Alleged victim in Sullivan sex case wore wire
Charges filed against long-time local attorney Charles Sullivan Sr. are now being handled by Assistant State Attorney Julia Lynch, who heads up the Sex Crimes Unit for the 18th Judicial Circuit headquartered in Brevard County, and the evidence Lynch has to work with includes two recordings taped while the alleged victim wore a wire.
Though the affidavit police took to the judge to arrest Sullivan Sr. shows the 82-year-old confirming the actions the secretary is alleging took place, Sullivan’s defense team says the comments selectively chosen from the recorded conversations by investigators do not tell the whole story.
On Monday, June 22, ten days after the alleged victim claims she was groped and sexually molested by Sullivan, with whom she worked in the office suite of lawyers, the secretary was equipped by investigators with a recording device and sent back into her workplace to record conversations with him.
The next morning, she was sent back in with a wire to record another conversation.
Two detectives were nearby listening to the conversations to ensure her safety.
According to the probable cause affidavit which led to a warrant for Sullivan Sr.’s arrest on June 25, he and the secretary discussed the incident and he urged her to forget about it, saying, “You are going to ruin your life and mine too.” The affidavit also states that Sullivan apologized to the secretary after she asked for an apology.
The secretary reminded Sullivan of his actions and asked him in detail whether or not he remembered doing those things to her. Police say that on the tape recording, Sullivan acknowledged his actions – which included exposing himself to her and reaching under her skirt to very briefly molest her.
Sullivan can be heard to say on the tape that he acted that way because he was attracted to the woman, and tried to convince her to put the matter behind them and remain “buddies.”
The statements made by the alleged victim and by Sullivan Sr. were used, along with the allegations made by the secretary, to obtain a probable cause warrant for his arrest on June 25.
He turned himself in to the Indian River County Sheriff’s Office, spent one night in jail and was released on June 26 on $25,000 bond set at an initial appearance before Judge Joe Wild. The case has been assigned to Judge Robert Pegg.
Sullivan’s defense co-counsel Andy Metcalf, who is working the case with former State Attorney and veteran defense lawyer Bob Stone, says he believes police “cherry-picked” parts of the conversations and took them out of the context of the whole conversation, and that the entire taped conversations, when made public, could present a story quite different from that outlined by police.
“Both Mr. Stone and I are aware of the content of the recordings. The summary provided in the arrest affidavit is not fair and complete,” Metcalf said Monday. ”Thankfully, the entirety of the conversation will dictate how this case moves forward, not the selected words of the arrest affidavit.”
“It is obvious the arrest affidavit took statements and phrases out of context,” Stone added.
“Based on my 51 years experience, the tapes are more exculpatory than admissions. I know the case is assigned to an experienced prosecutor and she will consider everything available.”
Metcalf said the full transcript of the recordings would only be released after the prosecution files formal charges against Sullivan Sr. – which he says has not happened yet – and after defense attorneys demand the release of the evidence, a legal process which is called discovery.
“None of that is discoverable yet in this case,” Lynch said, beyond what is contained in the probable cause warrant affidavit.
Upon the filing of formal charges and the demand filing by the defense, prosecutors have 15 days to file an answer, which makes the documents public record.
Several weeks ago, Sullivan’s defense team called a press conference to tell reporters that they were launching their own investigation of the case, accusing the Vero Beach Police Department of being less than thorough, and indicating a “rush to judgment” possibly due to long-standing bad blood between Sullivan Sr. and Vero police.
Chief David Currey said the case was handled by the book and defended the integrity of his detectives involved in the Sullivan investigation.
“We are continuing our investigation and a number of witnesses have come forward. Some with pertinent, relevant facts and some with information that will require investigation and confirmation,” Metcalf said Monday. We are following up on each and every piece of information provided to our offices and will not jump to conclusions … Enough of that has been done already.”
Prosecution of the case was transferred outside the 19th Circuit on July 6 at the request of State Attorney Bruce Colton and by order of Gov. Rick Scott and assigned to the Sex Crimes and Child Abuse Unit in Brevard County’s 18th Circuit.
Assistant State Attorney Lynch, who has worked in the Sex Crimes and Child Abuse Unit since 1996 and served as its Division Chief since 2001, is a staunch victims’ advocate and volunteers her time with several local groups working to protect children, women and vulnerable adults.
Lynch said she’s taken two such out-of-circuit assignments in the past.
Lynch said in this case, she will travel to Vero for routine hearings on motions and for docket calls. A trial would venture into somewhat uncharted territory, she said. The two other cases she handled away from her office and staff resources did not go to trial as they ended in a plea deal.
Regarding the judge and the venue, Lynch said typically that a judge would not request to be taken off a case due to some perceived conflict or personal relationship until the case got to the point where the judge was asked to rule on something like whether certain evidence should be admissible. At that point, she said, the judge could ask both the prosecution and the defense if either side wanted a different judge if some perceived conflict or close personal relationship could exist.
“A change of venue would only occur if a jury could not be seated,” Lynch said, adding that on occasion, high-profile cases are covered so widely in the press that jurors cannot objectively set aside what they’ve seen, heard or read about a case or about a defendant.
Outside of court, Sullivan Sr. faces scrutiny not by a jury, but by his legal peers in the Florida Bar.
Beachside attorney John Stewart of Stewart Evans Stewart and Emmons has served on the Florida Bar’s Board of Governors for the past eight years. “Right now the Bar can only confirm that an investigation is pending,” Stewart said.” I am the designated reviewer for all grievance matters in the 19th Circuit.”
Florida Bar spokesperson Francine Walker said that there is no investigation pending into Sullivan’s son, Chuck Sullivan, to whom the secretary is said to have initially reported the incident.
Neither Stewart nor Walker would comment on the potential grounds for the bar’s investigation of Sullivan Sr. They both referred Vero Beach 32963 to Rule 3-4.4 of the code governing the Florida Bar regarding criminal misconduct.
That rule states that a “determination or judgment of guilt” of a Florida Bar member of a felony is cause for automatic suspension, but that disciplinary action can be initiated prior to a conviction or guilty plea.
“However, the board may, in its discretion, withhold prosecution of disciplinary proceedings pending the outcome of criminal proceedings against the respondent,” the rule says.
Also, it states, “The acquittal of the respondent in a criminal proceeding shall not necessarily be a bar to disciplinary proceedings nor shall the findings, judgment, or decree of any court in civil proceedings necessarily be binding in disciplinary proceedings.”