B.C. man charged with threatening CNN anchor Erin Burnett and family

CNN anchor Erin Burnett looks on ahead of a Democratic primary debate in 2020. The CNN anchor was the target of a campaign of death threats allegedly linked to a man in Surrey, B.C. (Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images - image credit)
CNN anchor Erin Burnett looks on ahead of a Democratic primary debate in 2020. The CNN anchor was the target of a campaign of death threats allegedly linked to a man in Surrey, B.C. (Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images - image credit)

A Surrey, B.C., man has been charged with threatening CNN anchor Erin Burnett and her family via Twitter and YouTube after an investigation by RCMP, New York police and the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation.

Nicholas Ryan Hedgecoe Sullivan is slated to appear in provincial court Friday for a first appearance related to five counts of uttering death threats against Burnett, her family and CNN employees through social media.

The charges — which span a time period from May 2021 to June 2022 — specify the social media platforms as the means through which the 38-year-old allegedly made the threats.

"Some people may think that when they are on social media platforms that they're anonymous and if they are involved in this type of behaviour where they're uttering death threats to somebody that there will be no consequences," Surrey RCMP spokesperson Const. Sarbjit Sangha told the CBC.

"As you have seen in this investigation, there are serious consequences when you are involved in posting threats to seriously harm somebody regardless of where they live and where you live."

'I just rant like everyone else'

The charges follow an investigation outlined in a search warrant obtained by CBC last month.

According to the court documents, authorities on both sides of the border linked Sullivan to a barrage of vitriolic threats dating back nearly two years.

Gary Hershorn/Reuters
Gary Hershorn/Reuters

At one point, he allegedly told RCMP investigators he did not believe he was "a credible threat."

"I just rant like everyone else," Sullivan is quoted as saying in the search warrant.

"I don't know if I can be charged for ranting on the internet like everyone else."

According to the information sworn to obtain the search warrant, the RCMP were called in May 2021 after Google notified Interpol that a "user in Surrey, British Columbia, Canada threatened to murder named CNN employee, her family and colleagues."

"It's the middle of the day on a Monday, and all I can think about is how much I want to kill Erin Burnett and her family," one comment allegedly read.

"I'm gonna get as many CNN employees as possible."

Interpol sent an urgent request to the RCMP's foreign and domestic liaison unit to investigate.

Police allegedly linked the online information to Sullivan's address through an emergency disclosure from Shaw Communications.

According to the search warrant, Sullivan claimed he would "absolutely in no way harm himself or anyone else" and that he "did not threaten any CNN journalists."

He also said he would ensure that "no threats came from his computer."

'A mass murder at the CNN building'

RCMP spoke to Sullivan again in March 2022 when the FBI contacted RCMP to report that a YouTube user had "threatened to commit a mass murder at the CNN building" in New York.

"The threat read: 'As soon as I'm ready, I'm going to Hudson Yards, and I'm going to take out as many CNN employees as possible," the warrant says.

Spencer Platt/Getty Images
Spencer Platt/Getty Images

According to the search warrant, It was at that point that Sullivan allegedly told RCMP he was not a credible threat.

The court documents say an investigator encouraged Sullivan to "alter the way he delivers frustration online to prevent further interactions with police."

The last round of threats was allegedly flagged by John Teehan, director of executive protection and special events for Warner Brothers Discovery, the company which owns CNN.

Teehan claimed that Burnett had been subject to numerous threats from a series of Twitter accounts that all appeared to be operated by the same user.

"Teehan stated that the threats have been occurring for some time, but the vitriol and threats have been increasing in intensity," the warrant reads.

"Teehan stated that due to the nature of these threats, Burnett has been concerned for the safety of not only herself but for that of her family."

Social media norms no shield from prosecution

According to the court documents, RCMP believe Sullivan suffers from a "possible brain injury and mental health issues," but police determined that he did not meet the criteria for apprehension under the Mental Health Act.

RCMP arrested him for uttering threats on July 10 as they prepared to search his residence. He was later cautioned and released on conditions with a promise to appear at a future date.

Twitter
Twitter

The charges were sworn last week.

Both YouTube and Twitter have suspended accounts linked to the threats.

Sangha says Surrey RCMP don't often see charges that stem from threats made through social media; the fact certain behaviour is commonly accepted online is no shield against prosecution.

"If somebody is a media personality, you may think that anything said to that person wouldn't be taken seriously because they probably get those kinds of threats every day because they're in that business," Sangha said.

"Regardless of that, when you go on a social media site and threaten somebody's life or threaten to assault them in any way, that is taken very seriously. It is a criminal offence, and that is how it's investigated."

None of the allegations have been proven in court.