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Families of slain El Monte officer sue Probation Department and Dist. Atty. George Gascón

Two photo portraits of two men.
El Monte Police Cpl. Michael Paredes, left, and Officer Joseph Santana were fatally shot as they confronted a suspect at a motel in June 2022.
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The families of two El Monte police officers who were shot and killed last year during a confrontation with a suspect at a motel are suing the Los Angeles County Probation Department and Dist. Atty. George Gascón’s office, alleging the gunman was only on the streets that day due to negligence from both law enforcement agencies.

Officers Michael Paredes and Joseph Santana were responding to a report of domestic violence at Siesta Inn in June when Justin Flores — a documented member of the Quiet Village gang with multiple prior convictions — shot them in the head.

In a civil suit filed Wednesday, Santana’s family alleged Flores should have been incarcerated on the day he killed the officers, but he was put in their path because of a combination of poor supervision by the Probation Department and a plea deal that was struck in 2021 as part of Gascón’s broad sentencing reforms.

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Paredes’ family filed a notice of claim seeking $25 million with similar allegations late last year. Mark Peacock, an attorney representing that family, said he would file his suit Thursday.

“It’s been almost 11 months since this senseless shooting took place, and the Paredes family is still reeling from this traumatic experience,” Peacock said in a statement.

At the time of the shootings, Flores was on probation as part of a plea deal struck in 2021 after he’d been arrested on suspicion of possession of a firearm and methamphetamine. With a prior burglary conviction, Flores could have faced several years in prison under California’s “three strikes” law.

But the prosecutor assigned to the case said he couldn’t seek the enhanced sentence because of one of many sweeping policy changes Gascón made on his first day in office, according to a document reviewed by The Times.

A seated person holds another seated person.
Jayde Santana, 9, center, daughter of fallen Officer Joseph Santana, is comforted by great- grandmother Sara Pinedo, left, and grandmother Lupe Pinedo, right, at a candlelight vigil for her father and Cpl. Michael Paredes on June 18, 2022, in El Monte.
(Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Times)

“Had Gascón followed the law, Flores would have served prison time for his felony gun possession conviction. He would not have been out on the streets the night he killed Officer Santana and Sergeant Paredes,” the Santana family’s suit alleged.

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The Probation Department did not respond to a request for comment. On Thursday, the district attorney’s office issued a statement reiterating that the officers’ killings are a “devastating loss” to the community.

“We have nothing but empathy for those who are suffering. We have not received a copy of the filings. We have not reviewed the legal documents and cannot comment at this time,” the statement read. “Again our heart goes out to the victims of this horrific tragedy.”

Gascón had enacted a policy barring strike enhancements in late 2020, but it was later deemed illegal by a Los Angeles County Superior Court judge. A spokesperson for the office also said last year that the prosecutor on Flores’ case could have requested a policy exemption if that person believed the defendant was especially dangerous, and that no such request was made.

Gascón also argued that the plea deal was consistent with similar offers made by his predecessor’s administration.

Scrutiny quickly turned from Gascón to the Probation Department after a Times investigation revealed Flores had not received a single in-person visit from a probation officer for at least six months before the killings.

In the days before the shooting, probation officials also learned Flores was allegedly in possession of a gun, using drugs and beating a woman he was in a relationship with. All are violations of the terms of his probation and could have triggered an arrest.

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A preliminary report by the L.A. County Office of Inspector General later revealed probation officers saw Flores in person just one time during the 16 months he was under county supervision.

Santana and Paredes were responding to a report of domestic violence at Siesta Inn on June 14. The officers were able to get the purported victim out of the motel room, but Flores then emerged from a bathroom and shot both officers in the head, police said.

Flores stole a gun from one of the fallen officers and ran into the motel parking lot, where he engaged in a gun battle with other responding officers. Authorities say he fell to the ground before taking his own life.

People in black clothing stand outdoors.
El Monte Police Det. Nicole Lona, Officer Maribel Rojas, Sgt. Arlen Castillo and Officer Raul Vega attend a candlelight vigil for Cpl. Michael Paredes and Officer Joseph Santana in El Monte on June 18, 2022.
(Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Times)

Wrongful-death lawsuits against law enforcement agencies normally come in response to a direct action by an officer or deputy, such as when force is used or a person dies in custody. David Ring, an attorney representing the Santana family, acknowledged that the approach of suing Gascón and the Probation Department because of their alleged passivity was unique.

“Two agencies sat on their hands and because of that, a horrible and deadly incident happened that will have impacts for years to come,” he said. “If they had taken action, this would have never occurred.”

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Ring said that while the approach was novel, it was not unheard of.

“We sue the department of family and children’s services and the school districts for inaction that leads to horrible incidents often. ... The perpetrator of these horrible events should have been in prison or should have been returned to custody because he blatantly violated his probation,” Ring said.

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