Los Angeles, CA – Los Angeles County District Attorney George Gascon defended his office’s decision to give the convicted felon accused of murdering two El Monte police officers a probation sentence for a gun possession charge last year, arguing that the lenient sentence was “appropriate.”
Investigators said Justin William Flores, 35, was “well known” by local police and that he had dozens of convictions on his criminal history, according to KNBC.
Flores was convicted of burglary in 2011 and was sentenced to two years in prison, KNBC reported.
He was also sentenced to prison for car theft, according to the Los Angeles Times.
Flores was arrested for being a felon in possession of a firearm in March of 2020 and was sentenced to 20 days in jail and two years of probation in February of 2021.
In exchange for his guilty plea in the 2020 case, Gascon’s office dismissed charges of methamphetamine possession and being a felon in possession of ammunition, KNBC reported.
According to court records, Flores was charged with at least a dozen other crimes over the years, many of which resulted in probation sentences.
Police sources said Flores was also a member of the Whittier-based Quiet Village gang, the Los Angeles Times reported.
As a result of the lenient plea agreement, Gascon’s office allowed the convicted felon to avoid prison time and turned him loose out onto the streets.
Flores subsequently gunned down El Monte Police Corporal Michael Paredes and Officer Joseph Santana at a motel on June 14 after they responded to a report of a possible stabbing.
The gunman then turned the gun on himself and was pronounced dead at the scene, KABC reported.
Critics, including Officer Santana’s mother, Olga Garcia, lambasted Gascon in the wake of the officers’ murders, blaming his office for failing to hold the convicted felon accountable after he was arrested on the gun possession case.
Garcia said the progressive district attorney’s “insane ideas” enabled Flores to avoid prison and left him free to murder her son and his partner, KABC reported.
“I blame the death of my son and his partner on Gascon,” the angry, grieving mother told KABC. “Gascon will never know how I feel. Gascon will never know how he destroyed our families. He won’t know how [Santana’s] children feel. Crime is so high in California because criminals don’t stay in jail long enough. We need to make criminals responsible for their actions. We need law and order.”
Garcia said she also doesn’t want to see the embattled district attorney anywhere near her son’s memorial service.
“Gascon, I would appreciate if I don’t see you at my son’s funeral,” she said, according to CBS News.
But Gascon, who is currently facing a second recall effort, held a press conference on Tuesday to explain that Flores’ probation sentence was perfectly reasonable, KABC reported.
“He was basically someone who had been drug addicted for many years,” he told reporters. “The outcome in this particular case, given what we knew then, no history of violence, very little contact with the criminal justice system for nearly 10 years, was appropriate.”
Gascon said there is no way to “predict violence,” and that we are living in “difficult times,” KABC reported.
The district attorney said citizens should expect that repeat offenders will sometimes kill people.
“I know that this is frustrating to hear, and it may not help heal the wounds for some, but we do not serve our community when we try to pretend that we can predict 100% of the time when these cases are going to occur,” Gascon reasoned.
He said that the lack of resources for criminal offenders – such as housing assistance, employment opportunities, and trauma recovery services – are the real problems, KABC reported.
The public needs to be patient with Los Angeles County’s “imperfect system,” he added.
“When people are arrested for serious crimes, we work hard to ensure that there are serious consequences, including lengthy periods of incarceration,” he claimed.
Gascon then cautioned the public not to go back “down the road of being scared and reacting harshly” with regards to how criminals are sentenced.
He said that “harsh incarceration and over punishment…never made us any safer.”
“In fact, many would argue that we’re here today because of mistakes we made in the past,” Gascon added.
When reporters asked Gascon if he had a message for the families of Cpl. Paredes and Officer Santana, he walked out of the press conference, FOX News reported.
“I don’t want nothing from him,” Garcia told CBS News. “No apology. He’s responsible for my son’s death and Michael’s death.”
Los Angeles County Deputy District Attorney Jonathan Hatami said Flores should have been sentenced to prison for at least 32 months as a result of the gun possession charge, KTTV reported.
“George-your policy removed the strike prior & gave an admitted gang member who had 10 misdemeanor convictions, 2 felony convictions, multiple probation & parole violations & past DV-PROBATION.” Hatami tweeted on Tuesday. “That’s a fact. You did that. You failed Joseph & Michael, their families & partners.”
Cpl. Paredes, a married father of two, served the El Monte Police Department (EMPD) for 22 years, the El Monte Police Department said in a press release.
Officer Santana previously spent three years working for the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department, and had joined the EMPD less than one year ago.
He leaves behind his wife, daughter, and twin sons.
El Monte Mayor Jessica Ancona said Cpl. Paredes and Officer Santana were “acting as a first line of defense for our community members” when they were murdered, KABC reported.
“Heartbroken doesn’t begin to express the loss we feel,” Ancona added, according to KNBC.
The mayor said Cpl. Paredes and Officer Santana “were like family” to the community and had “deep ties to our neighborhoods,” CNN reported.
“One of our officers was raised in El Monte, went through our schools and was excited to be a part of the El Monte Police Department, where he would be able to serve and protect family and friends,” she continued. “The other fallen officer was a new officer, patrolling our streets, excited to be on the force.”
“These men were dedicated to their careers, and even more so as sons, husbands and fathers,” Ancona said, according to CNN. “We stand in solidarity with them, embrace them and their families.”
El Monte Interim Police Chief Ben Lowry said the officers who were killed were loved by those who knew them, KABC reported.
“They were good men. They paid the ultimate sacrifice, serving their community trying to help somebody,” Chief Lowry said. “Today, they were murdered by a coward and we are grieving and that hurts.”
A fundraising page established to help the families of the fallen heroes in the wake of their loss has raised over $330,000 so far.