Probation Department ignored red flags about gang member who killed 2 California police officers, OIG says

Probation Department ignored red flags about gang member who killed 2 California police officers, OIG says

Family members of a convicted gang member warned the Los Angeles County Probation Department that the probationer had become abusive, was using drugs and carrying a firearm more than a week before he killed two El Monte police officers and then himself in June 2022, according to a scathing report from the county Office of Inspector General.

Justin Flores’ probation officer ignored a barrage of red flags that should have resulted in law enforcement taking him off the streets for violating his parole, the report found.

“After review of Mr. Flores’ probation file, the Office of Inspector General finds the Probation Department failed to properly monitor Mr. Flores, failed to report his noncompliance, failed to act on pertinent information they received on Mr. Flores regarding allegations of domestic violence, gun possession and illegal drug use, and failed to make local law enforcement aware that Mr. Flores may be armed with a gun and dangerous,” the report states.

The report found that the Probation Department had spoken to the Flores, 35, only six times in the 16 months after he pleaded no contest to possessing a firearm with a prior felony conviction. During that time, only one of the contacts was in person and it did not occur until almost a year after his probation began.

In multiple instances, the deputy probation officer assigned to the case improperly listed Flores as having reported by phone without having actually made contact with him, the investigation found.

A compliance check by the Probation Department’s “Developing Increased Safety Through Arms Reduction Management” team, or DISARM, in June 2021 determined Flores wasn’t living at the address in his file.

“At this point, Mr. Flores had failed to report to Probation for approximately 3 months (March 16, 2021 to June 15, 2021), DISARM had not located him at the address listed in his file and his family did not know where he was,” the report states. “Yet, no action was taken at this time to violate Mr. Flores for his failure to report.”

El Monte police Officer Joseph Santana, left, and Cpl. Michael Paredes. Both were ambushed by gunfire when responding to a domestic violence call at a motel. (Photos courtesy of Trevor Tamsen) 

A little more than a week before Flores killed El Monte police Officer Joseph Santana, 31, and Cpl. Michael Paredes, 42, family members expressed concerns about him.

“Mr. Flores was an identified Quiet Village gang member, known by the Probation Department to have a substance abuse problem, and was on probation for a gun conviction,” the report states. “On June 2, 2022, and again, on June 7, 2022, the Probation Department received information from Mr. Flores’ family members that Mr. Flores was not only using PCP, but he was armed with a gun and dangerous.”

Flores’ probation officer forwarded that information to another probation officer assigned to the Pico Rivera sheriff’s station, but no one requested that the department’s Special Enforcement Operations check on Flores or relayed the information to local law enforcement.

That June, Santana and Paredes responded to a report of a stabbing at the Siesta Inn. Flores’ girlfriend, whose mother had reported Flores’ abuse to the Probation Department, exited a motel room as the officers arrived. When they attempted to make contact with Flores, he opened fire.

Paredes and Santana died in the encounter. Flores was shot approximately 20 times by the subsequent responding officers before he turned Paredes’ service weapon on himself.

Flores had three outstanding warrants for his arrest, two from San Bernardino County and one from Los Angeles County, at the time. The Probation Department did not run a warrant check on Flores until just days before the shooting, when Flores missed his final appointment.

“For almost 16 months, despite his whereabouts being unknown and the DPO having no direct contact with him for months at a time, no warrant checks were conducted,” the report states. “By the time his record was checked on June 6, 2022, two of his three warrants had been outstanding for over two years, and the third for almost a year.”

Though he was supposed to receive periodic drug tests, he was not given a single one during the time he was on probation, according to the inspector general’s report.

The Office of Inspector General makes several recommendations for policy and procedure improvements, including that the Probation Department should require two in-person contacts with probationers per month, carry out regular audits of its client files, and create a formal process to notify local law enforcement when the agency “receives reliable information that a probationer is armed and dangerous.”

Santana’s family has filed a lawsuit against both the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office, which offered Flores a plea deal that resulted in his placement on probation, and the Probation Department.

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