The alleged victims say their action is another way to hold Shawn Sullivan, who is charged with raping one minor and groping two others, accountable.
As prosecutors try to extradite from England a man charged with sexually abusing three girls in Minnesota nearly two decades ago, the girls -- now women -- have served him with a lawsuit.
The suit, which their lawyer said was served Friday in London, accuses Shawn Eugene Sullivan of raping 14-year-old Hannah Treziok in his SUV in Bloomington and groping two 11-year-old relatives, cousins Jessica Schaefer and Sheena Perry, at their grandmother's Eagan home almost two decades ago. The allegations are similar to criminal charges filed in 1994 in Hennepin and Dakota counties.
The three said they decided to sue because they want to hold Sullivan accountable even if he isn't extradited. "If Shawn would have stayed here, faced the allegations ... maybe we wouldn't have to have taken it to this level," Schaefer said in an interview Saturday.
Sullivan is fighting extradition. His Minneapolis attorney, Peter Wold, said Sullivan is "absolutely not guilty." Wold said earlier that making allegations is "easy."
Sullivan left the United States after the allegations surfaced in early 1994. He eventually traveled to several European countries, moves the lawsuit calls "a history of successfully evading arrest." He told court officials in Europe that he thought the Eagan matter had been resolved and was unaware of the Bloomington allegations until he was arrested by British authorities in 2010.
Shortly after the allegations surfaced in Minnesota, police tried to arrest him at the Apple Valley townhouse of his then-girlfriend, but he fled to a neighboring townhouse through the attic, the suit alleges.
"While Sullivan's girlfriend delayed police at the front door of her town home, Sullivan crawled into the attic, broke a hole through the ceiling of an adjoining town home, and evaded police by hiding there until the search was over," the suit says. Later, "Sullivan had his girlfriend drive him to the airport, and ... fled the country."
In phone interviews, the ex-girlfriend, whom the Star Tribune is not naming because she has not been charged with any crime, said that at the time she had no idea Sullivan was accused of abusing minors.
"I thought he was normal," she said. "I thought he was really handsome and charming."
On the morning police arrived at her place, Sullivan told her not to let them in, she said.
On the advice of a family member, she barred police until they got a warrant, she said. When police secured the warrant, she left for work thinking that they would find Sullivan in her home, but they didn't.
Later that day, when she got home, he showed up and asked her to take him to the airport. She obliged, she said. "It was a dumb, dumb decision, and I regretted it immediately. ... I just wanted him away. I wanted the police away," she said.
She said she tried to ask him what was going on and where he was going, but he wouldn't give her any details.
Police didn't figure out how Sullivan escaped until a neighbor reported a burglary and evidence showed that an intruder had entered the home through the adjacent attic, Eagan detective Brian Gunderson said.
'All of us ... lacked closure'
For the next 18 years, the three girls wondered if Sullivan would be found to face the charges, they said. They received updates from authorities that he had surfaced in a few places abroad.
The lawsuit said Sullivan was arrested in Ireland in 1996 on suspicion of sexually assaulting two 12-year-old girls after giving them alcohol. Sullivan pleaded guilty to the charges but was given a suspended sentence after a judge heard testimony from his wife, whom he had married while in Ireland, the lawsuit says.
While in London, the lawsuit said, he began a relationship with another woman who later obtained a job with the country's Ministry of Justice, which oversees the courts. Sullivan went on to marry the woman, Sarah Smith, in a jailhouse ceremony after he was arrested by British officials in June 2010 at the request of U.S. authorities. Shortly after getting married, he was released on bail, the lawsuit says.
In an interview Saturday at their attorney's Edina office, the women said their reasons for suing include wanting Sullivan to face a civil form of justice and to empower abuse victims to speak up. The assaults have affected them over the past 18 years, they said.
"Clearly all of us have lacked closure or any sort of, you know, feeling of validation or empowerment," Treziok said. "I think that really restricts your capability of moving forward."
Perry said she and Schaefer kept quiet about it for a long time, and now she feels she has a voice.
Sullivan has 20 days to respond to the suit and eventually could be required to appear in court, said the women's attorney, Michael Hall III. If Sullivan chooses not to answer the lawsuit at all, they will seek a default judgment against him, which he could be held responsible for paying, Hall said.
"This guy needs to be finally -- after almost two decades -- held accountable for ... what he did," Hall said.
The suit seeks damages of more than $50,000 -- standard language in Minnesota lawsuits -- but Hall said the main objective isn't money.
"I don't think anybody in this room has an expectation that he's going to ever end up paying," said Hall, who is handling the case on a contingency fee basis. "Sometimes you do these things not just to get paid but because it's right."
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