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Criminal Justice

Inspector General’s Office Says Man Who Killed El Monte Cops Had Only Seen Probation Staff In Person Once In 16 Months

El Monte Mayor Jessica Ancona wears a red shirt and black coat as she speaks in front of LAC + USC medical center Tuesday night. Two El Monte officers were killed in what was described as a 'shootout'
El Monte Mayor Jessica Ancona speaks at a press conference on June 14, 2022, when two officers responding to a domestic disturbance were fatally shot.
(FB Live)
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The man who shot and killed two El Monte police officers in June had been on probation for 16 months but was only contacted six times in that period by probation staff, and only met with them in person once.

Those are among the initial findings of the Los Angeles County Office of Inspector General’s ongoing investigation into the L.A. County Probation Department’s involvement with the shooter, Justin Flores.

Flores shot and killed Officer Joseph Santana and Cpl. Michael Paredes on June 14 when they responded to a report of a stabbing at the Siesta Inn in El Monte.

Flores killed himself after a subsequent shootout with police. He was on probation at the time of the shooting for illegally carrying a gun.

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“As we look[ed] more into it, we found more issues,” Assistant Inspector General Eric Bates told the Probation Oversight Commission on Thursday. He said it will take at least another month to complete the investigation.

Probation used to require an in-person meeting once a month, but it relaxed the policy during the COVID-19 pandemic to allow for monthly phone calls.

Flores’ sole in-person meeting with a Probation officer was in December 2021, according to the inspector general’s report.

Chief Probation Officer Adolfo Gonzales told the commission his agency is returning to in-person visits.

Probation is completing its own investigation into the handling of Flores' case, which includes reviewing and updating department policies related to client interaction, he said.

In June, the Los Angeles Times broke the news that Flores had not been seen by probation staff for more than six months. The paper also reported that Flores’ mother called his probation officer in the days leading up to the shooting to report she was concerned he was abusing drugs again.

The inspector general’s report said the mother of Flores’ partner called Probation staff in June to say Flores was on hallucinogenic drugs, had a gun, and was physically abusing her daughter.

JUSTIN FLORES PROBATION
[A timeline of Justin Flores’s supervision by Probation staff. LA County Office of Inspector General]
(LA County Office of the Inspector General)

The report lists a number of missteps during Flores’ supervision.

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Between March and April 2021, Probation staff violated policy requiring “direct contact” with Flores and listed leaving a voicemail as “voice reporting” — which is supposed to describe a phone call with a client.

Flores missed several scheduled appointments with probation staff in the months before the shooting, according to the report.

Investigators wrote that probation staff indicated that a “desertion report” — meaning they had lost contact with Flores — was submitted between January and March of this year, but there’s no record of that report in Probation’s system.

Gonzales argued Thursday that minor probation violations shouldn’t automatically turn into arrests as a result of this high-profile case.

“As we look[ed] more into it, we found more issues."
— Assistant Inspector General Eric Bates

“I don't want to get to the point where we're now violating everybody who has a first technical violation,” he said, questioning whether authorities would want to arrest people “for not responding to a phone call, not showing up to a meeting, or failing one or two, or three drug tests.” Added Gonzales: “I think we got to be careful.”

The mishandling of the Flores case is one of several issues this year for Probation.

We reported Wednesday that Probation officers supervising youth in the county’s juvenile halls and camps are still using pepper spray, despite a 2019 vote by the County Board of Supervisors to ban the practice.

In January, we reported that an imposter posing as a medical professional had gained access to Nidorf Juvenile Hall in Sylmar and took COVID-19 "'swabs'" from youths there, according to the L.A. County Public Defender’s office and the Probation Department.

Over the course of a weekend in April, the probation department transferred all 135 children held at Central Juvenile Hall so state inspectors could assess the building. The youths were taken to Nidorf, almost doubling that facility's population. Sources said the transfer was “a mess.” (The youths have since returned to their respective halls.)

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Emily Elena Dugdale covers smaller police departments around Southern California, school safety officers, jails and prisons, and juvenile justice issues. She also covers the LAPD and the L.A. Sheriff’s Department.