El Monte

Mother of Slain El Monte Officer Blames DA Gascón for Son's Death

The officers were killed Tuesday during a gunfight, responding to a report of a stabbing.

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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 5:10 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 was identified as 35-year-old Justin William Flores.

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Law enforcement officials originally said Flores died at the scene of the shooting but the coroner's office confirmed late Saturday that Flores died by suicide.

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.

A community in El Monte is mourning the death of two police officers who were killed in a shooting. Lauren Coronado reports for the NBC4 News at 11 p.m. on June 16, 2022.

The campaign to recall Los Angeles County District Attorney George Gascon says the progressive DA's policy of ignoring the state's three strikes law allowed Flores, a convicted felon, out on parole, when he could have been serving time in prison.

Flores had been arrested earlier of possessing a firearm as well as methamphetamine.

"George Gascon said when he came into office, he would break the system," Eric Siddall, the vice president of the Association of Los Angeles Deputy District Attorneys, the union representing nearly 1,000 Deputy District Attorneys who work for the County of Los Angeles. "He broke it and know he owns it and he owns these two killings."

Standard protocol would have seen him sentenced to 32 months in state prison, meaning he would still be in prison today, said Deputy District Attorney John McKinney.

"But George Gascón came into office and he nullified the law."

Recently, a three judge state appellate court excoriated the District Attorney for ignoring the state law.

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In a 70-page opinion the court saying the DA did not have the authority to insist his prosecutors not seek additional penalties for violent felons under California's three strikes statute.

Gascón has defended his adjudication of the case in a statement appearing to diminish Flores' first arrest, which was for burglarizing his grandparents home 10 years ago.

The sentence Flores received in the firearm case was consistent with case resolutions for this type of offense given his criminal history, the statement read.

At the time the court sentenced him, Flores did not have a documented history of violence.

"The overriding emotion this week is heartbreak," said Jamarah Hayner, Gascón's campaign manager, in a statement Friday. "Two families had loved ones who didn't come home from their shifts — the worst fear of everyone who cares about someone who serves.

"Their parents, children and the entire community of El Monte deserve every single law enforcement entity to be working together to find out what happened, what support can be provided to the officers’ families and how we prevent this sort of tragedy in the future with real solutions. This isn't a time for politicking, it's a time for humanity and cooperation."

Gascon's prosecutors are hoping the El Monte officers' killings will spur more attention to their recall signature drive.

They currently have over 560,000 signatures, but are seeking at least another 100,000 more.

"I know prosecutors from day one warned him that his policies were ill advised and they would lead to people being hurt," said Kathy Cady, a former deputy district attorney.

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 https://porac.org/fundraiser/el-monte-policeofficers/.

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