she gave him a second chance.
“Around three months into it was when the first incident happened, which was the hot coffee. And that should have been my indicator. And I don’t know what it is that makes women stay. Because I’ve raised the bar now, and I can never picture myself tolerating that kind of behavior again,” she said. “Any kind of control is unacceptable. Things need to be equitable in a relationship.
“It so odd because in the whole time that all the abuse was going on, I never struck him back once, and to this day I don’t even know why. I wish I had. I wish I didn’t go down without a fight.”
Members of the Ridgefield Police Department encouraged her get free.
“One incident when they came to the house, they said ‘What are you doing with this guy?’ The police know my family on a friend level. They’d say ‘Are you and your dad talking yet?’ They really did care.
“One officer in particular would say, ‘You only get one dad’…
“If I’d see them in town they’d ask how everything was, and things like that.
“The night that they came, the final incident, they walked me next door so I could get my clothes for work, because I was staying with my neighbor until the day he was arrested. And they ran through the safety procedures: If you hear glass breaking, call us. They were just very attentive, and they kept me informed, always. They were phenomenal.
“After the second protective order, Brain had contacted me eight additional times, even with the protective order in place, and the Ridgefield Police took it very seriously, and he was re-arrested at a court appearance by the Ridgefield Police. They actually went to the courthouse and arrested him there. After that they had even made a point to call me so that I knew.”
She was also very grateful to victims advocate Lynn Nichols of the Women’s Center of Greater Danbury, who’d helped her get an order of protection extending out for 10 years.
“She was amazing,” Shannon said. “She kept me informed. She called before each of his court appearances, she would call me after each of his court appearances. There was never a lapse in communication.”
Ms. Nichols pushed hard for a order of protection with that long a duration. “I went into court and really represented that victim’s position: why she wanted it and why she wanted it for so long,” Ms. Nichols said. “The protective orders really have severe consequences. It’s a five-year jail sentence and it’s also a felony penalty if you violate them.”
Shannon is back on good terms with her family.
“Since Brian is out of the picture, my family is so strong that even though we didn’t speak for a year, when we came back together it was like nothing ever happened … There’s just no resentment or bad feelings. I think we’re all just grateful.”
There was one family member Shannon confided in, and who maintained relations with her.
“My Aunt Lori, she’s from Danbury, she was amazing,” Shannon said. “She was the person I talked to. She helped me work out the conflicts that I was dealing with.
“If I didn’t have my Aunt Lori to talk to, I might not have had the strength or courage to leave,” she said.
“It was scary, the thought of leaving. It doesn’t make any sense. Maybe there was a little co-dependency. I have a little fear of being alone. That, and I always I truly believed that I could get him better,” she said.
Through the months of abuse, Shannon covered up what was going on in her life.
“This just proves that you never know what goes on in someone else’s home. Because if you saw me in the supermarket, I was always happy, I always had a smile on. You just never would have known what I was dealing with at home,” she said
“I hope that nobody has to go through what I did, even in a milder form,” she said, “and it is so tough to get out. But I think being honest — having one person that you can confide in, whether it’s a relative, or a friend. Be honest with them. Talk it out with somebody. It’s overwhelming and it’s scary, the thought of leaving. But in the end it’s worth it.”