Probation officers only visited El Monte cop killer once in 16 months

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In the weeks before Justin Flores shot and killed two El Monte Police officers, Los Angeles County probation officials received multiple reports that he was using drugs, had obtained a gun and attacked his girlfriend, all probation violations that were never reported to local law enforcement, officials said Thursday.

The probation department’s lackadaisical monitoring of Flores — who gunned down Officer Joseph Santana and Cpl. Michael Paredes after they responded to a domestic violence incident in June — has been the subject of a county investigation triggered by a Times report that revealed probation officials hadn’t seen him in person in the six months before the killings.

On Wednesday, the county Office of the Inspector General submitted its initial findings to the Probation Oversight Commission, raising more questions about the probation department’s handling of Flores. In the 16 months that Flores was under the department’s supervision, an officer visited him in person only one time, according to the inspector general‘s report.

The department also repeatedly failed to initiate “desertion” proceedings that could have resulted in Flores’ arrest, even after it lost touch with him for three months in 2021, according to the inspector general’s office.

A documented gang member, Flores had a lengthy criminal record that included convictions for burglary and drug possession, court records show. Last year, he was placed on probation as part of a plea deal after he was arrested for weapons possession.

Santana and Paredes were responding to a report of domestic violence at the Siesta Inn on June 14, authorities have said. The officers were able to get the purported victim out of the motel room, but Flores then emerged from a bathroom and shot both officers in the head, police said. Flores stole a gun from one of the fallen officers and ran into the motel parking lot, where he engaged in a gun battle with other responding officers. Authorities say he fell to the ground before taking his own life.

While initial frustrations with the case focused on how Los Angeles County Dist. Atty. George Gascón’s progressive policies might have impacted Flores’ sentencing, the probation department’s actions have garnered intense scrutiny more recently.

Issues started early in Flores’ time under the probation department’s supervision, according to the inspector general’s report, which was made public Thursday at a Probation Oversight Commission meeting. Officers were unable to locate him during a three-month period starting in June 2021 and failed to make a “desertion report,” which could have triggered a hearing resulting in the revocation of Flores’ probation.

From January to March of this year, probation officials again could not make in-person contact with Flores for three months, according to the inspector general‘s report. While staff indicated a desertion report had been filed, no record of a report exists, according to the inspector general.

The most concerning information came to light in the weeks leading up to the officers’ murders. In early June, Flores’ girlfriend’s mother called the probation department to allege he was using PCP, carrying a gun and physically abusing her daughter.

Separately, Flores’ mother told The Times earlier this year that she also called his probation officer to report her son had been abusing drugs for months, a relapse triggered by his cousin’s murder in Commerce.

Eric Bates, a special assistant inspector general, told the L.A. County Probation Oversight Commission on Thursday that none of the information referred by Flores’ girlfriend’s mother was forwarded to local law enforcement.

He did not specifically address the information given to The Times by Flores’ mother, who denies her son abused his girlfriend.

The inspector general‘s investigation could take another 45 days to complete, Bates said. Under questioning from the oversight commission, Probation Chief Adolfo Gonzales said the department is reviewing its threat assessment tools and individual officer caseloads to better understand what happened in Flores’ case.

But Gonzales also warned that Flores’ case might be an outlier. He said he was hesitant to make a habit of arresting probationers for technical violations such as missed check-ins or drug tests.

Earlier this year, a high-ranking probation official told The Times that in-person visits would have been crucial in supervising Flores, who had a long record of misdemeanor offenses and was known to struggle with drug addiction. Considering Flores’ mother said her son began using drugs again in March, an in-person visit would have raised alarms earlier, the official said.

The day after the murders, Gonzales called an “emergency meeting” to order an audit of field contacts between officers and probationers, an official previously told The Times. The probation department never responded to questions about the meeting.

Times staff writer Richard Winton contributed to this report.

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