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Shawn Sullivan on a mountain bike near his home in West London.

London Media, London Media

Minnesota women await justice in 1994 sex abuse case

  • Article by: PAM LOUWAGIE
  • Star Tribune
  • December 2, 2011 - 12:04 PM

For nearly two decades, Jessica Schaefer wondered if authorities would ever find the man who she says took away her innocence.

At age 11, she and her cousin told police that Shawn Eugene Sullivan, a male relative in his 20s, had exposed himself and groped them both in her grandparents' Eagan home. But before police could arrest him, he was gone.

For 17 years, Sullivan lived and traveled in Europe and elsewhere even as he was wanted in Minnesota. Finally, in the summer of 2010, an Eagan detective delivered news that brought Schaefer and her cousin some relief: Sullivan, now 43, had been arrested in London and prosecutors were working to bring him back. He faces criminal sexual conduct charges not only in their 1994 case, but also for allegations that he had raped a 14-year-old girl in Bloomington around that same time.

"I've waited for so long for the police to finally find Shawn," said Schaefer, now 29. "I'm at the point now where I'm angry and I'm fed up and I'm ready for some answers."

Sullivan denies the Minnesota charges and is fighting extradition. A hearing is set for Jan. 20. "He's not guilty," said Peter Wold, Sullivan's defense attorney in Minneapolis. "All these are, are allegations."

Sullivan told authorities he was already on parole for an unspecified violation in 1994, when he was living in Minnesota. For some of that time, he was living with relatives in Eagan, where he met Schaefer and her cousin.

In interviews this week, the women said that Sullivan, 24 at the time, was charming, taking them to lunch and treating them like adults, even though they were only 11. He horsed around a back-yard swimming pool with them, Schaefer said. He bought them gifts and let them sit on his lap to drive his truck.

The women, who still live in the Twin Cities area, said he also showed them photos of women, some naked and in sexually suggestive positions.

The girls told police in 1994 that Sullivan would come out of the shower wearing only a towel and would drop it or position it so the girls could see his genitals, according to a criminal complaint. While they were in his room using a computer, the girls told police, he lay on the bed with them one at a time, rubbed their legs and slipped his hand inside their shorts.

"He would tell us that we're the ones that make him do this," Schaefer said in the interview.

In the Bloomington case, Sullivan allegedly met a 14-year-girl at an oil-change shop. He took her for a ride, parked the vehicle and gave her vodka and peach schnapps, according to the complaint. The girl passed out in the back seat and told police she woke up to find Sullivan having sex with her, according to the charges.

Hannah Treziok, now 32, said the past 18 years have been "a horrible roller coaster ride." She said she went to the shop to see a boy who worked there, and that the boy told her to go for a ride with Sullivan while workers finished up and closed the business for the day. She went, thinking it was safe because shop workers knew Sullivan, she said. She immediately reported the rape after he dropped her off at 2:30 a.m., according to the complaint.

Minnesota officials said a warrant for Sullivan's arrest was issued in March 1994.

"It just seems to me that's the kind of person that deserves to be stopped," said Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman, one of two county attorneys seeking Sullivan's extradition.

What Sullivan says

Wold said making accusations is "easy" and something that "happens all the time."

In London court proceedings last year, Sullivan said he left the United States in early 1994, shortly after being questioned by police about the Eagan allegations. He told court officials that he thought the matter had been resolved and that he was unaware of the Bloomington allegations until he was arrested by British authorities in 2010.

However, a London judge concluded that Sullivan fled the United States and never returned to visit his family because he feared prosecution. The judge also found that Sullivan obtained an Irish passport, spelling his name in Gaelic and making it hard to link to his American name.

Sullivan was sentenced in Ireland for an unspecified criminal offense in 1997, a British court document shows. The judge said the case apparently involved a sexual offense against a child. Irish and British newspapers reported that Sullivan got a suspended jail sentence for sexually assaulting two 12-year-old girls.

Dakota County Attorney James Backstrom said authorities heard Sullivan was in Ireland but he was gone before they could file extradition documents. Sullivan was also arrested but not detained in Switzerland after he used a card with the American spelling of his name, according to court records.

In 2007, Interpol notified 190 member countries that a warrant had been issued for Sullivan's arrest. Sullivan gave a false name to police when they showed up to take him into custody last year, court records show. British authorities signed the extradition order in February.

Backstrom said Sullivan's European attorneys are opposing extradition in part by arguing that Sullivan could be civilly committed as a predatory offender if he is returned to the United States -- something that could amount to a life sentence in Minnesota. Backstrom and other prosecutors have challenged that claim as pure speculation.

Sullivan's extradition also could be complicated by his reported marriage to an employee of Britain's Ministry of Justice, which oversees the courts. Sullivan married Sarah Louise Smith in a jailhouse ceremony in 2010. A report in London's Sun said the marriage allows Sullivan to fight extradition by claiming it will destroy his family.

'I'm putting a stop to this'

"When I found out he married this lady that has connections with the Ministry of Justice ... it was like, no more," Schaefer said. "I'm putting a stop to this. I mean, it's not fair that he's living his life the way that he intended to and not have any consequences or be held accountable for his actions."

Schaefer said the past 18 years have brought a stream of nightmares and therapy. She said she is distrustful of others and fears something happening to her young daughter.

Schaefer's cousin, who didn't want her name used, said she didn't talk about the incident for years -- not to a therapist, not to friends, not to family. She felt sick when she heard reports of children being molested and tensed up whenever she saw a red and white Ford Bronco like the one Sullivan used to drive.

Treziok, who also still lives in Minnesota, said the Bloomington incident has shaped her life in major ways; she has gone through therapy and has been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, she said.

"I felt like I did what I was supposed to do," she said. "I reported the assault right away trying to not only, you know, serve other girls, but do the right thing ... I feel like my justice escaped with him."

She went to school for criminal justice, she said, so she could help other victims.

"It's just an attempt to see justice in any way that I can," she said. "And make sure that if I can't have my justice, other people are getting theirs."

London freelance writer Ian Evans contributed to this report. Photo by London Media. Pam Louwagie • 612-673-7102

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