Horrific details emerge about deadly ambush of Calif. officers
The gunman killed the El Monte police officers seconds after they entered a motel room
The Peace Officers Research Association of California (PORAC) has established a fundraising campaign to help support the families of slain Cpl. Michael Paredes and Officer Joseph Santana. Donate here.
By Alene Tchekmedyian, Richard Winton and Libor Jany
Los Angeles Times
LOS ANGELES — The rookie and his training officer knocked on the door of an El Monte motel room, where they’d been called to investigate a report of domestic violence.
Once they got the victim out of the room, Officer Joseph Santana went in, followed by his training officer, Cpl. Michael Paredes. Justin Flores, the man inside, backed himself into the bathroom, law enforcement sources told the L.A. Times.
Within about 12 seconds, one source said, Flores ambushed the officers with gunfire. Paredes went down first. Coroner’s officials said both officers died of a gunshot wound to the head.
The killings brought grief and heartache to the suburb east of downtown L.A., where both officers grew up and chose to stay as first responders. “They’re El Monte homegrown,” Mayor Jessica Ancona said this week. “They’re our boys.”
The horrific details about the moments that led up to the killings and the wild shootout that followed emerged Friday as friends and family of the officers gathered to mourn. The sources who described the scene asked to remain anonymous because they were not authorized to speak publicly.
The incident began around 4:30 p.m. Tuesday when Paredes and Santana, along with an unidentified sergeant, responded to the Siesta Inn, a single-story stucco motel in El Monte.
After Paredes and Santana went down, the law enforcement sources said, Flores ran out of bullets and took a gun off one of the fallen officers. He left the room firing at the sergeant.
[RELATED: L.A. Dist. Atty's policies may have reduced prison time for man who killed El Monte cops]
Flores ran out into a parking lot, where other responding officers engaged him in a shootout. Flores — who was 6 feet 2 and about 300 pounds — fell to the ground but continued to fire at the officers. He then shot himself as the officers moved in, the sources said.
Flores died at the scene. Coroner’s officials have not determined which shots killed him.
Paredes and Santana were taken to L.A. County-USC Medical Center, where they were pronounced dead.
A news conference Friday afternoon outside the El Monte Police Department began with a moment of silence for the fallen officers.
Ron Danison, president of the El Monte police union, called the two officers his brothers. “Cpl. Paredes and Officer Santana did not show up for work today. I expected to see them walking into the doors of the station with their smiles,” Danison said. “That didn’t happen today; instead I’m standing here trying to make sense of the unthinkable.”
Paredes started as a cadet with the department and in July 2000 was sworn in as a full-time officer. He is survived by his wife, daughter and son. Ancona, the mayor, said that he “went through our El Monte schools” and was “excited to be on the force.”
Santana, a graduate of El Monte High, served for three years as a San Bernardino County sheriff’s deputy before transferring to the El Monte Police Department less than a year ago. Before joining law enforcement, he was a city maintenance worker in El Monte for six years. He’s survived by his wife, daughter and twin boys.
His mother, Olga Garcia, remembered her son as a “great father, a great husband, a good American citizen and a wonderful son.”
“As a mother, my life has been destroyed. Joseph was murdered by a criminal that should have been in jail,” she said. She went on to criticize District Attorney George Gascón for policies she said prioritize criminals over cops.
The L.A. Times this week reported that Flores could have faced significantly more time in prison when he was last charged with a crime. Documents reviewed by the L.A. Times showed that one of Gascón’s most heavily criticized policies probably resulted in a lower sentence.
In 2020, Flores was charged with being a felon in possession of a firearm and methamphetamine.
He had been convicted of burglary in 2011. Burglaries are “strike” offenses, which make suspects charged with later crimes eligible for harsher sentences. Flores’ earlier conviction means he had one strike against him when he was charged in 2020.
But the prosecutor assigned to the case case, Deputy District Attorney Larry Holcomb, wrote in a disposition report that he had to revoke the strike allegation after Gascón took office and barred prosecutors from filing strikes. Gascón’s policy was later deemed illegal by an L.A. County Superior Court judge.
Flores pleaded no contest to being a felon in possession of a firearm and was sentenced to two years’ probation and 20 days in jail; he could have faced up to three years in prison for the gun charge. At the time of this week’s shooting, he was still on probation.
A day before the shooting, Flores’ probation officer filed a request in court for a revocation hearing, listing the reason as “desertion.” Two law enforcement sources familiar with the investigation said his girlfriend reported he had assaulted her last week, triggering a probation violation, but Flores was not taken into custody. A hearing was set for June 27.
Asked why Flores wasn’t arrested on the violation, Karla Tovar, a spokeswoman for the county Probation Department, said the agency was “currently investigating the matter further.”
(L.A. Times staff writer James Queally contributed to this report.)
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