LOS ANGELES — A grand jury indicted a Los Angeles County sheriff's deputy on charges of sexually assaulting four girls in a case that prosecutors had declined to pursue a decade ago, officials said Thursday.
Sean Essex, 51, has been formally 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, Los Angeles County District Attorney George Gascón said in a statement.
Gascón also revealed that the "charges include a victim who reported the abuse in 2006 but the case was previously declined by our office."
The victims were ages 7 to 13 at the time of the crimes, authorities said.
“Sexually assaulting a child not only robs them of their innocence but also leaves lasting mental trauma," Gascón said in a statement.
"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."
Essex made his initial court appearance Thursday morning and pleaded not guilty to all charges, prosecutors said. He was being held without bail at the Twin Towers Correctional Facility in downtown Los Angeles, jail records showed. He is due in court Sept. 1.
Representatives of the union representing deputies could not immediately be reached for comment Thursday.
"Mr. Sean Essex does not reflect the values of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department or those of the dedicated men and women in law enforcement who proudly serve our communities each day," a sheriff's statement said.
"Currently, Mr. Sean Essex is relieved of duty and the Department is in the process of removing his pay."
A man in Long Beach filed for a restraining order against Essex this year, claiming he "has been sexually assaulting my 3 daughters (ages 13, 11 and 11) for the past 6 years."
"The respondent was like a father figure to my three daughters," the man wrote. "The respondent is a Deputy for LA County Sheriff."
Signatures for the recall have been submitted and are being verified by the Los Angeles County registrar. There has been no announcement yet about whether the effort has qualified for the November ballot.
Gascón is a former Los Angeles police officer and assistant chief who has also been the district attorney of San Francisco.
Andrew Blankstein reported from Los Angeles and David K. Li from New York City.