Widow of slain El Monte officer files $25M claim against L.A. district attorney
According to the claim, probation officials got a call about Justin Flores' violent behavior weeks before he shot Officers Michael Paredes and Joseph Santana
By James Queally
Los Angeles Times
LOS ANGELES — The family of an El Monte police officer who was slain this year has filed a notice of claim seeking millions in damages against Los Angeles County Dist. Atty. George Gascón and the L.A. County Probation Department.
Janine Paredes — whose husband, Michael, was one of two officers gunned down during a confrontation at a motel in June — filed the notice of claim Wednesday, blaming both Gascón's criminal justice reform policies and lax supervision by the probation department for putting the suspected gunman, Justin Flores, in the officers' path on the day of the deadly clash.
A notice of claim is the first step in filing a civil lawsuit, which will probably be done early next year, according to the Paredes family attorney, Mark Peacock.
The claim alleges Flores "should have been in custody at the time of the murders but for the deliberate indifference" of Gascón and the probation department, which allowed "Flores to freely roam and prey on those unsuspecting people who work and live in the City of El Monte in the County of Los Angeles."
A documented gang member, Flores had multiple convictions for burglary and drug possession and was on probation when Paredes and Officer Joseph Santana confronted him at the Siesta Inn in June.
The officers were responding to a domestic violence call when Flores emerged from a bathroom and shot them both in the head, authorities have said. Flores then allegedly raced into the parking lot with one of the fallen officers' weapons, where authorities say he engaged in a firefight with other officers and was killed.
On 6/14/22, Corporal Michael Paredes & Officer Joseph Santana of the @elmontepolice— Santa Clara Police (@SantaClaraPD) June 16, 2022
were tragically killed in the line of duty while responding to a call for service.
We mourn with the friends & families of the officers, @elmontepolice & the community of El Monte. #RIP 💙🖤💙 pic.twitter.com/FtTadvgUIR
In the days after the shooting, many in law enforcement turned their ire toward Gascón, claiming Flores would have been in prison if not for the district attorney's controversial refusal to file sentencing enhancements against defendants.
Flores, who was awaiting charges on drug and gun possession in early 2021, was sentenced to two years' probation under the terms of a plea deal. Some have argued he should have faced additional prison time for a prior "strike offense," a 2011 burglary conviction, that might have resulted in Flores being incarcerated at the time of the killings.
Gascón said the plea deal was consistent with those offered by prior administrations and noted the prior burglary crime was nonviolent. But The Times reviewed documents this year that showed the prosecutor on the case specifically cited Gascón's policy when filing a report rescinding the use of an enhancement against Flores. The policy was later deemed illegal by a Los Angeles County Superior Court judge.
"Our hearts go out to the family of Sgt. Paredes. His tragic murder is a devastating loss to both his family, friends and the community he bravely served. We have nothing but empathy for those who are suffering," the district attorney's office said in a statement Tuesday.
A spokesman for Gascón said the office had not seen the tort claim yet and could not comment on it.
A Times investigation also raised serious questions about the probation department's supervision of Flores. In the days before the killings, the probation department received reports that Flores had beaten a woman and was in possession of a gun, both incidents that could have resulted in his probation being revoked.
Flores' mother also told The Times she called her son's probation officer in early June to report that he had relapsed in March and begged his probation officer for help, but the officer refused to discuss the case with her.
The Times report sparked an investigation by the L.A. County Office of the Inspector General, which later found probation staff had seen Flores in person just one time in the 16 months he was under county supervision. The probation department also completely lost track of Flores for three months in 2021, according to the inspector general's initial findings, and repeatedly failed to initiate "desertion" proceedings that could have resulted in his arrest long before the killings.
The Flores case is the latest in a string of scandals for the probation department. On Monday, a Times investigation detailed months of chaos inside L.A. County's juvenile halls, which are overseen by the agency.
"While we cannot comment on pending litigation, the Los Angeles County Probation Department continues to extend our deepest condolences to the families and loved ones of the two heroic El Monte Police Department officers," probation department spokeswoman Karla Tovar said in an email. "We support and stand in solidarity with the El Monte Police Department."
The Santana family is not part of the legal action, according to Peacock, who said Janine Paredes filed the claim to seek accountability for what she sees as failures by two arms of law enforcement that had deadly consequences for her husband.
"After the murders occurred, everybody is jumping on Gascón and what he failed to do, and then when you do a deep dive, you see the probation department had an opportunity to get this guy off the streets, and they didn't do that," Peacock said. "It's a perfect storm … that resulted in the murder of someone's husband and someone's dad."