Justin Flores, 35, was on probation for a gun charge when he fatally shot two El Monte police officers two weeks ago, but records show that his probation officer hadn’t visited him in more than six months, according to the Los Angeles Times.
Prior to the June 14 shooting, the Los Angeles County probation department received alarming reports that Flores was in possession of a gun—a violation due to his felony conviction—and that he had beaten a woman he was intimately involved with, three law enforcement officials familiar with the case told the Times.
Also in early June, Flores’ mother called her son’s probation officer to inform them that he had started using drugs again in March. She reportedly begged his probation officer for help, but the officer refused to discuss the case with her.
Friends and family of the fallen officers, Corporal Michael Paredes and Officer Joseph Santana, want someone to answer for their deaths, including District Attorney George Gascón, who received heavy backlash after a report revealed that a policy he introduced may have helped Flores get out of prison sooner than he might have on previous charges. But now officials are looking at the probation department’s shortcomings in monitoring Flores.
L.A. County Supervisor Hilda Solis has since ordered the County Office of the Inspector General and the civilian Probation Oversight Commission to investigate the probation department’s handling of Flores’ case, she told the Times on Friday.
The probe arrives amid growing concern that probation officers have been lax with checking on their clients throughout the COVID pandemic. The day after the El Monte shootings, Probation Chief Adolfo Gonzales held an “emergency meeting” to launch an audit of field contacts between police officers and probationers, a probation official told the Times.
“People got lazy… When you have these high-risk offenders on probation, it’s an in-person visit,” one official said.
Paredes and Santana were responding to a call of a domestic violence incident at about 5 p.m. on June 14 at the Siesta Inn motel. The officers managed to get the victim out of the room while Flores retreated into a bathroom. He then opened fire, shooting both officers in the head. Flores then stole a gun from one of the slain officers and ran into the parking lot, where he exchanged gunfire with other responding others. He eventually fell to the pavement before taking his own life, according to authorities.
Prior to the shooting, Flores, who was a documented member of the Quiet Village gang, had a lengthy criminal record that included burglary, multiple driving violations, and several arrests for drug possession, according to court records, the Times reports. In February 2021, Flores was placed on probation as part of a plea deal after he was arrested for being a felon in possession of a firearm.
On June 2—12 days before the shooting—the probation department received a report of a domestic violence allegation against Flores and a complaint that he had a firearm, law enforcement officials told the Times. A probation officer called Flores that day for a phone “check-in” and ordered him to attend an in-person meeting on June 6, according to a statement issued by the probation department. But officials said he never showed up for the meeting.
Shortly after that, Flores’ mother, Lynn Covarrubias, called her son’s probation officer to inform them that he had been abusing drugs again. She said Flores had relapsed in March following the murder of his cousin in Commerce. Flores had been living at the Siesta Inn with his wife where they both were engaging in drug use, Covarrubias said.
“I told them my son and his wife were doing drugs and he needed help and him going back to jail wouldn’t help him, and the probation officer told me he couldn’t discuss his case with me,” Covarrubias told the Times. “He said the only way he could get my son back into a program was if he did something wrong and to report it to the [sheriff’s department.]”
Covarrubias doesn’t believe that her son committed suicide during the gun battle with police.
“I do feel the probation department should have stepped in and did more to help, to get him help. And they didn’t,” she said.
The probation department submitted a “desertion report” and a hearing to revoke Flores’ probation was scheduled for the end of June, records viewed by the Times state. If Flores had attended his June 6 meeting with his probation officer, it would have been the first time anyone in the department had seen him since December, officials said.
Probation officers are expected to schedule in-person meetings with their clients once per month, but the department relaxed that policy during the pandemic, opting for monthly phone check-ins instead.
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