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Dennis Sullivan

Benedict surgeon enters guilty plea in child abuse case

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By Sarah Smith

A Benedict surgeon admitted Monday to placing his hand over the mouth of his disabled foster son June 17 in order to interrupt the boy’s breathing for a prolonged period of time.

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In doing so, Dennis James Sullivan, 50, entered a guilty plea to a charge of Attempted First Degree Assault in exchange for other charges being dismissed in the child abuse case.

In exchange for the plea, prosecutor Erika Randall dismissed charges that ranged from Third Degree Assault to attempted Second Degree Murder.

The plea deal calls for Sullivan to face between 37 and 51½ months in prison. He will be sentenced Sept. 19. He could have faced 10 years in prison and a $15,000 fine.

He testified Monday in Hubbard County District Court that the boy he and his wife took in under foster care and were planning on adopting was blind, wheelchair-bound and severely mentally disabled.

He admitted placing a glove in the boy’s mouth “in front of his tongue and behind his teeth” so the child could not bite him, then placed his hand over the boy’s mouth to interrupt his breathing, Sullivan testified.

His wife caught him, he testified. The criminal complaint states he then fled to a mental health center in Grand Forks, N.D. that same day, where he was arrested.

During the investigation, Sullivan admitted to torturing the boy in the genital area a month before the June incident.

He testified Monday that he is being seen by a psychiatrist and taking mood-stabilizing medications.

Sullivan’s medical license indicates he’s assigned to the Wapiti Medical Group of Milbank S.D., and that he is licensed to perform general surgery, trauma and surgical critical care. He obtained his medical education at the University of Minnesota and became licensed in 1991.

Sullivan has been jailed since his arrest. In June District Judge Robert Tiffany set Sullivan’s bail at $750,000 unconditional and $500,000 conditional with a 10 percent cash alternative.

Judge Paul Rasmussen heard the plea Monday that ended the case.

The child was subsequently removed from the home. Rebecca Sullivan has not been charged in the case.

Defense attorney Michael Undem said he will introduce testimony at the sentencing hearing that will explain Sullivan’s mental-health wellbeing. As a result, Undem said he would request a “dispositional departure” in the sentence, meaning he will request a reduction in time.

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Sarah Smith is the outdoors editor. She covers Hubbard County, courts and breaking news.

(218) 732-3364
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