© 2022 St. Louis Public Radio
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00
0:00
Available On Air Stations
Government, Politics & Issues
The Midwest Newsroom is a partnership between NPR and member stations to provide investigative journalism and in-depth reporting with a focus on Iowa, Kansas, Missouri and Nebraska.

Eric Greitens accused by ex-wife of physically abusing his family, 'unstable and coercive' behavior

In this Aug. 2, 2016, file photo, Missouri Republican gubernatorial candidate Eric Greitens speaks to supporters in Chesterfield, Mo. The ex-wife of Missouri GOP Senate candidate Eric Greitens has accused him of physical abuse.
Michael Thomas
/
AP via KCUR
In this Aug. 2, 2016, file photo, Missouri Republican gubernatorial candidate Eric Greitens speaks to supporters in Chesterfield, Mo. The ex-wife of Missouri GOP Senate candidate Eric Greitens has accused him of physical abuse.

Updated at 10 a.m., March 22

The ex-wife of former Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens, a contender for the Republican nomination for U.S. Senate, alleged in a court filing that Greitens committed acts of physical violence against her and the couple's children, threatened to kill himself and made threats against her.

Sheena Greitens made the allegations in a sworn statement Monday that was filed in the couple’s divorce case in Missouri. She is attempting to have child-custody proceedings moved to Texas, where she now lives, because of her concerns about her former husband’s influence in Missouri as he seeks public office once again.

Now a public affairs professor at the University of Texas, Sheena Greitens filed for divorce in 2020 in Boone County, two years after Eric Greitens resigned in disgrace as governor on June 1, 2018.

A woman had accused Eric Greitens of sexual misconduct during an affair that started in 2015, saying he brought her to his basement, tied her up, took her clothes off and took a photograph of her without consent. The woman said the photograph was used as blackmail if she ever disclosed what happened.

Other scandals emerged during Greitens' time as governor, including accusations that he stole a donor list from a charity he founded.

St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner charged Greitens in 2018 with invasion of privacy for the alleged blackmail photograph but later dropped the charge.

Jackson County prosecutor Jean Peters Baker considered charges against Greitens when the case was transferred to her office. She ultimately did not bring a case against him, although Baker said she believed the victim’s statement about being photographed.

The investigation did not turn up the alleged photograph. But in Monday’s sworn testimony, Sheena Greitens said that Eric Greitens admitted to her in January 2021 that he did take the photograph, and that she would be exposed to legal jeopardy if she told anyone about it, including her family or therapist.

'Coercive behavior'

Sheena Greitens’ sworn testimony said in April 2018, about a month before Eric Greitens resigned, he knocked her down during an argument and confiscated her cell phone, wallet and keys. Sheena Greitens said when her mother confronted Eric Greitens about the incident, he said it was to prevent his wife from doing anything “that might damage his political career.”

Around that time, Sheena Greitens said she became afraid for her safety and that of her two young sons because of Eric Greitens’ “unstable and coercive behavior.”

“This behavior included physical violence toward our children, such as cuffing our then three-year-old son across the face at the dinner table in front of me and yanking him around by his hair,” Sheena Greitens said.

Gov. Eric Greitens walks away from reporters after making a statement outside the Circuit Court building. May 14, 2018
File photo | Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio
/

Sheena Greitens also said that her ex-husband made repeated threats to kill himself during the spring and summer of 2018 unless she “provided specific public support to him.” Those threats led to three separate instances in which others intervened to limit Eric Greitens’ access to guns, according to the affidavit.

“As I became afraid of his escalation of physical violence in early June 2018, I begged Eric to tell me where his firearm was – one that he had purchased in January 2018 and subsequently concealed from me,” Sheena Greitens wrote. “He refused, saying that I was not being sufficiently ‘cooperative.’ I started sleeping in my childrens’ room simply to try and keep them safe.”

Sheena Greitens also alleged that her ex-husband ordered her to delete emails she sent to her therapist.

“Eric threatened to accuse me of child abuse if I did not delete the emails and also convince the therapist to delete them,” Sheena Greitens wrote. “In the same call, he accused me of providing information both to the prosecutors who were investigating him and to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, and called me ‘hateful, disgusting, nasty, vicious…a lying (expletive).’”

In November 2019, Sheena Greitens wrote that one son came home from a visit with Eric Greitens with a swollen face, bleeding gums and a loose tooth, and that the child said Eric Greitens hit him. According to the affidavit, Eric Greitens said the two were roughhousing and that the hit was an accident.

Eric Greitens responds

On Monday, Eric Greitens denied the allegations by his ex-wife. The Greitens campaign released a statement saying he was a “great Dad” and that his ex-wife had a history of “emotionally-abusive behavior.”

“While he spent all of last week on a Spring Break with both of his boys, his ex-wife went to Washington D.C. for the week and prepared to launch what is clearly a politically-motivated attack against him, by releasing gross, completely false and allegations to the press, on the very week that the people who falsely-accused Greitens in 2018 are now going to trial,” the statement reads.

Next week, William Tisaby, an investigator hired by Kim Gardner in her office’s probe of Eric Greitens, is scheduled to go on trial in St. Louis on charges that he committed perjury and tampered with evidence during the course of the Greitens investigation.

Greitens has attempted to recast the events that led to his 2018 resignation as a politically coordinated smear campaign.

“One of the documented reasons Eric sought a divorce from Sheena, was because of her constant threats to lie about him, which she made repeatedly over many years, in the belief that the press would believe anything that she said,” the campaign’s statement said.

Calls to drop out

Four years after resigning as governor, Eric Greitens is now one of a crowded field of Republicans who seek to replace the retiring Sen. Roy Blunt in deeply red Missouri. Some polls show Eric Greitens leading the race for the Republican nomination for U.S. Senate.

Before Monday's news, some Republicans had been leery of Greitens’ candidacy, worried that his questionable past could cost the party what should otherwise be a safe Senate seat.

Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt, who is also running in the Republican primary for U.S. Senate, said the allegations were “disgusting and sickening” and that Eric Greitens should leave the race.

"The behavior described in this affidavit is cause for Eric Greitens to be in prison, not on the ballot for U.S. Senate," Schmitt wrote. "He should end his campaign immediately.

U.S. Rep. Vicky Hartzler, a Republican, said in a video statement that it was time for Eric Greitens to get out of the race and seek professional help.

"Real men never abuse women and children. Period, end of story," Hartzler said.

Lucas Kunce, a Missouri Democrat running for U.S. Senate, said he agreed with Hartzler, and went further to suggest that Eric Greitens should be in jail.

Scott Sifton, a former Missouri state senator and current Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate, said Eric Greitens was unfit to serve in office.

"His well-established pattern of conduct shows he has no business representing Missouri," Sifton said in a statement. "I called on him to resign as Governor four years ago, and today I am calling on him to withdraw from the U.S. Senate race."

U.S. Sen. Josh Hawley, a Missouri Republican, also called for Eric Greitens to abandon the race.

"If you hit a woman or a child, you belong in handcuffs, not the United States Senate," Hawley said on Twitter.

Eric Greitens' campaign so far has offered no indication that he will consider leaving the contest.

Anita Manion, assistant professor of political science at the University of Missouri - St. Louis, said she did not expect Eric Greitens to leave the race.

"I think he really brings himself in much the way that former President Trump did: You never sort of admit defeat, you never apologize, and you just keep moving forward," Manion said. "So that's what I would expect from Eric Greitens."

Manion said she anticipated Monday's revelations would have a significant impact on Eric Greitens' candidacy.

"It's not just the big time fundraising, it's the grassroots, it's the events, it's pairing up with other down-ballot candidates," Manion said. "And I think that just folks in general are going to want to distance themselves from Eric Greitens."

St. Louis Public Radio's Sarah Kellogg contributed to this report.

Send questions and comments about this story to feedback@stlpublicradio.org.