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Surgeon pleads guilty to assaulting disabled foster son

Dennis James Sullivan, 50, pleaded guilty to attempted first-degree assault, admitting to placing his hand over the mouth of his disabled foster son to interrupt the boy’s breathing.

PARK RAPIDS, Minn. -- A Benedict surgeon admitted this week to placing his hand over the mouth of his disabled foster son in June to interrupt the boy’s breathing for a prolonged period of time.

In doing so, Dennis James Sullivan, 50, entered a guilty plea Monday to a charge of attempted first-degree assault in exchange for other charges being dismissed in the child abuse case.

Prosecutor Erika Randall dismissed charges ranging from third-degree assault to attempted second-degree murder.

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

Sullivan 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 that on June 17, he placed 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.

He testified that his wife, Rebecca Sullivan, caught him. The criminal complaint states that he fled that same day to a mental health center in Grand Forks, N.D., 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 without conditions or $500,000 with conditions, with a 10 percent cash alternative.

Judge Paul Rasmussen heard the guilty plea Monday.

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

Defense attorney Michael Undem said he will introduce testimony at the sentencing hearing that will explain Sullivan’s mental health well-being. As a result, Undem said he would request a reduced sentence.

Sarah Smith

Sarah Smith is the outdoors editor. She covers courts, business and breaking news in addition to outdoors events.

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