By Aaron C. Davis and Shawn Boburg / The Washington Post
WASHINGTON — In the months that he has served as President Donald Trump’s acting secretary of defense, Patrick Shanahan has worked to keep domestic violence incidents within his family private. His wife was arrested after punching him in the face, and his son was arrested after a separate incident in which he hit his mother with a baseball bat. Public disclosure of the nearly decade-old episodes would re-traumatize his young adult children, Shanahan said.
On Tuesday, Trump announced in a tweet that Shanahan would not be going through with the nomination process, which had been delayed by an unusually lengthy FBI background check, “so that he can devote more time to his family.” Trump announced in May that he would nominate Shanahan but the formal nomination process in the Senate had been inexplicably delayed.
The president added that the Secretary of the Army, Mark Esper, will be the new acting secretary.
“I know Mark, and have no doubt he will do a fantastic job!” Trump said in a second tweet on the subject.
Shanahan spoke publicly about the incidents in interviews with The Washington Post on Monday and Tuesday.
“Bad things can happen to good families … and this is a tragedy, really,” Shanahan said. Dredging up the episode publicly, he said, “will ruin my son’s life.”
In November 2011, Shanahan rushed to defend his then 17-year-old son, William Shanahan, in the days after the teenager brutally beat his mother. The attack had left Shanahan’s ex-wife unconscious in a pool of blood, her skull fractured and with internal injuries that required surgery, according to court and police records.
Two weeks later, Shanahan sent his ex-wife’s brother a memo arguing that his son had acted in self-defense.
“Use of a baseball bat in self-defense will likely be viewed as an imbalance of force,” Shanahan wrote. “However, Will’s mother harassed him for nearly three hours before the incident.”
Details of the incidents have started to emerge in media reports about his nomination, including a USA Today report Tuesday about the punching incident in 2010.
In an hour-long interview Monday night at his apartment in Virginia, Shanahan, who has been responding to questions from The Washington Post about the incidents since January, said he wrote the memo in the hours after his son’s attack, before he knew the full extent of his ex-wife’s injuries. He said it was to prepare for his son’s initial court appearance and that he never intended for anyone other than his son’s attorneys to read it.
“That document literally was, I sat down with [my son] right away, and being an engineer at an aerospace company, you write down what are all of the mitigating reasons something could have happened. You know, just what’s the list of things that could have happened?”
As he later wrote in the divorce case, Shanahan said Monday that he does not believe there can be any justification for an assault with a baseball bat, but he went further in the interview, saying he now regrets writing the passage.
“Quite frankly it’s difficult to relive that moment and the passage was difficult for me to read. I was wrong to write those three sentences,” Shanahan said.
“I have never believed Will’s attack on his mother was an act of self-defense or justified. I don’t believe violence is appropriate ever, and certainly never any justification for attacking someone with a baseball bat.”
Kimberley Shanahan, who has since changed her name to Kimberley Jordinson, has not responded to repeated efforts by reporters to contact her via email, text, phone and social media since January seeking comment about the incidents.
Patrick Shanahan’s response when his family was split by acts of domestic violence — including steps he took to manage his son’s surrender to police and to try to keep him out of jail — is detailed in court filings that have not been previously reported. Court records also contain an earlier episode in which both Shanahan and his wife alleged they were assaulted by one other and she was arrested.
The Defense Department has long struggled with its own responses to domestic violence, and it has faced a fresh wave of criticism since shortly after Shanahan became deputy secretary of defense in July 2017.
In November of that year, an airman who had been court-martialed for assaulting his wife and stepson killed 26 people and wounded 22 others in a Texas church. A Defense Department investigation later faulted the Air Force for repeatedly failing to submit the serviceman’s fingerprints to a civilian database, which it said should have prevented him from purchasing the firearms used in the mass shooting.
Last month, the Department of Defense Office of Inspector General admonished the Army, Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps, saying they failed for decades to consistently follow policies requiring military police to thoroughly process crime scenes and to interview witnesses following allegations of nonsexual domestic abuse. The watchdog said that in 180 of 219 cases it reviewed, the branches failed to submit criminal histories and fingerprints of offending servicemen to civilian authorities.
Shanahan said his personal experience with domestic violence has taught him there are no simple policy prescriptions. He said domestic violence rates in the military will only improve if the services can change the way they talk about the stresses of serving in the armed forces in a more honest and natural way.
“There’s not one size that fits all, I mean, it’s a very complicated issue,” he said. “It’s not as simple as take this training class or apply these resources, or, you know, look for these kinds of symptoms. I mean, it’s not that simple. There are all sorts of dimensions, whether it’s mental health, or addiction, or stress in the home. It’s a very toxic concoction.
“The thing that’s probably, like a lot of other issues … is having a buddy system of people who really care about you and can intervene. What I’ve learned is extremely important.”
Patrick Shanahan, 56, climbed the ranks at Boeing over more than two decades. An exacting, hard-charging executive who worked grueling hours, he earned the sobriquet “Mr. Fix It” for his ability to turn around sputtering projects worth billions of dollars, such as the aerospace giant’s delayed 787 Dreamliner program.
When he joined the Pentagon in 2017 as assistant secretary of defense, Shanahan was a vice president, overseeing manufacturing and supplier management. He joined Boeing in 1986 and later was credited with getting the 787 back on track after years of production problems. During his career, he managed the 737, 747, 767, 777 and 787 programs and was responsible for operations at Boeing’s main manufacturing sites in Everett, Renton and North Charleston, South Carolina.
He also worked on the company’s defense side, where he oversaw U.S. Army aviation, including helicopter programs such as the CH-47 Chinook, the Bell-Boeing V-22 Osprey tiltrotor and the AH-64D Apache attack helicopter.
A Seattle native, Shanahan studied mechanical engineering at the University of Washington, where he served as a regent until 2017.
By 2010, Shanahan was earning more than $935,000 annually in salary and bonuses, court records show. The family lived in an upscale neighborhood of Seattle.
But there was turbulence in Shanahan’s personal life with his wife of 24 years. Shanahan and two of his children interviewed by The Post said Kimberley was growing more erratic. One Thanksgiving, she threw the entire dinner on the floor, saying the family did not appreciate her efforts, they said. A birthday cake his daughter baked for Patrick Shanahan was similarly destroyed, they said.
Things culminated with a physical dispute in August 2010. According to Patrick Shanahan, the incident began when he was lying in bed, following an argument with Kimberley Shanahan about their oldest child.
Shanahan said he had his eyes closed, trying to fall asleep and his wife came in the bedroom and punched him in the face, then more times in his torso.
“I was seeing stars,” Shanahan said, but he didn’t react, saying he believes that only further enraged his wife.
She then began throwing her husband’s clothes out of a window, according to police and court records, and tried to set them on fire, with a propane tank she couldn’t dislodge from a barbecue grill and later with burning paper towels.
Another physical altercation ensued, with police records indicating Kimberley Shanahan swung at Patrick Shanahan. She called the police and claimed that he punched her in the stomach, an allegation he denies.
When officers arrived, they found him with a bloody nose and scratches on his face, police records show. Authorities charged his wife with domestic violence.
Shanahan later dropped the charges.
Patrick Shanahan soon filed for divorce. The file would grow to more than 1,500 pages.
Baseball bat attack
Kimberley Shanahan won custody of the children and moved to Florida. Patrick Shanahan remained in Seattle, but the couple’s eldest daughter would soon rejoin him to attend college.
Shortly after midnight on Wednesday, Nov. 23, 2011, Kimberley Shanahan and William got into “a verbal dispute” over her suspicion that the 17-year-old was in a romantic relationship with a 36-year-old woman, according to a police report.
According to police, just after 1:30 a.m., William “shoved and pinned his mother against a bathroom wall” before grabbing a $400 Nike composite baseball bat “to swing at her head,” striking her multiple times.
“I attempted to run away from Will, but as I reached the laundry room, he struck me with the bat in the back of my head,” Kimberley Shanahan wrote in a court filing in the divorce case. “The last thing I remember from before I lost consciousness is the impact of the bat, and blood gushing everywhere.”
William, Sarasota police wrote, struck several blows to his mother’s head and torso and left her “to lie in a pool of blood” and then “unplugged the landline phone cord depriving the victim and [the younger brother] the use of 911 to render aid.”
As William fled the home, situated in an exclusive, barrier-island development called Bird Key just outside Sarasota, he “tossed a bottle of rubbing alcohol” to his younger brother and told him “you clean her up,” according to the police report.
The younger brother called 911 from a neighbor’s phone, according to police records.
Within hours, William contacted his father who immediately booked a predawn flight to Florida, according to court records and documents provided by the Pentagon.
Kimberley Shanahan was hospitalized early that morning and later required surgery, she wrote in a divorce filing. Among her injuries were a fractured skull and elbow, according to the police report.
While she was in the hospital, authorities began to search for William, according to records released to The Post by Sarasota police.
Police distributed a photo of Shanahan to patrol cars on Bird Key. They tried to track William’s cellphone, but it appeared to be turned off, police wrote. They canvassed a local park and bridges to the mainland. They searched a local yacht club. But there was no trace of him, according to records.
Patrick Shanahan landed in Florida just before 5 p.m. on Wednesday. He arranged to stay with William in a hotel.
“Mr. Shanahan’s response when he learned of the assault was to book Will a hotel room,” Kimberley Shanahan wrote.
Shanahan said it’s a bit of a blur.
“It was a hard time to see your son, hopefully you’ll never be in that spot some day,” he said. “I wasn’t hiding. We got a hotel and talked to the attorney and we just camped out.”
Shanahan did not visit the hospital where his ex-wife was taken, his ex-wife later wrote in a divorce filing. Instead, over four days that included Thanksgiving, Shanahan worked to assemble a defense team and to enlist family members and friends to attend an initial hearing to try to persuade a judge to let his son stay out of jail while he fought the charges.
Derek Byrd, head of a well-known Sarasota defense firm hired by Patrick Shanahan to represent his son in the criminal case, said in an interview that the elder Shanahan acted appropriately by not contacting police until his son could consult a defense attorney, a process that was delayed by the Thanksgiving holiday.
Byrd also said that Patrick Shanahan was not aware that police were searching for his son in the days after the attack.
“I don’t think Pat handled that time frame inappropriately,” Byrd said in an interview. “I think he was just doing what a reasonable dad should probably do. I’m sure the timeline looks bad on paper, but he didn’t do anything that I consider out of the ordinary, and he wasn’t hiding Will.”
Byrd said Patrick Shanahan first contacted his firm within a day of arriving in Florida, either Wednesday night or Thursday, which was Thanksgiving. He said a lawyer from the firm could not meet with the Shanahans until Friday morning, after the holiday.
Later on Friday, another attorney from the firm contacted the detective handling the case, Det. Kenneth Halpin.
According to the detective’s report, the attorney said he would arrange for the younger Shanahan to turn himself in — after two more days, on Sunday evening, Nov. 27.
“Detective Halpin trusted us to do that,” Byrd told The Post. “He said, ‘Fine.’ “
Halpin told The Post that he could not recall the conversation but would have likely cast it differently:
“If someone calls and says they’re going to turn in a suspect on a Sunday night and he’s already lawyered up with someone who has a reputation like Byrd, for being on TV, what can you do? You can’t force an attorney to turn in his client,” Halpin said, adding that: “I’m sure I would have also told him that there’s paper out for him, so they’re still going to snatch him up, if he’s found.”
That Sunday night, Patrick Shanahan drove William to a police station to surrender, according to police records and a timeline of events prepared by the Pentagon.
His mother attended his court appearance the next morning.
“My neighbor took me to the court hearing and both of us were shocked to see Pat in the courtroom,” she wrote in the divorce, saying she had believed until then that he had been in Seattle.
Patrick Shanahan and Byrd came to the hearing prepared to plead for the younger Shanahan to remain out of custody, citing his baseball career at an exclusive youth sports academy and prep school attended by sons and daughters of major league athletes.
“He’s a college baseball prospect. He has dreams. He has a future. His father is an executive of Boeing,” Byrd said, according to an audio recording that the court released to The Post. “If he has to sit in jail for 21 days, not only is that going to traumatize him, he’s not going to finish the semester, probably get kicked off the baseball team … everything is going to be over for him.”
Patrick Shanahan also vouched for his son.
“He doesn’t believe in violence,” he told the judge, “I’ve never seen him act aggressively toward his brother or any other family members, so it’s a shock to me, what has happened.”
The judge declined to release William Shanahan, calling pictures of the crime scene “horrendous.”
He was initially charged with two felonies, aggravated battery and tampering with a victim, and faced up to 15 years in prison.
In the divorce filing is the four-page memo Patrick Shanahan wrote at the time.
It lists “mitigating circumstances” that should be considered in evaluating the alleged assault.
A Pentagon spokesman provided a copy of the email containing the memo retained by Shanahan’s brother-in-law, showing it had been sent on Dec. 8, 2011, two weeks after the attack, and 10 days after Patrick Shanahan was present at the court hearing with his injured ex-wife.
First, Patrick Shanahan wrote, his 17-year-old son had “acted in self-defense.”
“She fueled the situation by berating him repeatedly in his room in a manner that escalated emotionally and physically,” he wrote.
The memo continues, alleging a history of substance abuse, emotional abuse and violent tendencies by Kimberley Shanahan. “Over the last 7+ years I have worked as much as possible, partially out of a desire to avoid inevitable conflicts with Kim,” Shanahan wrote. It casts his ex-wife as the instigator in conflicts with him and their children. “It appears that when I was not around to yell at, she started becoming intensely focused on berating, terrorizing and beat them down emotionally.”
Kimberley Shanahan disputed those characterizations.
“I have always been a very loving and dedicated mom,” she wrote in a court filing responding to the memo, “and I have never emotionally abused any of my children for any period of time.”
Kevin Cameron, Kimberley Shanahan’s brother, said he was not bothered by Patrick Shanahan’s memo because he believed Shanahan wrote it before he had all of the facts about the assault.
“If anything, I believe Pat fully understands and is better equipped to deal with domestic violence than most people,” Cameron wrote in a letter to The Post. “He has seen it. He has lived it. He understands that domestic violence is real and prevalent. He understands that it can impact anyone of any age, gender, race and socioeconomic status.”
Kris Roberts, a police officer who assisted in the search for William Shanahan, recalled that after the arrest, his father was a “hindrance” in a follow-up matter, as police investigated whether there had been an inappropriate relationship between the adult woman and William. Under Florida law, William was too young at the time to have had a consenting sexual relationship with the woman. Roberts, a retired detective with the Longboat Key Police Department, said the father, whom she could not remember by name, would not turn over his son’s cellphone.
After the surrender to police, “his father would not talk to me; he wasn’t helping,” Roberts said. “I remember he had a West Coast address, Seattle maybe, and when he left, the son’s cellphone was just gone.” Roberts said she believes Patrick Shanahan took his son’s cellphone back to Seattle with him.
Roberts said that without the cooperation of the father, the investigation fell apart. “We only had one love letter between them, but it didn’t speak to anything sexual,” Roberts said. The adult woman “soon lawyered up, too, and we moved on.”
Byrd, the attorney for William Shanahan; an attorney who represents Patrick Shanahan in Seattle; and a Shanahan spokesman said they were not aware of a formal request for the cellphone.
Prosecutors would go on to charge William as an adult with one felony: aggravated battery with a deadly weapon. He pleaded down to a third-degree felony, and in 2012, a state prosecutor agreed to a “withhold of adjudication,” curtailing the length of the sentence and probation. The post-sentencing maneuver is not recognized outside of Florida and William’s record could not be sealed or expunged in the state because it involved a violent domestic assault.
William was ordered to spend 18 months at a Florida Sheriff’s Youth Ranch and sentenced to four years’ probation. Both penalties were later reduced.
The following year, in 2013, William enrolled at the University of Washington, according to his LinkedIn page. His father had recently joined the university’s board of regents. The family had other ties to the school. Patrick’s father, Michael, had served as police chief for the university for more than two decades.
William graduated last June with a degree in political science, a university spokesman said.
Kimberley Shanahan lost custody of the couple’s youngest child in 2014, when a judge wrote that she had “engaged in abusive use of conflict that is seriously detrimental” to the child. According to multiple accounts, she is now estranged from all three of her children. At his last confirmation hearing, to become deputy secretary of defense in June 2017, all three children were sitting behind Patrick Shanahan.
None of the senators asked him about domestic violence.
Ashley Nguyen of The Washington Post contributed from Seattle. The Associated Press and the Herald staff also contributed.