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Sullivan case ends after discovery of calls from accuser to Vero cop

Photo: Cpl. Darrell Rivers

Unbeknownst to the detectives who investigated allegations of sexual battery against long-time attorney Charles Sullivan Sr. by a secretary in his office, the perfect fodder for speculation that would ultimately torpedo their case was right under their noses at the Vero Beach Police Department.

Conjecture concerning a large number of telephone calls from the accuser to the personal cell phone of 27-year police officer Cpl. Darrell Rivers threw up insurmountable hurdles in the prosecutor’s path to a conviction.

The nature of Rivers’ involvement with the alleged victim – both of them married – could easily have become an intriguing sideshow for the jury.

That’s why prosecutors decided not to charge Sullivan, 82, and let him walk without having to face a trial.

Rivers, a Vero native who announced in March that he would challenge Sheriff Deryl Loar in the 2016 Republican primary, said he wants to set the record straight and get beyond it all.

“She was helping me out in my campaign for Sheriff, helping me get petitions signed by people in her office,” Rivers said. “And my wife’s mother died and left a house that was still stuck in probate and we were working with Chuck Sullivan Jr. on getting the house put in my wife’s name and some of the phone calls were about that.

“I don’t have a bill or anything, we hadn’t gotten that far, but he said he’d charge me $1,500 for the work. My wife was on some of those phone calls made from the office to my phone.”

Rivers said the secretary, a friend and neighbor of his for nearly a dozen years, confided in him about the escalating sexual attention she was receiving from her boss, Sullivan Sr.

“She’d call me and tell me about how he’d touch her breasts. Some days she’d be crying and some days she wouldn’t,” he said.

“I asked her, ‘Are you telling me this as a friend, or as a police officer, because there’s a difference?’ and she said she was telling me as a friend.”

When the inappropriate behavior did not stop, Rivers said he urged her to tell her husband and to tell Chuck Sullivan Jr. about it to try to make it stop. When it did not stop, Rivers said he suggested his friend go to the police, which she ultimately did in mid-June.

Chief David Currey said he knew that the secretary originally intended to report the incident to the Indian River County Sheriff’s Office. “Darrell asked her where it happened and she said at the office, which is in the City of Vero Beach, so he told her she should come to us,” Currey said.

Rivers said he didn’t poke around about the case or offer to help, despite having 12 years’ experience as a detective before moving into his current post in a supervisory position on patrol duty.

“I tried not to get involved in the case. I stayed away from it because I knew it would all get twisted like this,” Rivers said. “I was on duty when they came in to make the report, and they wanted me to take the report and I said no way.”

Rivers gave a statement to detectives early on disclosing all of this. What he didn’t disclose, and what hit Currey and his detectives like a ton of bricks last week, was evidence Sullivan Sr.’s defense team collected of at least 70 telephone calls made by the secretary to Rivers’ personal cell phone in the month leading up to Sullivan Sr.’s arrest on a probable cause warrant for sexual battery.

“There is no sexual relationship. We talk on the phone a lot, I talk to her husband as much as I talk to her,” Rivers said. “She is a neighbor five houses down the street.”

Rivers said he told his side of the story to the private investigator hired by Sullivan Sr.’s defense team, but it didn’t seem to make a difference. “He just kept asking me what kind of person she was and was there anything in her past, had she had any affairs or anything like that, and I told him that I wouldn’t know, that I didn’t know her that way,” Rivers said.

Still, the sheer volume of communication between the two has spawned speculation about whether Rivers and the secretary were more than just friends, or, more seriously from a legal and ethical standpoint, whether or not Rivers coached or conspired with the woman to entrap Sullivan Sr. into actions or remarks that could lead to a felony arrest.

Rivers says neither scenario is true, and so far, Currey said based upon preliminary conversations about the matter, he believes his long-time officer is telling the truth.

“Darrel came to us last week as soon as he heard this was going to be brought up by the defense and the State Attorney,” Currey said. “He came to Capt. Kevin Martin, and Kevin spoke with him and I spoke with him. He said he had business with the law office and with her, that she was a neighbor and a friend, and that someone had recently died and that some of the phone calls were about that.”

Currey said he has not conducted an official investigation into the matter and he doesn’t know if he will do so. He said he and Capt. Martin only had conversations with Rivers. Currey said he didn’t anticipate any disciplinary action against Rivers, as he didn’t violate any policy of the department.

“If an officer is connected to someone involved in a case, sometimes that is helpful, and other times it’s completely irrelevant,” Currey said. “We believe that even with the phone calls, and how they might have been construed, that all of that could have been overcome if explained.”

Currey said he’s very disappointed that Assistant State Attorney Julia Lynch of Brevard’s 18th Circuit did not choose to go forward with formal charges. Lynch was tasked with handling the tinderbox of a case after State Attorney Bruce Colton asked Gov. Rick Scott to assign the case out of the 19th Circuit due to potential conflict of interest.

Not only do Sullivan Sr. and his attorney, former State Attorney Bob Stone, have a long history with Colton’s office, but the secretary accuser is a former employee of Colton’s. To make this an even more tangled web, Stone is Rivers’ long-time family lawyer.

Rivers said he doesn’t see the controversy affecting his bid for Sheriff. It’s a long time until the 2016 primary, and he says he intends to stay in the race.

“I’m in and I’m committed. I can’t control who my friends and neighbors are, or who my family is.”

Sources close to Sullivan Sr.’s defense team have hinted that there may be some civil litigation forthcoming against the female accuser, against the Vero Beach Police Department, or both – possibly malicious prosecution or other charges. As of the close of business last week, Currey said he’s gotten no word of any lawsuits coming his way.