Richard Winton, Andrew J. Campa, Matthew Ormseth and Nathan Solis
Los Angeles Times
LOS ANGELES — The man who killed two El Monte police officers was on probation for illegally carrying a gun when he fired on the officers as they responded to a call for service at a motel Tuesday, court records show.
A day after Cpl. Michael Paredes and Officer Joseph Santana were shot to death, stunning many in this San Gabriel Valley suburb that has worked hard to distance itself from the violence that plagued it decades ago, a clearer picture emerged of the man who authorities say killed the officers before being shot to death himself.
Law enforcement sources identified the gunman as Justin Flores, 35. Arrested in 2020 and charged with possessing methamphetamine, a handgun and ammunition, Flores pleaded no contest in February 2021 to possessing a firearm as a felon, records show. Prosecutors dropped the other charges.
Flores, who previously served two prison terms for burglary and car theft, had been prohibited from carrying a gun since 2011.
Though the gun conviction alone could have sent him to prison for three years, Flores was instead sentenced to two years’ probation and 20 days in jail, which he’d already served, a prosecutor said at a plea hearing. Flores was ordered not to possess any weapons, including guns, ammunition and knives, a transcript of the hearing shows. He was warned that if he breached these terms, he could be sent to prison for up to three years.
On Monday, 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 Los Angeles County Probation Department, said the agency was “currently investigating the matter further.”
Around 4:30 p.m. Tuesday, Paredes and Santana responded to a report of a stabbing at the Siesta Inn, a single-story, stucco motel on Garvey Avenue.
What exactly happened next remains unclear, but a source familiar with the incident said the officers came under fire after knocking on the door to one of the motel’s rooms.
Capt. Andrew Meyer, who leads the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department’s Homicide Bureau, said that after an exchange of gunfire in the room, Flores ran out into a parking lot, where the officers fired again.
Paredes and Santana were taken to L.A. County-USC Medical Center, where they died. Flores died at the scene. Meyer said a gun was found near his body.
Although El Monte Mayor Jessica Ancona had said the officers were “essentially ambushed,” Meyer would not say whether the officers were attacked immediately upon arriving at the motel.
“We don’t have all the facts yet,” he said Tuesday night, standing outside the hospital where Paredes and Santana died.
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 described him as a nearly 22-year veteran “who went through our El Monte schools” and who was “excited to be on the force.”
Santana 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 worked as a maintenance worker for the city of El Monte for six years and graduated from El Monte High School. He’s survived by his wife, daughter and twin boys.
“They grew up here; to us, they’re El Monte homegrown,” Ancona said. “They’re our boys.”
The mayor said a memorial fund and funeral service details will be released later in the week.
“They were good men,” Capt. Ben Lowry, the El Monte Police Department’s acting chief, said Tuesday night. “These two heroes paid the ultimate sacrifice today. They were murdered by a coward.”
Flores’ mother, Lynn Covarrubias, said her son’s wife called Tuesday and told her he was dead, but she didn’t believe it.
“Even the pictures they showed me of my son lying on the ground, I just thought, ‘Take him to the hospital. You can save him,’” said Covarrubias, 54.
Flores and his wife were separated, and he would often stay at the Siesta Inn, Covarrubias said. The couple have a 7-year-old daughter, she said.
Covarrubias said she was detained for several hours, even though she was not at the motel when the shooting took place. She said the officers kept calling her son a “coward.”
“It hurts to hear them say that. He was a person too. He had a daughter,” Covarrubias said. “I want them to know, in spite of what happened, he was loving and caring.”
Law enforcement sources said Flores was a member of Quiet Village, a gang based in Whittier. A photograph kept by the state prison system shows he had the word “Quiet” tattooed on his right cheek.
Flores first went to prison at 22 for stealing a car, spending two months behind bars in 2009, records show. In 2011, he was sent back to prison for burglary and was released after 10 months.
Records show Flores had been arrested many times for low-level crimes — theft, driving violations and drug possession — but nothing that approached the degree of violence that left two police officers dead Tuesday night.
Juan Hernandez, who lives near the hotel, said he heard gunfire shortly after 4:30 p.m.
“At first it was about six shots that you could hear and then a spraying of at least a dozen. I would guess there were at least 20 shots,” Hernandez said.
Hernandez rushed his two children, both younger than 10, from the living room to a bedroom. He then ran outside his gate to see what had happened. The Siesta Inn, where the shooting took place, is about 50 yards from his home. He saw a body lying on the pavement near the intersection of Central and Garvey avenues. Hernandez believed it to be a suspect and not an officer “because I didn’t see a uniform.”
Mayra Lomeli, 49, heard three shots and dived under a table at El Perico Market, a block from the Siesta Inn.
Lomeli, an El Monte resident, said she overcame her fear and ran to close the entrance door, fearing a gunman would try to burst through.
“I didn’t know what was going on, but I know that sometimes desperate people will run into nearby buildings looking to escape,” she said.
On Wednesday morning, Lupe Morse, 60, approached the El Monte Police Department with a sense of dread. She carried a glass vase with red roses, pink daisies and white lilies to leave in front of a bronze eagle statue dedicated to “those who served.”
The memorial was filled with candles, flowers, U.S. flags and “thank you” signs honoring the two officers.
“This is the walk you never want to make, but you have to because these two officers had our backs, and now it’s time to honor them,” said Morse, an El Monte resident.
The gesture had extra meaning for Morse, who said she worries about the safety of her husband, Sgt. Ted Morse of the Los Angeles Police Department’s Wilshire Division.
“We’re a police family, and we know the dangers and the possibility of what happened yesterday,” Lupe Morse said. “My heart breaks for the families.”
El Monte City School District custodian Jimmy Tessier, 55, stood at a plaque dedicated to fallen El Monte Police officers. It had two names — Anthony “Tony” Arceo, killed in 1974, and Donald Ralph Johnston, in 2002 — and would have two more to come.
Tessier, who grew up in El Monte, said a small prayer there and bowed his head.
“It was shocking to hear the news,” Tessier said. “You just never expect that here in this community. We have our problems of course, but not this.”
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