Gunman who killed El Monte police officers was on probation for gun charge
The gunman who killed two El Monte police officers Tuesday when they responded to a call at a motel was on probation for a gun charge at the time of the shooting, court records show.
The officers were identified Wednesday afternoon as Cpl. Michael Paredes and Officer Joseph Santana.
The man's mother, Lynn Covarrubias, confirmed Wednesday that her son Justin Flores was killed by police in the shooting.
Covarrubias, 54, said her son and his wife were separated and he would often stay at the Siesta Inn motel on Garvey Avenue. The couple had a 7-year-old daughter. She said she didn't know any details about the shooting or what prompted it.
Two sources with the Los Angeles County district attorney's office identified the gunman as Flores. Records show he was on probation for a gun possession offense at the time of the shooting. The sources spoke to The Times on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly.
On Monday, a day before the shooting, Flores' probation officer filed a request with the Los Angeles County Superior Court for a revocation hearing, listing the reason as “desertion.” Two law enforcement sources familiar with the investigation said Flores’ girlfriend last week reported he had assaulted her, triggering a probation violation, but that Flores was not taken into custody.
Details of what exactly happened during the shooting Tuesday remain unclear.
Juan Hernandez, who lives near the hotel, said he heard a smattering of gunfire shortly after 4:30 p.m.
“At first it was about six shots that you could hear and then a spraying of at least a dozen. I would guess there were at least 20 shots,” Hernandez said.
Hernandez quickly rushed his two children, both younger than 10, from the living room to a bedroom. He then rushed outside his gate to see what transpired. The Siesta Inn, where the shooting took place, was about 50 yards from his home. He saw a body lying on the pavement near the intersection of Central and Garvey avenues. Hernandez believed it to be a suspect and not an officer “because I didn’t see a uniform.”
Capt. Andrew Meyer, who leads the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department’s Homicide Bureau, said that officers responded to a call for a possible stabbing at a motel, confronted Flores in a motel room and fired their weapons. Flores ran out of the room and into a parking lot, where the officers fired again, Meyer said.
Three officers opened fire during the encounter, a source in the Sheriff’s Department told The Times. The shooting was reported around 4:47 p.m., according to the department.
Two officers and Flores were hit by gunfire, Meyer said. The officers were taken to L.A. County-USC Medical Center, where they died. Flores was pronounced dead at the scene.
Meyer said a gun was recovered next to Flores' body.
Although El Monte Mayor Jessica Ancona had said the officers were “essentially ambushed,” Meyer would not say whether the officers were attacked immediately upon arriving at the motel. He declined to describe in detail the sequence of events that culminated in the officers’ deaths.
On Wednesday, Ancona fought back tears when she spoke of two city police officers killed. She described them as “great fathers and great men” she had met.
“They grew up here; to us, they’re El Monte homegrown,” she said. “They’re our boys.”
Paredes started as a cadet with the department and in July 2000 was sworn in as a full-time officer. He is survived by his wife, daughter and son. Ancona described him as a nearly 22-year veteran “who went through our El Monte schools” and who was “excited to be on the force.”
Santana is a former deputy sheriff with the San Bernardino County Sheriff's Department, where he served for three years. Before that, he served as a maintenance worker with the city of El Monte for six years and graduated from El Monte High School. He's survived by his wife, daughter and twin boys. Ancona said he had been on the force for less than a year after his transfer from San Bernardino County.
"There are no words to describe our grief and devastation by this senseless act as we learned about the passing of two of our police officers," the city and Police Department said in a joint statement.
“We’re absolutely devastated; we’re heartbroken,” Ancona told The Times.
“They were good men,” said Capt. Ben Lowry, the El Monte Police Department’s acting chief. “These two heroes paid the ultimate sacrifice today. They were murdered by a coward.”
Ancona said a memorial fund and funeral service details will be released later in the week.
Twenty investigators on Tuesday night were searching for surveillance video and interviewing witnesses, including a woman who was inside the motel room when the officers arrived, Meyer said.
The woman had not been stabbed, he said.
Covarrubias, Flores' mother, said she did not know who was in the room with her son during the shooting. Her son's wife called Tuesday and said he was dead, but she didn't believe it.
“Even the pictures they showed me of my son lying on the ground, I just thought, ‘Take him to the hospital. You can save him,’ ” Covarrubias said.
She said police have been rude to her and detained her for several hours after the shooting, even though she was not at the motel when the shooting took place.
Covarrubias said the officers kept calling her son a “coward.”
“It hurts to hear them say that. He was a person too. He had a daughter,” Covarrubias said. “I want them to know in spite of what happened, he was loving and caring.”
Two law enforcement sources said Flores was a member of the Quiet Village gang.
Flores was arrested by sheriff’s deputies assigned to the department’s Industry station in March 2020 and charged with being a felon in possession of methamphetamine, a handgun and ammunition, court records show.
He pleaded no contest on Feb. 10, 2021, to being a felon in possession of a firearm as part of a plea deal. Prosecutors agreed to dismiss the charges of felon in possession of ammunition and methamphetamine. While the gun conviction alone could have sent him to prison for up to three years, by pleading no contest Flores was instead sentenced to two years' probation and 20 days in jail, which he’d already served, Deputy Dist. Atty. Larry Holcomb said, according to a transcript of the plea hearing.
He was ordered not to possess any weapons, including guns, ammunition and knives, the transcript shows. Flores was warned that if he breached these terms, he could be sent to prison for up to three years.
Flores had been prohibited from having a gun since he was convicted of first degree burglary in 2011.
He was due in court on June 27 for a hearing over the probation violation, according to records.
El Monte resident Mayra Lomeli, 49, said she heard three shots, causing her to leap under a table at El Perico Market, a block from the Siesta Inn.
Lomeli, a customer of El Perico, said she overcame her fear and ran to close the entrance door, fearing a gunman would try to burst through.
“I didn’t know what was going on, but I know that sometimes desperate people will run into nearby buildings looking to escape,” she said.
Footage reportedly showing part of the incident showed police arriving at the scene amid the sounds of rapid gunfire.
On Wednesday morning, El Monte resident Lupe Morse, 60, walked from the street curb to the front of the El Monte Police Department with a sense of dread. Shecarried a glass vase with red roses, pink daisies and white lilies to leave in front of a bronze eagle statue dedicated “in memory of those who served."
The memorial was filled with candles, flowers, U.S. flags and thank you signs honoring the two officers.
"This is the walk you never want to make, but you have to because these two officers had our backs and now it’s time to honor them,” Morse said.
The gesture had extra meaning for Morse, who said she’s often worried about the safety of her husband, Sgt. Ted Morse of the Los Angeles Police Department’s Wilshire Division.
“We’re a police family and we know the dangers and the possibility of what happened yesterday,” Lupe Morse said. “My heart breaks for the families.”
El Monte City School District custodian Jimmy Tessier, 55, stood at a plaque dedicated to fallen El Monte Police officers. It had two names — Anthony “Tony” Arceo, killed in 1974, and Donald Ralph Johnston, in 2002 — and would have two more to come.
Tessier, who grew up in El Monte, said a small prayer there and bowed his head.
“It was shocking to hear the news,” said Tessier. “You just never expect that here in this community. We have our problems of course, but not this.”
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.
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