LOS ANGELES (CNS) — District Attorney George Gascón, who has come under fire over the disposition of a 2021 criminal case against a man who fatally shot two El Monte police officers last week, defended his office’s handling of the matter Tuesday, insisting a plea agreement that allowed the man to avoid jail time was “appropriate under the circumstances.”
He conceded that “we have an imperfect” criminal justice system, and said it’s impossible to “predict 100% of the time” what will happen with criminal defendants in the future.
Critics of Gascón and the parents of one of the slain officers have lashed out at the district attorney in the days following the fatal shootout that occurred last Tuesday afternoon outside the Siesta Inn at 10327 Garvey Ave.
Cpl. Michael Paredes, 42, and Officer Joseph Santana, 31, were fatally shot when they entered a motel room to confront a suspect in a reported stabbing. The suspect, 35-year-old Justin William Flores, ran from the room after the shooting and exchanged gunfire with at least one other officer in a parking lot. He subsequently died at the scene of a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head, according to the Los Angeles County coroner.
Paredes and Santana were both shot in the head, according to the coroner’s office. They were taken to Los Angeles County-USC Medical Center, where they died.
Gascón’s critics have subsequently noted 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, serving just 20 days in jail.
During a Friday news conference, Santana’s mother, Olga Garcia, said policies implemented by Gascón led to the deaths of her son and Paredes.
“I blame the death of my son and his partner on Gascón,” Garcia said. “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.”
Deputy District Attorney Jon Hatami, a leader of a petition drive to recall Gascón, also blasted the plea deal, saying it was an example of Gascón’s policies against alleging prior strike convictions in criminal cases, allowing defendants to avoid prison time and remain on the streets.
“When George Gascón implemented his blanket policies, he didn’t care about prior violent criminal history, the law, evidence, facts or public safety,” Hatami wrote on his Twitter page. “He excluded all strike priors on past & future cases no matter what. His excuses now are just not true.”
At a news conference Tuesday in his office, Gascón defended the handling of Flores’ case.
“We had an individual who was drug addicted for many years,” Gascón said. “He had been arrested multiple times for a variety of low-level offenses. (Last year’s) case was a case where he stole a television when he broke into his grandparents’ house and he was high at the time. He went through a lengthy period of time without any contact with the criminal justice system.
“... The reality is that when you have the history that this individual had, the outcome was appropriate under the circumstances,” Gascón said.
He insisted that when people commit serious crimes, his office works “hard to ensure there are serious consequences.” But he said he recognizes “this is a very difficult time.”
“Understandably, many of us are angry, including myself,” he said.
Funeral arrangements for the officers are still pending.
The lobbying organization Peace Officers Research Association of California, established a fundraising campaign on behalf of the officers’ families. Donations can be made online.
Both officers lived in Upland but were raised in El Monte, and both were married fathers with children.
Paredes began as an EMPD cadet and was sworn in as a full-time police officer in July 2000, city officials said. He is survived by his wife of 18 years, a 16-year-old daughter and a 14-year-old son.
Santana spent six years working for the city’s Public Works Department, then worked for three years as a San Bernardino County sheriff’s deputy. He joined the El Monte Police Department last year. He is survived by his wife of seven years, a 9-year-old daughter and 2-year-old twin boys.