By Eric Licas
Los Angeles Daily News
LOS ANGELES — Los Angeles County District Attorney George Gascón at a news conference Tuesday, June 21 defended the plea agreement made in 2021 with the man accused of gunning down two El Monte police officers last week.
“We do not serve our community when we try to pretend that we can predict, 100 percent of the time, when these cases are going to occur,” Gascón said. “The best we can do is continue to work toward a safer community.”
El Monte Police Cpl. Michael Paredes and Officer Joseph Santana were responding to a stabbing reported at a motel at 10327 Garvey Ave. on June 14. They encountered a man with a handgun and a woman in one of the rooms. At some point she walked out, then gunfire rang out and the two officers were wounded. They later died at Los Angeles County USC Medical Center.
Paredes had been with the department since July 2000. Santana was hired in 2021. Both of them grew up in El Monte and sought to give back to the city that raised them, relatives said.
The man who killed the two officers, 35-year-old Justin Flores, was shot by police while trying to flee. He later died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head.
Flores had been convicted for breaking into his grandparents’ home to steal a television in 2011, Gascón said. Then, in 2021, he pleaded no contest to being a felon in possession of a firearm. Two other charges were dropped as part of a plea deal with prosecutors, and was ordered to serve 20 days in jail and two years on probation.
But Gascón said that even if Flores’ most recent case had gone to trial, he could have been out on bail at the time of the shooting.
“We can ‘if’ this to death… but the reality is that when you have the history that this individual (Flores) had, the outcome was appropriate, given the circumstances,” Gascón said.
He also pointed out that Flores had no prior history of violence, and had managed to stay out of the criminal justice system for almost a decade before his 2021 no contest plea. The terms of the agreement Flores was offered, including its sentence, were ” on par with offers in previous administrations,” District Attorney’s officials said the day after the two officers were killed.
Gascón, a former police officer, campaigned as a reformer seeking to reverse course from decades of a tough-on-crime approach in the criminal justice system. He has discouraged prosecutors from seeking harsher penalties against defendants for prior convictions and other special circumstances.
Earlier this month, the California Second Court of Appeals ruled that a district attorney cannot prevent prosecutors from seeking sentencing enhancements under the state’s Three Strikes law.
“The court says we have to allege the strike, but we don’t have to prove the strike,” Gascón said. “We are still considering this case.”
Olga Garcia, the mother of Officer Joseph Santana, was joined by law enforcement, deputy district attorney officials and the widows of other slain officers outside the El Monte Police Department on Friday, June 17 to voice concerns over Gascón’s policies, which she said led to Flores’s premature release.
“I blame the deaths of my son and his partner on Gascón. Gascón will never know how I feel. Gascón will never know how he destroyed our family,” she said Friday.
©2022 MediaNews Group, Inc. Visit dailynews.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.