COVENTRY — Police never received a report of domestic violence at 6 Stage Road until Aug. 23, when Gregory S. Pawloski Jr. fatally shot his wife, Janice Lesko, before turning the gun on himself.
But more than a decade earlier in another town, a different woman in Pawloski’s life made a series of complaints about him, saying that he was violent on more than one occasion.
That the women’s situations appeared to be starkly different — but under the surface could have been similar — shows that the state needs to do a better job of recognizing domestic violence, said the head of the Connecticut Coalition Against Domestic Violence.
Karen Jarmoc, the group’s executive director, said she met with Pawloski’s former girlfriend, Kimberley Fontaine, after the deaths and gathered information about her troubled relationship with Pawloski.
Court documents show that Fontaine made several complaints about Pawloski as she sought restraining orders against him and changes in custody and visitation agreements over the past 11 years. Fontaine said that Pawloski attacked her when she was pregnant with their daughter and, years later, physically and emotionally abused both the child and herself.
During one incident, she said, he tried to get his hand on a gun, she said.
Most recently, in May, Fontaine sought to end Pawloski’s visitation rights with their teenage daughter, claiming that he was “very abusive” to her.
State records show that Pawloski was arrested twice on charges stemming from Fontaine’s complaints about domestic violence, although one of the cases was dropped.
In an application for a restraining order, Fontaine wrote about a violent clash that erupted at their Willington house when she tried to break up with him on Oct. 21, 2001.
Details about the arrest are not available because, by law, such records must be destroyed after 10 years, said Joe Sollima, administrative clerk at the Superior Court Records Center in Enfield.
But Fontaine recounted the assault and another incident with Pawloski in written testimony that she submitted to the General Assembly while lobbying for a bill that would require all domestic violence shelters in the state to be open 24 hours — a bill that was passed by the legislature.
Fontaine, recounting that night in 2001, said that after the childen were in bed, she told Pawloski that she had decided they had to go their separate ways.
“He went ballistic and was screaming and yelling,” she said. He ripped the phone out of the wall when she tried to call police, she said.
Pawloski, a hunter, quieted down and went outside. But he came back and forced his way back into the house as she tried to lock the door, she said.
He kept demanding the keys to their bedroom safe, which contained his .38-caliber Colt handgun, she said, and when she didn’t hand them over, he tried to break into it. She could hear the clicking sounds of the safe’s handle moving, and the sound of metal objects being used to pry it open as she huddled with her children in her daughter’s room, she said.
He pushed on one side of the door while she pushed back to keep him out, she said.
“As he pushed with all his strength on one side, I stood on the other, desperately trying to keep him out,” she said in her written testimony to legislators. “I kept telling him the police were on the way.”
He finally gave up and left in his car, only to be stopped by police less than 5 miles away. They arrested him.
Pawloski was charged with disorderly conduct and convicted on Nov. 20, 2001, of a substituted charge of breach of peace. He received a suspended six-month jail term, followed by two years of probation, at Superior Court in Rockville, according to a court clerk.
Fontaine said that her experience seems hauntingly similar to what happened in Coventry on Aug. 23.
When she heard about the murder-suicide, she said, “I pretty much fell apart, and said, ‘Oh my God, that’s what he almost did to me in 2001.'”
Fontaine also wrote in her court affidavit about an incident when she was eight months pregnant with their daughter.
Pawloski was arrested on March 9, 1998, after he was accused of grabbing her arm and twisting it in Willington, according to an article in The Courant. Charges of third-degree assault and disorderly conduct were not prosecuted, according to a list of court dispositions in a December 1998 issue of The Courant.
Fontaine said that the charges were dropped because Pawloski went through family violence and anger management counseling.
She also wrote that on March 21, 2002, Pawloski told customers at Hall’s Arrow in Manchester, where he was an archery technician, that “he is seeking someone to ‘shoot and kill my ex.'”
The restraining order was granted days later, on March 26.
In Jan. 24, 2003, Fontaine again applied for a restraining order. This time, she asked for full, permanent custody of her daughter, who then was 5.
In the document, she alleged that Pawloski abused the girl, engaging in “inappropriate, excessive spanking, physically leaving fingerprint bruises” on her leg. Pawloski never was arrested on child abuse charges.
Quoting their daughter, she wrote that Pawloski spanked the girl, “really really really really hard” and “pokes” her when she will not do as told. Asked to demonstrate the “poke,” the girl would dig her fingers into her own flesh, Fontaine wrote.
She also wrote that her daughter was afraid of her father and that she had been asking the staff at her day care at nap time whether his vehicle was outside before she would get up.
In addition, the girl exhibited “extremely aggressive and violent play, acting out killings,” Fontaine wrote.
After 2004, there was a 9-year lull in court activity until a recent request by Fontaine to stop Pawloski’s visits with their daughter. Fontaine wrote that he was “very abusive” to the girl, now 15, although she said on the phone that the alleged abuse was verbal.
There is no detail about Pawloski’s alleged behavior in the court documents, but Fontaine said he insulted their daughter in angry text messages that contained obscenities.
Pawloski agreed to go to counseling with their daughter, according to the court papers, although Fontaine filed a request to change the agreement on Aug. 19.
The next court date was scheduled for Tuesday, Sept. 3.
There were no requests for restraining orders from Janice Lesko. Calls for service from the house they shared didn’t even hint of physical abuse between the two, said Police Chief Mark A. Palmer.
Until the night of the murder-suicide, the only calls from the address were a 2006 call from a person — probably a passerby — who reported that a car in the driveway had its hatch open and a second in 2010 asking for advice about a child who was “disregarding household rules,” the chief said.
The second caller was not Pawloski or Lesko, he said.
The third call came in about 10:15 p.m. on Aug. 23 from the cellphone of a man who had been renting a room at the historic house, which, built in 1830, is on a hill overlooking the busiest intersection in town.
“The caller reported that there was some type of disturbance and ran outside,” Palmer said.
Hours later, members of a SWAT team found Lesko, 47, and Pawloski, 45, dead of gunshot wounds. Lesko had been shot in the chest; Pawloski in the head. Her death was ruled a homicide by the state medical examiner, and his was determined to be a suicide.
Jarmoc said that she and Fontaine want such deaths to stop. “I know that we have a shared goal of seeing the systematic response to victims of domestic violence to be consistently good.”
The coalition needs to spread the word about the signs that someone might become a victim, and that help is available around the clock, she said.
Signs of possible pending domestic abuse, or “risk factors,” include threats of violence and a breakup, separation or divorce, Jarmoc said.
“Quite often, a victim does not perceive herself to be a victim,” Jarmoc said.
The murder-suicide marks the state’s sixth homicide this year allegedly committed by an intimate partner, she said.
Guns are the weapon of choice: 66 people in Connecticut were killed between 2000 and 2011 by an intimate partner who used a gun.
If you or someone you know needs help preventing domestic violence, call the statewide toll-free hot line at 888-774-2900 to be connected to an agency in your area. Help is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, says the Connecticut Coalition Against Domestic Violence.
By Christine Dempsey, Hartford Courant