The widows and children of two El Monte Police Department officers murdered by a man on probation have filed wrongful death lawsuits against Los Angeles County, District Attorney George Gascón, and the Probation Department.
The suits claim one of Gascón’s reform policies, which prohibited prosecutors from alleging certain prior convictions in order to enhance sentences under the three strikes law, caused the officers’ killer to be released on probation prior to the murders, rather than being sent to prison.
“The second strike should have been pursued, and if it had been, he’d be in prison,” said attorney David Ring, who represents the family of Officer Joseph Santana.
“These two officers would still be alive,” he said.
Santana, 31, and Cpl. Michael Paredes, 42, were shot to death in June, 2022, after they were dispatched to a report of a stabbing at the Siesta Inn motel on Garvey Avenue.
The man on probation, Justin William Flores, ambushed the officers and later died by suicide during a gunfight with police.
Flores, 35, had been placed on probation in 2021 for being a felon in unlawful possession of a firearm. Court records show a history of criminal cases dating back to 2008.
According to the lawsuits, Flores would have been sentenced to prison had prosecutors alleged Flores’ prior serious felony conviction, or strike, but their use had been barred by Gascón’s rules.
“You know, he’s almost creating his own laws by disregarding the laws that are in effect,” attorney Mark Peacock told the NBC4 I-Team Thursday.
He represents the Parades family and said the county’s Probation Department should share blame for failing to put Flores back in jail — after probation violations in the months before the murders of the officers.
“They’re dead because of the failure of the system. Not only Gascón, but the probation department utterly failed,” Peacock said. “And if they had not failed, both officers would be alive right now.”
The Probation Department declined to comment on the lawsuits.
A California Appeals Court panel ruled in June, 2022 that Gascón’s strike-prohibition was unlawful.
“We conclude the voters and the Legislature created a duty … that requires prosecutors to plead prior serious or violent felony convictions to ensure the alternative sentencing scheme created by the three strikes law applies to repeat offenders,” the Appeals Court said.
Gascón appealed that opinion to the California Supreme Court, which has agreed to hear the case.
The LA County District Attorney’s Office said in an emailed statement, “We have not received a copy of the filings. We have not reviewed the legal documents and cannot comment at this time. Again our heart goes out to the victims of this horrific tragedy.”
Shortly after the murders, DA Gascón said his office tried to contact the officers’ families but that his office was “walled off” from talking with them.
“The family is in pain, and I understand the narrative they have been given. Unfortunately this got politicized almost immediately,” Gascón said in a broadcast television interview.
Source: NBC Los Angeles
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