3 On Your Side Investigates: Under the Influence

Published: Jul. 14, 2022 at 6:00 PM CDT
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BYRAM, Miss. (WLBT) - Surveillance and body camera footage of a drunken Rankin County elected official reveals his mindset a few hours before he would end up being accused and later charged with rape.

The suspect, Rankin County Tax Assessor John Sullivan, remains under investigation by the Attorney General’s Office, which still has yet to tell the public about the arrest.

Byram police stopped Sullivan just after 2 a.m. on March 26, after dash camera video shows he was speeding and swerving out of his lane.

Initially, Sullivan told Officer Billy Cameron that he had “four Tito’s and vodka,” then later said he had three vodka and Red Bulls.

Officer Shawn Walters then went to check on the other people inside the Ford F-150 they stopped.

Body camera footage shows a young woman in the front passenger seat.

Shawn Walters: “How old are you?”

Nobody says a word.

Walters: “How old are you? Like for real, how old are y’all?”

Officer Walters then turns his focus to Sullivan, the driver.

Sullivan doesn’t know their ages either.

In fact, he doesn’t even know them all.

“I know some of them,” he tells Walters.

Walters: “I’m telling you, if I pull every one of them out, and they’re under age–”

Sullivan: “I know. I don’t know how old they are. I swear to God, I don’t know how old they are.”

Walters: “Somebody’s looking at a charge of contributing to the delinquency of a minor.”

Sullivan: “I didn’t give them nothing. I swear to God, I didn’t give them nothing.”

Sullivan said the group had been at Reed Pierce’s earlier, now known as Dockery Grill, on Siwell Road.

His breathalyzer reading that night registered 0.19, more than twice the legal limit.

After officers took him back to the police station, he blew again.

Documents show his BAC actually went up to 0.21.

“If he had left the establishment, say 1:50 a.m., and just finished his drink, his level is still on the rise. It hasn’t even begun to come back down,” said Byram Police Chief David Errington.

Errington said his officers also determined Sullivan’s five passengers were under the influence, too.

Three of the women were under 21. Two were 20. One was 19.

The department released Sullivan on his own recognizance and because none of the people in the truck could drive his vehicle, officers impounded his truck.

Errington did not release the name of the woman who picked up Sullivan and the rest of the passengers.

Within hours of that arrest, state investigators showed up to pay Errington a visit.

“The Attorney General’s investigator was here at the police department requesting our reports from Saturday night, they were wanting the DUI report and any incident reports involved in this case.”

Errington said he thought the move was unusual.

“At the time, I mean, we didn’t really know who John Sullivan was. You know, we’re in Hinds County, and he’s a public official in Rankin County,” Errington said.

Errington said agents also asked for camera footage — including the footage we obtained for this investigation.

“We were under the impression that he was you know, he was arrested for DUI and he’s in public office, at first, that’s what the AG’s office was investigating,” Errington said.

Ten days later, the AG’s office arrested Sullivan and charged him with rape.

News of his arrest by the AG’s office then began trickling out -- not from an official release by the agency -- but after someone noticed his booking in the Rankin County Jail, under the radar.

“When the charge came out, you know, we figured it may have something to do with the people that were in the truck with him that night,” Errington said.

An incident report from the Rankin County Sheriff’s Office – obtained exclusively by 3 On Your Side – shows the alleged rape happened less than two hours after Byram police released Sullivan.

The 19-year-old victim told the dispatcher it happened at Sullivan’s home in Florence, not far from Ridgeview Drive, and drinking was involved.

Sheriff Bryan Bailey told 3 On Your Side he called the AG’s office to investigate the incident because he didn’t want there to be any appearance of bias toward another elected Rankin County official.

The specific statute selected by the AG’s office indicates Sullivan is accused of giving that person a substance or liquid that prevented them from resisting.

“There’s a lot of coincidences, without us knowing and having access to the full investigation conducted by the Attorney General’s office. You know, there are some questions that need to be answered,” Errington said.

3 On Your Side reviewed dash cam and body cam footage during Sullivan’s DUI arrest to try and answer questions about what happened that night.

Surveillance video taken during Sullivan’s booking showed just how chatty he was, a few hours before he would be accused of rape.

“There’s some good-looking [expletive] whores back there,” Sullivan said, referencing the people in his truck.

More than once, Sullivan made reference to having sex in a hot tub.

“Four of them [expletive] going in the hot tub,” Sullivan said.

He also called himself a professional drunk, and mentioned other law enforcement officers, including an elected official, to try and get out of the DUI arrest.

Sullivan: “I text [Pearl Police Chief] Dean Scott and I text Bryan Bailey, and I know that doesn’t mean [expletive] to you.”

Walters: “No, no, I mean…”

Sullivan: “I’m just telling you, this is bad. It...it is what it is. I’m guilty.”

Sullivan pleaded guilty to DUI first offense and paid an extra fee to have it non-adjudicated, meaning it won’t go on his record.

In all, he paid more than $1,700.

A judge also ordered his license restricted and had an interlock placed on his vehicle.

Sullivan’s attempts during booking to get out of that arrest failed…but at one point Walters did offer him something.

“Look, I will send an email so your name doesn’t end up in the Facebook release,” Walters told him.

3 On Your Side checked the department’s Facebook page.

Sullivan’s name wasn’t mentioned at all.

Errington said Sullivan’s arrest wasn’t included in the Facebook post because at that point, his arrest was part of an ongoing AG investigation.

His officers also couldn’t charge Sullivan with getting his three minor passengers drunk because they couldn’t prove it.

But those same passengers told investigators they got their drinks from Dockery Grill.

“We conducted an undercover operation at knocker grill and we utilized two juvenile females in an attempt to purchase alcohol from the bartender,” Errington said.

Byram police arrested and charged the bartender – Joshua Burks – with contributing to the delinquency of a minor.

It’s unclear if Burks remains employed at the business.

Sullivan, meanwhile, remains behind his desk as tax assessor.

“The board of supervisors don’t have a role to play in that unless certain preconditions have been met under the statutes that address a vacancy in office,” said board attorney Craig Slay.

Elected officials can be removed if they are found guilty of a felony other than manslaughter, per statute.

In Sullivan’s case, he pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor DUI and has not yet been prosecuted for the felony rape charge.

The only other recourse for the public is to organize a petition to remove him from office, which involves several steps and is a lengthy process.

Slay said Rankin County supervisors can’t put Sullivan on suspension or administrative leave from his position because Sullivan was duly elected.

“That is not in the control of my board of supervisors. It’s gonna be totally up to John to decide how he wants to handle or navigate that,” Slay said.

Slay said the only person who could put Sullivan on leave for these charges is Sullivan himself, but he hasn’t done that.

He also hasn’t answered our questions about these criminal charges.

Instead, Sullivan referred us to his lawyer, Merrida Coxwell.

So we showed up at the tax assessor’s office.

Carrie Sheppard told us Sullivan and his second-in-command were both at a tax assesors’ conference in Biloxi this week.

Coxwell declined to comment on the case.

Meanwhile, Errington maintains his officers did everything by the book, saying most people arrested for first offense DUI are released on their own recognizance unless they have warrants or other charges pending.

But something still haunts him about that whole situation.

“Is it possible that one of the females that we encountered could be a victim shortly after he was released from the Byram Police Department? I do not know if that’s the case. We have not seen the Attorney General’s Office investigation. But I will say that that concern did cross my mind and still does,” Errington said.

One more thing: Sullivan has never publicly addressed these charges.

But during his booking in Byram, he did address his future in office.

Walters: “I’ll send an email to my chief and ask him not to release your information.”

Sullivan: “I appreciate that.”

Walters: “That way it doesn’t look like –”

Sullivan: “Listen, I’m good. I’m not running for re-election. I’ve got a year and ten months. So if you’re gonna catch me, this is when you’re [expletive] gonna catch me.

(a beat)

Sullivan: “You’re not gonna catch me again, though.”

Walters laughs.

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