Weekend Vigil Planned in Memory of Slain El Monte Officers

EL MONTE (CNS) – A candlelight vigil will be held Saturday in memory of two El Monte police officers who were fatally shot during a gun battle that also killed the suspect, who was free on probation for a weapons offense despite a history of arrests.

The vigil is scheduled for 7 p.m. Saturday at the El Monte Civic Center in honor of Cpl. Michael Domingo Paredes, 42, and Officer Joseph Anthony Santana, 31. They both died after being shot around 5:10 p.m. Tuesday in a gunfight at the Siesta Inn, 10327 Garvey Ave., where they had responded on a report of a stabbing.

Authorities say the officers confronted a suspect in a room at the motel, leading to gunfire. The suspect ran outside into a parking lot, where another shooting occurred. The officers were taken to Los Angeles County-USC Medical Center, where they both died.

The suspect — identified by his mother as Justin William Flores, 35 — died at the scene of the shooting.

The officers, who lived in Upland but were raised in El Monte, were both married fathers. Funeral arrangements were still pending.

The Peace Officers Research Association of California, or PORAC, established a fundraising campaign on behalf of the officers’ families. CLICK HERE TO DONATE.

According to the city, Paredes began as an EMPD cadet and was sworn in as a full-time police officer in July of 2000. He is survived by his wife, daughter and 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, daughter and twin boys.

According to court records, Flores pleaded guilty last year to a charge of being a felon in possession of a firearm. As part of the plea, charges of being a felon in possession of ammunition and methamphetamine possession were dismissed. He was sentenced to two years probation and 20 days in jail, with warning that if he violated probation he would face up to three years in prison.

Deputy District Attorney Jon Hatami, a leader of the drive to recall District Attorney George Gascón, blasted the plea deal, saying it was an example of Gascón’s policies against alleging prior strike convictions in criminal cases allowing a defendant 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.”

He added, “He refuses to fully charge & prosecute existing gun cases. Felon in (possession) of a firearm with a prior strike — no prison, no accountability & no public safety.”

Hatami said Flores had prior felony convictions for vehicle theft in 2009 and burglary in 2011, which led to prison time. He said the suspect also had multiple arrests over the past decade.

The District Attorney’s Office issued a statement Wednesday night to media outlets, saying, “The sentence (Flores) received in the firearm case was consistent with case resolutions for this type of offense given his criminal history and the nature of the offense. At the time the court sentenced him, Mr. Flores did not have a documented history of violence.”

The office noted that Flores’ prior burglary conviction was for burglarizing his grandparents’ house.

The Los Angeles Times reported that Flores was due to appear in court later this month for allegedly violating his probation.

Some reports began circulating Thursday that the District Attorney’s Office, under a directive by Gascón, would be paying for Flores’ funeral costs as a victim of a police shooting. But his office issued a statement blasting the reports as untrue.

“Those rumors are unfounded and incredibly disrespectful to the families and colleagues of the two fallen officers,” according to the DA’s office. “We also hope people will stop playing politics with trauma and that we can all get serious about how we prevent serious violence before it begins. We will be working with anyone who is willing to solve these problems.”

Flores’ mother, Lynn Covarrubias, told The Times her son and his wife, who had a 7-year-old daughter, were separated, and he would often stay at the Siesta Inn. She said she did not know who was with her son at the motel on Tuesday. Investigators combed the area of the shooting for hours after the shooting, searching for evidence, witnesses and surveillance video. The Times reported that investigators interviewed a woman, described as the suspect’s girlfriend, who was in the hotel room with him, noting that she had not been stabbed.

Gov. Gavin Newsom said flags at the state Capitol were lowered to half- staff in honor of the slain officers.

“Jennifer and I join Californians in mourning Corporal Paredes and Officer Santana, two brave public servants who made the ultimate sacrifice in the line of duty,” he said in a statement. “Their tragic loss is a painful reminder of the risks our women and men in law enforcement face every day fulfilling the oath they were sworn to uphold. Our hearts are with their loved ones, their law enforcement family, and the people of El Monte.”

A memorial of flowers and tributes was continuing to grow outside the El Monte Police Department headquarters, and more condolences poured in from police and fire agencies in the Southland and beyond.

The El Monte Farmers Market, normally held every Thursday evening on Main Street, was postponed indefinitely, along with a planned Pride Night event, as the “community grieves the loss of our two fallen heroes,” according to a statement from the city.

The shooting came one day after a California Highway Patrol officer was shot multiple times during a traffic stop in Studio City. That officer was expected to survive, and a suspect in the shooting was arrested after an hours- long manhunt.

Anyone with information about the El Monte shooting was encouraged to call the Sheriff’s Homicide Bureau at 323-890-5500. Anonymous calls can be made to 800-222-TIPS.

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