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Rankin County tax assessor accused of rape found not guilty

John Sullivan
Photo courtesy of the Rankin County Sheriff's Office

Following a three-day trial, Rankin County Tax Assessor John Sullivan has been found not guilty on three counts of sexual battery and one count of simple assault.

Sullivan, 53, who was accused of raping a 19-year-old woman in 2022 after meeting her at a bar, was seen mouthing the words, “thank you,” to the jury of one woman and 11 men after they reached the verdict, according to WLBT.

The woman, who SuperTalk Mississippi News is choosing not to identify, took the stand and testified that she had gone out with friends on the night of March 25. While at the Dockery Grill in Byram, she said she had declined a drink from Sullivan who later asked for a ride to his vehicle.

According to the woman’s testimony, Sullivan audibled and asked the group of three females and one male for a ride to his home. Sullivan later got behind the wheel of his own vehicle with five passengers, one of which was the alleged victim, and drove drunk, leading to a DUI arrest.

Sullivan was later released on his own recognizance and went back to his home with the other passengers. The woman claimed that, while at the residence, she had just one drink and that she later blacked out. She said while in Sullivan’s hot tub, she played a game where she and her friends would transfer smoke from a vape into each others’ mouths — the tax assessor interpreted this as kissing.

RELATED: Former Rankin County deputies plead guilty after torturing 2 Black men

In the hot tub, Sullivan and the teen reportedly kissed one another and grabbed each other in a sexual manner. Video surveillance showed her and Sullivan exiting the hot tub and walking into the home. The woman added that she did not recall the physical interaction with the tax assessor or leaving her friends to go inside with him.

Later in the night, the alleged victim said that she regained cognizance when her friends knocked on Sullivan’s bedroom door and discovered that Sullivan was engaging in sexual activities with her. She then reportedly began striking Sullivan, who reportedly grabbed her by the throat and threw her onto the bed.

Sullivan asserted that the then-teen acted hysterically after her friends discovered her in his bedroom, insinuating that she was embarrassed rather than unconsenting, and began to hit him, which led to him throwing her onto the bed.

The Mississippi Bureau of Investigation initially charged the tax assessor with simple assault after he admitted to grabbing the alleged victim by the throat. Sullivan also confessed to engaging in sexual acts with her.

However, Sullivan consistently maintained that all sexual activities between himself and the now 21-year-old were consensual and that she was aware of their age difference during the encounter.

A rape test conducted by the state’s crime lab produced no specimen consistent with Sullivan’s in the alleged victim’s body or on any of her clothing.

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