Former Duluth youth pastor charged with abuse
A former youth pastor who recently served five years in Illinois prison for sexually abusing several young girls is now facing similar charges stemming from a stint in Duluth more than a decade ago.
Ellis William Simmons, 38, is accused of assaulting two girls between 1999 and 2005, when he was living and working in Duluth. The girls were 11 and 14 years old at the time of the reported incidents.
Simmons was formally charged last month with two counts of first-degree criminal sexual conduct and one count of second-degree criminal sexual conduct. If convicted, the most-serious charges each carry a maximum sentence of 30 years in prison.
While the incidents were reported to police in the early 2000s, St. Louis County prosecutor Jon Holets said the victims only recently came forward with the alleged perpetrator's name and other information that made charges possible.
"It still bothered them, and they realized what he had done in Illinois," Holets said Monday. "It was their desire to continue coming forward (that led to charges)."
Simmons served as a youth pastor to the alleged victims and a babysitter for the family of at least one of the girls, according to a criminal complaint. The charging document indicates that one victim reported two incidents that occurred when she was 11 years old; the other reported an incident when she was 14.
Both alleged victims told police that they were sleeping when they awoke to sexual contact from Simmons, according to the charges. The contact allegedly included penetration.
Simmons served as a youth pastor at St. Mark African Methodist Episcopal Church and interim pastor at Calvary Baptist Church in Duluth, while also attending the College of St. Scholastica and the University of Minnesota Duluth, according to News Tribune articles from the time.
Mary Faulkner, a victim advocate for the Program for Aid to Victims of Sexual Assault, or PAVSA, is working from within the Duluth Police Department through a federal grant awarded to the city in 2015.
While she couldn't comment on the specific case, Faulkner it's not uncommon for victims to come forward with information about sexual assaults that occurred many years prior.
"We really need victim participation in cases, for them to stick with it through the long haul," she said. "We recognize that someone who has been through a traumatic event faces a lot of barriers to working with police. Sometimes it's just about getting to a safe place in life."
The decision by the alleged victims to provide additional information came around the same time Simmons was being released from prison in Illinois.
He was arrested in January 2012 and charged with sexually abusing three girls ranging in age from 7 to 10, according to a report in the Rockford (Ill.) Register Star. Simmons at the time was working at a juvenile detention center; authorities said the abuse was not related to his employment, but the victims were known to him.
Records indicate that Simmons was released from prison in December after serving nearly five years of a seven-year sentence. He was re-arrested in California after a warrant was issued in the Duluth case on June 19.
Simmons made an initial appearance in State District Court in Duluth last week. His bail was set at $300,000, and he remained in the St. Louis County Jail on Monday.
He is due back in court on Aug. 2.
Officials from St. Mark African Methodist Episcopal Church released a statement to the News Tribune regarding Simmons' prior involvement with the church: "Mr. Simmons was never licensed as a minister or pastor within our church. Although he might have referred to his role as youth pastor, he was not according to our church's laws and policy."