Prosecutors declined to charge deputy with sex crimes. Years later, he's accused of abusing three sisters

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VENICE, CA - JUNE 8, 2021 - - Los Angeles County Sheriff deputies with the Homeless Outreach Services Team (HOST) patrol to assess the homeless situation in Venice on June 8, 2021. They also directed homeless to members of the St. Joseph's Center who were on hand to try and place homeless into housing. Sheriff Alex Villanueva said Monday that the sheriff's department was responding to the growing homeless crisis, citing a lack of urgency from local leaders to develop an action plan. Venice is outside the sheriff's department's jurisdiction and is patrolled by the Los Angeles Police Department Pacific Division. LA County Sheriff Lt Geff Deedrick lead the Homeless Outreach Services Team on Tuesday. They worked with trained Sheriff's counselors. (Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)
An L.A. County sheriff's deputy has been charged with sexually abusing four underage girls, including a 2006 case that prosecutors previously did not file. Above, deputies patrol in Venice last year. (Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)

An L.A. County sheriff's deputy has been charged with repeatedly sexually abusing three young sisters years after charges were not filed against him in the case of another girl who reported him in 2006, prosecutors and the sisters' attorney said Wednesday.

In a 33-count indictment, Deputy Sean Essex, 51, was accused of performing lewd acts and oral sex on the sisters, one of whom was under age 10 at the time. He was also charged with sexually abusing the fourth girl in 2006, an accusation that the district attorney's office had declined to prosecute at the time.

"It's absolutely shocking to us that the county didn't do more to investigate and bring this terrible perpetrator to justice in 2006," said Spencer Lucas, a lawyer for the sisters and their mother. "He was a dangerous predator, and this whole terrible abuse that these poor little girls went through should have been stopped, and it never should have happened.”

Prosecutors did not immediately say why the office previously declined to prosecute the first case under Dist. Atty. Steve Cooley. It was unclear whether there is a relationship between the girl who reported Essex in 2006 and the three sisters.

The Times does not identify victims of sexual abuse.

Essex was in a romantic relationship with the mother of his victims at first, Lucas said. According to the indictment, he was living with the girls when he sexually abused two of them.

One of the sisters was younger than 10 at the time of the sex acts, prosecutors said, and the two others were younger than 14.

Essex groomed the woman's daughters and remained close with them even after he and their mother broke up, the family's lawyer told The Times.

"He would pick up the girls individually in his L.A. County sheriff's patrol vehicle, and he would take the girls and he would abuse them in the patrol car," Lucas said.

Lucas said some of the abuse occurred in a Sheriff's Department parking lot.

Essex "was like a father figure to my three daughters," the girls' mother wrote in a filing April 13, adding that he had been sexually assaulting her daughters for six years.

The indictment alleges Essex abused the sisters — ages 13, 12 and 12 — at various points from 2013 to this year. The last incident occurred April 3, prosecutors said, five days before Essex was arrested.

The mother wrote in the filing that one daughter told her that Essex would try to unzip her clothes and touch her.

"Respondent would do 'bouncy' with her which was to have her sit on his lap while he bounced her as he touched her on her breast and waist," the woman wrote.

Essex was arrested April 8, with a judge noting that he had been taken into custody on suspicion of sexually abusing the three sisters.

"This is one of the most egregious crimes my office encounters, and it is made worse when the crime is committed by someone who has been entrusted to protect them and our community from harm,” L.A. County Dist. Atty. George Gascón said.

Essex was charged with 18 counts of oral copulation of a child, 12 counts of lewd acts upon a child under the age of 14, two counts of continuous sexual abuse of a child under 14 and one count of possession of material depicting a child sex act.

He was ordered held without bail by a judge in Los Angeles County Superior Court on Wednesday.

The Sheriff's Department said Wednesday that Essex was fired after an internal affairs investigation in 2018 but that the county's Civil Service Commission overturned his termination, ordering the department to reinstate Essex to his post at the Training Bureau.

Essex is now "relieved of duty," and officials are "in the process of removing his pay," the department said.

In April, when Essex was arrested, Sheriff Alex Villanueva said he was "appalled and saddened" by the allegations.

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.