After almost 20 years, justice is no closer for the alleged victims of Shawn Sullivan, a man accused raping a 14-year-old girl in the 1990s and molesting two others. Last week, a British High Court refused to extradite Sullivan—who holds both U.S. and Irish citizenship—unless prosecuting attorneys waived the possibility of enrolling Sullivan in Minnesota's civil commitment program.
London High Court Justices Alan Moses and David Eady said they would have extradited Sullivan, now 43, were it not for Minnesota's "draconian" sex offender program, according to an Associated Press report published in the Washington Post.
Sullivan is charged with rape—two counts of Criminal Sexual Conduct in the Third Degree—in Hennepin County. He also faces two counts of Criminal Sexual Conduct in the Second Degree in Dakota County. These crimes were alleged to have occurred in 1994 and 1993, respectively.
The first series of alleged abuses took place in Eagan, where Sullivan is accused of molesting two female relatives, then 11 years old, while they were staying with their grandmother.
The next case dates to January of 1994, when a 14-year-old met Sullivan while visiting a friend who worked at Rapid Oil Change in Bloomington. The two went for a ride in Sullivan's white Ford Bronco. At some point, Sullivan parked in the vicinity of Nesbitt Avenue and Old Shakopee Road, then allegedly plied the girl with vodka and peach schnapps until she passed out. When she came to, she found Sullivan in the act of intercourse with her.
Facing criminal charges, Sullivan apparently fled to Ireland. While abroad he was convicted of indecent assault in Ireland against two 12-year-olds, according to an article by the Star Tribune. He was sentenced to five years in prison for the 1997 assault, though ultimately the proscribed jail time was suspended. He is believed to have taken to the road again, fleeing to continental Europe.
Two years ago, Sullivan surfaced in London, where he’d been living under the name “O’Suilleabhain.”
Nevertheless, Lord Justices Moses and Eady endorsed Sullivan’s appeal against extradition after Hennepin County Attorney Michael O. Freeman and Dakota County Attorney James C. Backstrom refused to guarantee that Sullivan wouldn’t be placed in Minnesota’s civil commitment program.
Minnesota’s civil commitment program provides for the indefinite detention of people found to be “sexually psychopathic" or "sexually dangerous.” The judges called commitment to such a program “flagrant denial” of human rights, noting that offenders need not be mentally ill nor does the crime have to be recent.
Most troubling to the British High Court was the fact that the treatment program could keep detainees in a high-security facility for an indeterminate amount of time. As of 2011, a report by Minnesota's Legislative Auditor found that none of those who had been civilly committed had been judged rehabilitated and ready for release—the putative goal of the treatment program.
"Frankly, the London courts have more respect for civil liberties. It would have been an extradition if they knew he [Sullivan] wouldn't be subjected to indefinite civil commitment," Peter Wold, Sullivan's American defense attorney, told the Star Tribune. "That was the hang-up. Give them real treatment instead of warehousing them for the rest of their lives."
Local authorities said they were disappointed with the decision. Warrants for Sullivan’s arrest will remain active. Both county attorneys pledged to pursue criminal prosecution should Sullivan ever return to the United States.
The victims' attorney, Michael Hall III, said his clients' only recourse would be the civil courts. Hall filed a suit against Sullivan in January.