DA Gascón, LA County probation department sued over El Monte officer's death

Los Angeles County District Attorney George Gascón, his office and the county Probation Department are being sued for wrongful death by relatives of one of two El Monte police officers who were fatally shot by a convicted felon at an El Monte motel last June, the plaintiffs' attorneys announced Thursday.

The Los Angeles Superior Court complaint lawsuit brought by family members of the late Officer Joseph Santana states that Justin Flores, 35, was placed on probation in a plea deal in 2021 after he was arrested in 2020 for being a felon in possession of a firearm and methamphetamine. Even though Flores had a prior felony conviction for burglary, Gascón issued a directive barring the prosecutor handling Flores' case from filing a strike allegation against Flores, the suit states.

Officer Joseph Santana

In doing so, Gascón disregarded California's "three strikes" law, which requires prosecutors to plead prior known strikes, the suit states.

The District Attorney's Office issued a statement Thursday regarding the suit.

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"As we've previously stated, our hearts go out to the family of Officer Santana," the statement read. "His tragic murder is a devastating loss to his family, friends and the community he bravely served. We have nothing but empathy for those who are suffering. We have not received a copy of the filings.  We have not reviewed the legal documents and cannot comment at this time. Again, our heart goes out to the victims of this horrific tragedy."

But according to the suit, if Gascón followed the law, Flores would have been sentenced to prison. After being put on probation in March 2021, Flores was only seen by his probation officer once -- although he was supposed to have monthly check-ins -- and Probation Department members never initiated a desertion proceeding as their own policies required, which would have forced a probation revocation, the suit states.

On June 2, Flores' probation officer completed a phone check-in with him after learning that Flores was in illegal possession of a gun and had beaten a woman, but Flores did not show up for an appointment four days later and his probation officer never reported the information to law enforcement, the suit states.

The probation officer filed for a revocation of Flores' probation a day before the shootings, but Flores was not taken into custody, the suit states. Flores died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound to his head.

Santana and fellow El Monte Police Officer Michael Paredes responded to a report of a stabbing on June 14 at the Siesta Inn, where Flores was staying with his wife. The officers rescued the victim, but were subsequently shot to death by Flores.

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"Two young police officers were killed, in part, because L.A. County's Probation Department sat on its hands and failed to yank a dangerous felon off the streets after he blatantly violated the terms of his probation," said plaintiffs' attorney David Ring. "District Attorney Gascón's ill-advised policies coupled with the Probation Department's failure to act played a big role in the deaths of two on-duty officers."

The Santana family released the following statement regarding the lawsuit:

"Gascón and the Probation Department need to be held accountable for their failures that resulted in Joseph's death," the statement read. " No family should ever have to endure the pain we've been through since the tragic passing of our loving son, father and husband."