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Gang tied to killing of two El Monte police officers is swept up on federal charges

An officer gives a drink of water to one of several seated people in handcuffs.
An officer offers water to one of several people detained in an early-morning sweep of alleged members of the Quiet Village gang.
(Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)
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Federal investigators, El Monte police and Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputies arrested alleged members of the Quiet Village gang Wednesday, naming the group in a series of indictments that accuse them of conspiring to commit murder, other violent crimes and drug trafficking.

The cases stem from the killing of two El Monte police officers last June during a confrontation at a motel with a member of the gang. Officers Michael Paredes and Joseph Santana were responding to a domestic violence report when Justin Flores — a documented member of the Quiet Village gang with multiple prior convictions — shot them in the head.

In the wake of the double homicide, a joint task force of local police and federal agents from the FBI and Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives targeted the Whittier area-based gang, which has ties to the Mexican Mafia.

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Several suspected members of the gang’s leadership were taken into custody Wednesday as prosecutors revealed charges in connection with the fatal shooting of a woman in the City of Commerce in March 2022. In that case, prosecutors say, a member of an affiliated gang tried to kill an informant who had talked to police about an attempted murder.

“This morning, law enforcement officers fanned out across the San Gabriel Valley and arrested 11 defendants on federal and state charges,” U.S. Atty. Martin Estrada said at a news conference announcing the cases, alongside officials from the FBI and ATF, El Monte’s police chief and L.A. County Sheriff Robert Luna.

Estrada said 10 people face federal charges, three of whom remain fugitives. Five others were arrested on local charges, he said.

One of the federal indictments alleges violations of the Racketeering Influenced and Corrupt Organization Act, and some of those charged were already behind bars in connection with other cases.

Estrada said the investigation also targeted the Whittier Varrio Locos gang that associates with Quiet Village. Estrada said Quiet Village is a small gang of about 40 members that formed decades ago and has been extremely violent. He said the gang celebrated the killings of the two police officers at an illegal underground gambling establishment it operated.

Estrada said the gang was behind an attempted murder in El Monte in January 2022. “The victim was struck with at least eight bullets and severely wounded,” he said.

According to one of the indictments, Chase Carrillo, a.k.a. “Sicko,” 34, an alleged shot caller in Quiet Village, and alleged Whittier Varrio Locos leader Ronny Rojas shot a rival gangster after an argument. They escaped with the help of a man identified in the indictment as J.P., who was ordered to drive the getaway car.

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In early March 2022, Rojas obtained a police report about the incident that named J.P. as a person who had provided authorities with information about the shooting, according to the indictment.

Rojas, through a member of his gang, distributed the report and said that, “J.P. should be murdered for cooperating with law enforcement,” according to the indictment. On March 5, 2022, two days after the police report began circulating among gang members, prosecutors say Carrillo was in a car being driven by Maria Garcia, an alleged member of Varrio Locos who had rented the vehicle using a stolen credit card. When he spotted J.P. riding as a passenger in another car in Commerce, Rojas got out of the rental car and fired at least two rounds at the suspected informant, prosecutors allege.

J.P. was not hit, but the woman driving the vehicle he was in was fatally wounded. Soon after the killing, prosecutors allege Garcia attempted to sell the 9-millimeter ghost gun that had allegedly been used by Carrillo. One week after the slaying, Garcia allegedly told another gang associate, “Yeah, she was driving his car,” and later said, “sometimes you gotta take matters into your own hands, you know?”

“Today the good men and women of our participating federal and local agencies did something good, did something extraordinary in combating evil,” said El Monte Police Chief Jake Fisher, speaking at the news conference, which included a display of seized guns, drugs and a T-shirt that the gang members allegedly wore bragging about cop killers.

The killing of Santana and Paredes occurred June 14 last year when the officers were responding to a domestic violence report at El Monte’s Siesta Inn. The officers were able to get the purported victim out of the motel room, but Flores emerged from a bathroom and shot them both 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 officers. Authorities say he fell to the ground before taking his own life.

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Luna said the prosecution sends a message to those considering acts of violence against law enforcement. “We‘re going to come to your homes, we”re going to impact your businesses, and it is not only going to be done by the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, but every agency represented here,” he said.

The families of Officers Santana and Paredes have filed litigation over the circumstances that allowed Flores to be free at the time of the shootings, alleging a combination of poor supervision by the Los Angeles County Probation Department and a plea deal that was struck in 2021 as part of Dist. Atty. George Gascón’s broad sentencing reforms.

Flores was on probation as part of a plea deal struck in 2021 after he’d been arrested on suspected 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.

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. The district attorney has appealed the lower court decision to the state Supreme Court. A spokesperson for the office also said last year that the prosecutor on Flores’ case could have requested a policy exemption if they 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.

The Probation Department came under scrutiny 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.

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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. 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.

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