If you’re a regular viewer/listener to the Cam & Co podcast, you know that every day on the show we have a segment called the “Recidivist Report” that highlights a soft sentence or sweetheart plea deal that allowed a violent criminal to return to the streets instead of spending some quality time behind bars. These stories are a counter to the argument that “we need more gun control laws to keep us safe”, because they demonstrate the unwillingness or inability to actually enforce the laws that are already on the books.
The murder of two police officers in El Monte, California on Tuesday is, sadly, yet another example of this phenomenon. According to records, Justin Flores, who shot and killed Cpl. Michael Paredes and Officer Joseph Santana as they responded to reports of a stabbing at a local motel, was charged with being a convicted felon in possession of a firearm, ammunition, and methamphetamine in 2020, but instead of taking the case to trial Los Angeles County prosecutors offered Flores one hell of a plea deal.
Arrested in 2020 and charged with possessing methamphetamine, a handgun and ammunition, Flores pleaded no contest in February 2021 to possessing a firearm as a felon, records show. Prosecutors dropped the other charges.
Flores, who previously served two prison terms for burglary and car theft, had been prohibited from carrying a gun since 2011.
Though the gun conviction alone could have sent him to prison for three years, Flores was instead sentenced to two years’ probation and 20 days in jail, which he’d already served, a prosecutor said at a plea hearing. Flores was ordered not to possess any weapons, including guns, ammunition and knives, a transcript of the hearing shows. He was warned that if he breached these terms, he could be sent to prison for up to three years.
On Monday, a day before the shooting, Flores’ probation officer filed a request in court for a revocation hearing, listing the reason as “desertion.” Two law enforcement sources familiar with the investigation said his girlfriend reported he had assaulted her last week, triggering a probation violation, but Flores was not taken into custody. A hearing was set for June 27.
Asked why Flores wasn’t arrested on the violation, Karla Tovar, a spokeswoman for the Los Angeles County Probation Department, said the agency was “currently investigating the matter further.”
Expect a similar non-answer from Los Angeles District Attorney George Gascon’s office about why Flores was offered a plea deal that resulted in no prison time despite the fact that he could received a three-year sentence if he’d been convicted. If Gascon had referred Flores’ case to federal court the sentence could have been even more substantial; up to ten years in federal prison.
Instead, Gascon’s office helped the criminal justice system give Flores a slap on the wrist and a kiss on the cheek before they set him loose. This is the same Gascon, by the way, who thinks we need more gun control laws on the books, most of them aimed squarely at legal gun owners. Of course this is also the same Gascon who’s probably going to face a recall election this November because even some liberal and progressive Los Angelenos have had enough of his soft-on-crime policies.
None of California’s vaunted gun laws stopped Flores from illegally obtaining a firearm, but prosecutors failed to do anything about it when they had the change. Instead, they cut him loose, and unfortunately the second time police found him with a gun he used it to take the lives of two officers.
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 served for three years as a San Bernardino County sheriff’s deputy before transferring to the El Monte Police Department less than a year ago. Before joining law enforcement, he worked as a maintenance worker for 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.
California doesn’t need another gun control law. In fact, they need to take several dozen of them off the books. But they also need prosecutors who will take their job seriously, who don’t elevate criminals above their victims, and who don’t bloviate about doing more on gun control when they’re failing to enforce the laws already in place.