The mother of one of two El Monte police officers who were fatally shot in a gun battle that also left the suspect dead lashed out at District Attorney George Gascón Friday, saying his “insane ideas” allowed the gunman to remain out of jail and free to murder her son.
“I blame the death of my son and his partner on Gascón,” Olga Garcia, the mother of El Monte Police Officer Joseph Anthony Santana, 31, said through tears at a news conference outside police headquarters. “Gascón will never know how I feel. Gascón will never know how he destroyed our families. He won’t know how his (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.”
Santana and his partner, Cpl. Michael Domingo Paredes, 42, were killed around 5 p.m. Tuesday during a gunfight at the Siesta Inn, 10327 Garvey Ave., where they had responded to a report of a stabbing.
Authorities say the officers confronted the suspect in a room at the motel, leading to gunfire. The suspect ran outside into a parking lot, where another shooting occurred. The officers were taken to Los Angeles County-USC Medical Center, where they both died.
According to the coroner’s office, both officers were shot in the head.
The suspect, Justin William Flores, 35, died at the scene of the shooting.
While the investigation into the shooting is continuing, critics of Gascón have loudly lashed out at the district attorney in the ensuing days, noting that Flores — a felon with a history of arrests — was given a plea deal last year that allowed him to avoid prison time for being in possession of a firearm. As a result of the plea, charges of methamphetamine possession and being a felon in possession of ammunition were dropped, and Flores was placed on two years probation, and 20 days in jail.
Deputy District Attorney Jon Hatami, a leader of the drive to recall District Attorney George Gascón, blasted the plea deal, saying it was an example of Gascón’s policies against alleging prior strike convictions in criminal cases allowing a defendant to avoid prison time and remain on the streets.
“When George Gascón implemented his blanket policies, he didn’t care about prior violent criminal history, the law, evidence, facts or public safety,” Hatami wrote on his Twitter page. “He excluded all strike priors on past & future cases no matter what. His excuses now are just not true.”
The District Attorney’s Office issued a statement Wednesday night saying, “The sentence (Flores) received in the firearm case was consistent with case resolutions for this type of offense given his criminal history and the nature of the offense. At the time the court sentenced him, Mr. Flores did not have a documented history of violence.”
The office noted that Flores’ prior burglary conviction was for burglarizing his grandparents’ house.
But outside El Monte police headquarters Friday, Garcia was joined by relatives of other law enforcement officers who were killed in the line of duty, along with supporters of an effort to recall Gascón, directly blaming the district attorney for the deaths of Santana and Paredes.
“These two officers’ deaths cannot be in vain,” James Wheeler of the Association of Los Angeles Deputy Sheriffs said. “Michael and Joseph should be here today with their families. Instead, their families will be attending their funeral. Our heart breaks every time a peace officer is killed in the line of duty. We have a saying — ‘Many gave some. Some gave all.'”
Wheeler said the ALADS board of directors voted Friday to contribute another $100,000 to the Gascón recall effort.
Garcia said her son “was murdered by a criminal that should have been in jail.”
“Los Angeles District Attorney George Gascón gives criminal more rights than police officers,” she said through tears. “He has insane ideas about giving criminals a slap (on) the hand. … We need death row and three- strikes law to come back. We need to enforce our laws so more police officers don’t die.”
Garcia referenced reports that began circulating Thursday, suggesting that Gascón’s office would be covering the costs of Flores’ funeral as a victim of a police shooting. But Gascón’s office staunchly denied that accusation Thursday afternoon.
“Those rumors are unfounded and incredibly disrespectful to the families and colleagues of the two fallen officers,” according to the DA’s office. “We also hope people will stop playing politics with trauma and that we can all get serious about how we prevent serious violence before it begins. We will be working with anyone who is willing to solve these problems.”
Gascón issued another statement late Friday, expressing condolences for the fallen officers and their families, but not directly addressing the statements criticizing his policies.
“The fallen officers were husbands, fathers and friends,” he said. “We know that the families are hurt and devastated by the loss of a cherished family member. Our hearts break for them as they face this Father’s Day weekend without their loved ones. Our office has and will continue to hold people who commit violence accountable for their actions. …
“Our work now will focus on supporting the families and working to ensure we do everything we can to protect the safety our community.”
A candlelight vigil will be held Saturday night in memory of the two El Monte officers. The vigil is scheduled for 7 p.m. Saturday at the El Monte Civic Center.
The El Monte Farmers Market, normally held every Thursday evening on Main Street, was postponed indefinitely, along with a planned Pride Night event, as the “community grieves the loss of our two fallen heroes,” according to a statement from the city.
The city also canceled Friday’s scheduled “Dive-in Movies” event. El Monte City Manager Alma Martinez said city hall will be closed Monday for a day of mourning.
“My employees are grieving the loss of two officers who were part of our El Monte family,” Martinez said. “As we all cope with this tragedy, we are making counseling services available to all our staff and providing them with the support they need. This is the time for our Council, staff, and community to be united, support one another and grow closer together as we heal.”
The officers, who lived in Upland but were raised in El Monte, were both married fathers. Funeral arrangements were still pending.
The Peace Officers Research Association of California, or PORAC, established a fundraising campaign on behalf of the officers’ families. The fundraiser can be found at porac.org/fundraiser/el-monte-police- officers/.
According to the city, Paredes began as an EMPD cadet and was sworn in as a full-time police officer in July of 2000. He is survived by his wife of 18 years, a 16-year-old daughter and 14-year-old son.
Santana spent six years working for the city’s Public Works Department, then worked for three years as a San Bernardino County sheriff’s deputy. He joined the El Monte Police Department last year. He is survived by his wife of seven years, a 9-year-old daughter and 2-year-old twin boys.
Flores’ mother, Lynn Covarrubias, told the Los Angeles Times her son and his wife, who had a 7-year-old daughter, were separated, but they would often stay at the Siesta Inn.
Flores’ wife, Diana Flores, told CBS2 she was at the motel room with him when the 911 call was made, saying the responding officers “were trying to help me.”
“I’m so deeply sorry,” she told the station. “My condolences for saving me.”
She said she tried to warn the officers that Flores was armed.
“I told them before they went in the room, ‘Don’t go in — he has a gun,”‘ she told Channel 2.