Slain El Monte police officers memorialized by family, colleagues: ‘Two of the best of us’
Black-and-white police cruisers stretched for half a mile Thursday as they followed a procession of motorcycle officers along the shuttered 10 Freeway east of Los Angeles.
They came from far and wide, even beyond California’s border, to escort the hearses carrying Sgt. Michael Paredes and Officer Joseph Santana, El Monte lawmen killed this month.
Firetrucks formed arches at overpasses as the procession made its way from El Monte police headquarters to Ontario’s Toyota Arena, a stone’s throw away from Upland, where the two family men lived.
“Today, we’re here to honor Mike and Joseph, two of the best of us who had their lives taken while protecting and serving the community they grew up in and loved,” El Monte Police Chief Ben Lowry said at the joint funeral, where thousands were gathered.
Paredes, a 22-year veteran, and Santana, a newcomer to the department, were gunned down by a probationer at El Monte’s Siesta Inn on June 14 after they responded to a report of a stabbing and were ambushed shortly after entering a motel room.
“They left this world as valiant heroes,” Lowry said. “I am not saying that because of how they died. I’m saying that for how they lived.”
Hundreds gathered Saturday evening to remember and honor Cpl. Michael Paredes and Officer Joseph Santana, the El Monte police officers killed in a shootout Tuesday.
The two men were homegrown, Mayor Jessica Ancona said previously, once stars on local high school sports teams.
Paredes, 42, who started as a cadet before being sworn in as a full-time El Monte police officer in July 2000, was posthumously promoted from corporal to sergeant in what Lowry said was the easiest promotion decision of his career.
Friends remembered him as a barefoot runner who could outpace even the fastest among them and a late-night gamer whose playing sometimes got him — and his colleagues — in a bit of hot water with their spouses.
Lowry recalled patrolling with Paredes when the two were younger, and said the fallen lawman was so even-tempered and beloved that he did not have a single complaint during his decades-long career.
But Lowry noted that Parades was first and foremost a family man. He is survived by a wife, a son and a daughter.
Santana, 31, wanted to be an El Monte police officer, just like his stepfather. He worked as a public works employee for six years before starting his law enforcement career as a deputy with the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department. He served at the West Valley Detention Center until October when the calling from his tightknit hometown was too much to resist.
“Joseph was exactly what we want to see in a new police officer,” Lowry said. Another colleague said he was “the example of what a trainee and officers should behave like.”
Former Police Chief David Reynoso told mourners that the day after the fatal shooting, Santana’s stepfather, veteran Officer Joe Garcia, texted him: “Thank you, Chief.... You made his dream come true, becoming an El Monte Police Department officer.”
“My response was simple,” Reynoso said. “Joe earned everything he has, and now he is a guardian in heaven.”
Santana’s sister, Bianca, recalled how empathetic her brother was and recounted that he once pried open a garage door to rescue a family trapped inside. He is survived by a wife, a daughter and twin sons.
Bisected by the 10 Freeway, El Monte is the kind of place that most people drive past — unless they’re headed to Longo Toyota.
The two officers were killed by Justin Flores. He shot both officers in the head, sources told The Times, after they were able to get a stabbing victim out of the one-story stucco motel in a stretch of El Monte that has struggled with crime. Flores then stole a gun off one of the fallen officers and ran into the motel parking lot, where he engaged in a gun battle with other responding officers. He fell to the ground before taking his own life.
Flores was on probation at the time of the shooting, but his probation officer hadn’t seen him in person in more than six months. In the days before the killings, the Los Angeles County probation department received concerning reports that Flores was in possession of a gun — which he was barred from having due to a felony conviction — and that he had beaten a woman he was romantically involved with, according to three law enforcement officials with direct knowledge of the case.
Flores’ mother also called her son’s probation officer in early June to report he had begun using drugs again and begged his probation officer for help, but the officer refused to discuss the case with her.
A documented member of the Quiet Village gang, Flores had a lengthy criminal record that included convictions for burglary, multiple driving violations and a multitude of arrests for drug possession, court records show. In early 2021, he was placed on probation as part of a plea deal after he was arrested for being a felon in possession of a gun.
Los Angeles County Dist. Atty. George Gascón has faced heavy criticism for the plea deal, which some critics dismissed as too light. Deputy Dist. Atty. Larry Holcomb said he had to revoke a strike allegation against Flores under California’s “three strikes” law after Gascón took office, according to a disposition report reviewed by The Times. That’s because the district attorney on his first day in office had issued a “special directive” that barred prosecutors from filing strike allegations.
Santana’s mother, Olga Garcia, publicly blamed that policy for removing prior strikes in the gun incident that probably would have required Flores to serve prison time. Gascón, who is facing a recall drive, has insisted the plea was “appropriate under the circumstances.”
At the dual memorial service, the officers’ sacrifices in protecting the community were repeatedly commended. But family members made sure to laud the legacies the two men left behind.
“I am sure that my father’s death has caused most of the officers here and around the country to reflect on their decision to fall into this line of work,” Paredes’ daughter, Isabel, said. “However, I hope that I can inspire you not to abandon whatever passion that may have driven you to your job.
“But follow a passion outside of work. Use the time that you’ve been given to leave a legacy with those you love,” she said. “Live the life that you wish to leave behind one day. Create your legacy.”
Start your day right
Sign up for Essential California for news, features and recommendations from the L.A. Times and beyond in your inbox six days a week.
You may occasionally receive promotional content from the Los Angeles Times.