Sergeant Ira G. Essoe Sr. Orange County Sheriff’s Department California

ira Patch image: Orange County Sheriff's Department, California

Sergeant Ira G. Essoe Sr.
Orange County Sheriff’s Department

End of Watch: Thursday, February 4, 2010

Biographical Info
Age: 69
Tour of Duty: Not available
Badge Number: Not available

Incident Details
Cause of Death: Gunfire
Date of Incident: Thursday, November 6, 1980
Weapon Used: Handgun; .45 caliber
Suspect Info: Sentenced to 18 years

Sergeant Ira Essoe succumbed to complications of gunshot wounds sustained on November 6, 1980.
He and his partner, who were both in plain clothes, had gone to the Mall of Orange to collect bail on a warrant. When they arrived at the location they observed three men breaking into a car in the mall’s parking lot.
Sergeant Essoe approached one side of the car as his partner approached the other. One of the subjects was able to disarm Sergeant Essoe’s partner at gunpoint, and ordered him to lay on the ground. As Sergeant Essoe attempted to draw his weapon all three suspects opened fire on him, striking him twice.
One of the men then stole Sergeant Essoe’s gun and keys. The three men fled. Two of them were apprehended following a high speed pursuit. The third water later linked to the crime while in federal prison for bank robbery. All three were sentenced to eight to 18 years in prison for attempted murder of Sergeant Essoe.
Sergeant Essoe remained in poor health and passed away from direct complications of the wounds on February 4, 2010.
Sergeant Essoe is survived by his wife and three children.

Being killed in the line of duty didn’t stop Orange County Sheriff’s Sgt. Ira G. Essoe from living another 29 good years.

Paralyzed by a bullet from the chest down in 1980, beset by numerous infections and illnesses over the years, Essoe still enjoyed a loving wife and three children who followed his career into law enforcement – a profession he never stopped loving.

Now, the profession is loving him back.

Essoe, 69, died Feb. 4 of "delayed complications" from gunshot wounds he suffered Nov. 6, 1980 during an attempted car theft in Orange, the coroner has ruled. Technically, he succumbed to sepsis, in which the blood stream becomes overwhelmed by bacteria.

Because all of Essoe’s medical issues were determined to be a result of his initial gunshot wounds, his name will be enshrined next year on a California Peace Officers’ Memorial Foundation memorial in Sacramento, as an officer who died in the line of duty.

Essoe will be similarly honored in Orange County and likely in Washington D.C.

"This is a vindication of everything he went through these last 30 years," said his son, whose name also is Ira Essoe, a sergeant with the sheriff department’s contract city of San Juan Capistrano.

The younger Essoe, 46, recently recounted a tale he knows by heart, right down to every exacting detail.

He was a 17-year-old senior at Ocean View High School when he thought he lost his father forever.


A little after 8 p.m. on Nov. 6, 1980, Essoe and fellow sheriff’s investigator Greg "Mike" Brown drove to the Mall of Orange to collect bail on a warrant issued against a relative of an employee at Sears.

As they looked for a place to park their unmarked car, the investigators – wearing plain clothes — saw three men attempting to steal a black 1968 Mustang.

The Inland Empire men – Robert Dustin Strong, 25, David Michael Knick, 23 and David Ray Vogel, 34 – all were parolees with long rap sheets, and in need of a getaway car for a planned heist of a nearby supermarket.

Essoe got out of the car and approached one side of the Mustang, while his partner walked to the passenger side.

One of the men disarmed Brown at gunpoint, took his gun, told him to lay on the ground, and threatened to kill him.

Essoe pulled out his gun, trying to save his partner’s life.

The three men fired on Essoe simultaneously.

Numerous rounds narrowly missed him, tearing through the fabric of his shirt.

Then, from behind, Essoe got hit under his left arm, the bullet exiting the top of his chest.

A second bullet – another .45-caliber slug — shattered his ribs, passed through his left lung, blasted two of his vertebrae, and severed his spinal cord.

Essoe fell to the ground in a clump, unable to move.

One suspect walked over to him. He reached down and took Essoe’s gun and car keys. Strong and Knick sped off in Essoe’s vehicle.

Police arrested Strong and Knick about an hour later, after they crashed during a high-speed pursuit on the freeway. Vogel fled on foot and was linked to the crime later while serving time in federal prison on a bank robbery conviction.

Essoe was rushed to the hospital in critical condition.

Brown was not injured.


Growing up in Budapest during the hardships of World War II, Ira Essoe Sr. had setbacks early. By age 7, he’d endured two bouts of polio, rendering his left leg underdeveloped.

When he was 8, the family moved to America.

The elder Essoe, whose father was a troop commander in the Hungarian Army, always knew he wanted to be a cop. But, for financial reasons, he had to put off his dream job.

Living in Westminster with his wife, Ramona, and three children, Essoe worked several years as a computer analyst and got a master’s degree in business administration.

By age 31, he was able to walk away from a nice salary and enter the sheriff’s academy. For nine years he thrived as a deputy and, later, as an investigator.

Then, he got shot. The biggest setback of his life had begun.

Essoe’s wife, Ramona, never left his side. She became an expert caretaker as he dealt with constant pain and, throughout the years, kidney failure, colon cancer and the loss of both of his legs.

The younger Essoe says his father never complained.

"He had to be in such pain, but he never showed it."

Nor did he once regret getting into law enforcement.

"Being a cop was the one thing that made him happy," Essoe says. "Ultimately, the way he looked at it, he was still alive. He still had his family.

"His attitude was, ‘I can choose to be miserable, or I can choose to be happy’."

Essoe says his father’s attitude helped inspire him to become a peace officer.

The younger Essoe’s siblings, Tony and Ramona, also went into law enforcement.

And, in 2008, the younger Essoe’s son, Raymond, was sworn in as an Orange County Sheriff’s deputy.


The three men involved in the shooting got sentences for attempted murder that ranged from 8 to nearly 18 years in state prison.

Essoe’s shooting prompted then Orange County Sheriff Brad Gates to initiate what has become "Project 999," which helps wounded cops and the widows and orphans of peace officers killed in action.

Essoe was the first California peace officer to die in the line of duty this year, and the ninth Orange County Sheriff’s Department deputy to die in the line of duty, according to records dating back to 1912.

Some of these fallen officers died in vehicle or motorcycle crashes. The last Orange County deputy shot to death in the line of duty was Bradley Riches, in 1999, in Lake Forest.

Now, with his name set to be permanently enshrined on state, county and federal memorials for fallen officers, Essoe’s legacy is set.

"Getting this recognition is a small thing, but it means that someone else recognizes what he went through," his son says.

"He’s finally being recognized for gallantry in battle — not just for getting shot."

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