District Attorney George Gascón is facing backlash after a report revealed that a policy he introduced may have helped the gunman accused of killing two El Monte police officers on Tuesday get out of prison earlier than he might have on previous charges.
Justin Flores, 35, who also died in Tuesday’s altercation at the Siesta motel in El Monte, was charged with being a felon in possession of a firearm and methamphetamine when he was arrested in 2020, according to the Los Angeles Times.
Nearly a decade prior, Flores was convicted of a burglary in 2011. Burglaries are considered to be strike offenses, which make suspects charged with later crimes eligible for harsher sentences, the Times reports. Therefore, Flores had one strike against him when he was charged in 2020.
But the prosecutor assigned to Flores’ cases, Deputy District Attorney Larry Holcomb, was forced to revoke the strike allegation due to a policy issued by Los Angeles County’s brand new reformer D.A. at the time—George Gascón. The special directive prohibited prosecutors from filing strike allegations.
Gascón’s directive was later deemed illegal by a Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge, and in February 2021, Judge James Chalfant ruled that the policy violated California’s “three strikes” law, which requires prosecutors to file strike allegations whenever a defendant has a previous serious or violent felony conviction. Earlier this year, an appellate judge upheld Chalfant’s ruling.
Flores, who had been prohibited from carrying a gun since 2011, pleaded no contest to being a felon in possession of a firearm in 2021. Prosecutors agreed to drop all other charges, according to court records.
While the gun conviction could have sent him to prison for up to three years, by pleading no contest, Flores was sentenced to two years’ probation and 20 days in jail.
There’s no guarantee that Flores would have still been locked up when he shot to death Corporal Michael Paredes and Officer Joseph Santana on Tuesday, but the removal of the strike allegation likely impacted Flores’ sentencing.
Ricardo Santiago, the spokesman for the district attorney’s office, told the Times that “experienced managers” had reviewed the case and determined the sentencing given to Flores was consistent with those offered by previous administrations.
Shortly after Flores’ criminal history was revealed, critics of Gascón—who is already facing recall efforts—wasted no time in blaming him for Tuesday’s tragic shooting. The co-chair behind Gascón’s recall campaign said on Thursday that she is confident it received more than 30,000 signatures this week to oust the embattled district attorney, and that they have now gathered the 567,857 needed by July 6 to get rid of the reformer. But the group told Fox News that it is now working toward collecting 650,000 signatures due to the likelihood of some signatures being deemed invalid by L.A. County officials.
Former L.A. County D.A. Steve Cooley told the New York Post, that Gascón might have to cover funeral costs for Flores. “He said his office, through the Victims’ Program, would pay for the cost of burial and counseling of the families of anyone killed by police officers,” Cooley said.
But Gascón’s office quickly debunked the claim, saying that the “rumors are unfounded and incredibly disrespectful to the families and colleagues of the two fallen officers.”
Our office is committed to providing support for the loved ones of the victims who lost a life. There have been rumors surfacing today that the DA’s office will pay for the funeral services for the person responsible for the murders of two #ElMonte officers. (1/3) pic.twitter.com/OF1UCsKXPJ
— George Gascón (@LADAOffice) June 17, 2022
“We hope people will stop playing politics with trauma and that we can all get serious about how we prevent serious violence before it begins,” his office said in a statement. “We will be working with anyone who is willing to solve these problems.”
Flores’ wife, Diana, told NBC Los Angeles that her late husband had previously attacked her and she warned the officers that he had a gun inside the motel room. She also alleged that he stabbed her days before the June 14 confrontation with police.
“I am so deeply sorry, my deepest condolences for saving me, I’m so, so, so sorry,” she said. “They didn’t deserve that, or their families. They really didn’t. They were trying to help me and I told them before they went in the room, ‘Don’t go in. He has a gun.’”
At this point, the events leading up to the shooting remain unclear and the investigation is ongoing.
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