Damages claim against El Monte motel dropped in officer's death

Relatives of one of two El Monte police officers who was fatally shot by a convicted felon in that city in 2022 have dropped their punitive damages claim against the motel where the tragedy occurred.

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

On May 3, Santana's relatives sued Los Angeles County District Attorney George Gascón, his office, the county Probation Department and the motel for wrongful death. On Friday, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Michael E. Whitaker issued an order striking the punitive damages claim against the motel at the request of both sides. The motel will still remain a defendant and potentially liable for compensatory damages.

According to the suit, 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.

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

According to the suit, if Gascón had 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, 2022, the probation officer completed a phone check-in with Flores after learning he 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.