The man who shot and killed two El Monte police officers on Tuesday could face even more hours in jail if he is finally charged with a crime. But one of the Dist. Si Atti. George Gascón’s most severely criticized policies are likely to carry a lower sentence, according to documents reviewed by The Times.
Justin Flores, 35, who also died in the confrontation on Tuesday,
was accused of being a criminal in possession of a firearm and methamphetamine when he was arrested by Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputies in 2020.
Flores was convicted of robbery in 2011. The robberies were strike offenses, making suspects charged with later crimes deserving of heavier penalties. Flores ’initial conviction meant he had a strike against him when he was indicted in 2020.
But the prosecutor assigned to the case Deputy Dist. Si Atti. Larry Holcomb, said he had to retract the strike allegation after Gascón took office, according to a disposition report reviewed by The Times. That’s because Gascon issued a “special directive” prohibiting prosecutors from filing strike allegations on his first day in office.
Gascón’s policy on strikes than later deemed illegal by the Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge, after the union representing rank-and-file prosecutors sued, sought an injunction. In February 2021, Judge James Chalfant ruled that Gascón’s policy violated California’s “three strikes” law, requiring prosecutors to file strike allegations whenever the defendant had a serious or violent past. conviction of the crime.
An appeals judge upheld Chalfant’s decision earlier this year.
Flores pleaded not to compete to become a firearms criminal in 2021, and prosecutors agreed to drop all other cases, according to records. Although only a gun conviction could send him to prison for up to three years, by pleading not to fight, Flores was instead sentenced to two years probation and 20 days in prison.
There was no guarantee that Flores would still be in jail on Tuesday, when he shot dead El Monte Police Cpl. Michael Paredes and Officer Joseph Santana in their response to the reported robbery at the Siesta Inn. But dismissing the strike allegation certainly cost prosecutors to negotiate a request, according to criminal justice experts.
Laurie Levenson, a professor of criminal law at Loyola Law School, said the blanket policy of dismissing strike allegations has always been troublesome.
“If you enforce a blanket policy, you always run the risk of having a Willie Horton opportunity,” he said, “where the decision applied to a case results in a terrible consequence.”
Horton was convicted of first-degree murder in Massachusetts and sentenced to life in prison without parole. He escaped while on a weekend furlough program in 1986, then brutally raped a woman and attacked his girlfriend. Horton’s case was used in a bad ad to attack against the former Massachusetts Gov. Michael Dukakis, who ran for president against George HW Bush.
Gascon was already walking away from such blanket policies in recent months. Prosecutors can now seek permission from a committee to try young people as adults or pursue special circumstances allegations in murder cases, tactics that Gascón initially banned when he sat in office.
At least two cases are currently being investigated by the committees. While some say Gascón is backpedaling because of external criticism and the growing threat of a retraction, he insists he began considering exceptions to some of his policies months ago.
Dmitry Gorin, former deputy district attorney and defense attorney, said “the dismissal of a previous violation of the DA’s office strike against a gang member with a criminal record accused of drug trafficking, and extortion owned a full gun, unique. “
“The average pre-Gascón offer is in the range of 32 months in state prison,” he added.
Two law enforcement sources also told The Times that the disposition report, which proves prosecutors withdrew the strike against Flores, was put on “lockdown” on Wednesday. Anyone wishing to review the document would have to seek and consent from high -ranking staff of the district attorney’s office, according to sources, who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of retaliation.
In an e-mail to The Times, district attorney’s office spokesman Ricardo Santiago said “experienced managers” were investigating the case and determined that the offer made to Flores was in line with previous offers. administration. Santiago also said the prosecutors assigned to the case may challenge Gascón’s policy if they believe Flores’ case is unique.
“The sentencing directive is presumptive. We empower DDAs to remove that assumption if they believe there are exceptional circumstances, ”Santiago wrote. “Special Directive 20-08 states that ‘if the accused offender is probation eligible, probation is the presumptive offer without exceptional circumstances guaranteeing a prison sentence.’ No such request was made in this case. ”
But Deputy Dist. Si Atti. Martin Bean, who handled the case and signed a disposition, said in an email to The Times that “Special Directive 20-08, issued at the time the District Attorney was sworn in, requires that all strike before it is repealed. No exceptions are allowed in the directive. ”
Santiago also confirmed that the disposition report was put on lockdown, a necessary precaution to be taken because the office faces “an unprecedented number of leaks” as prosecutors staged an open revolt against Gascon.
“Not only is this behavior bad, in many cases it’s illegal,” Santiago said of the leaks. “We have a ethical and legal obligation to avoid leaks when possible. In high-profile cases we do this as a precaution, and the fact that an unknown person tried to review confidential information and the recipient of that message speaks to the need for the procedure.
Disposition reports are not public documents.
Flores ’first strike came from a 2011 break-in at his grandparents’ house. He stole television and was tall at the time, according to various law enforcement sources, who said much of Flores ’criminal record consists of nonviolent misdemeanors driven by his drug addiction issues. The source said on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the press.
Flores ’criminal history was a recurring source of scrutiny this week. The LA County probation department is also under criticism after a report in The Times that he was accused by Flores ’girlfriend of assaulting last week.
The allegation would have triggered a probation violation and resulted in Flores’ arrest, but Flores was never approached by probation officers, sources previously told The Times. A spokesman for the probation department said the matter was under investigation, and he declined to comment further.
Paredes and Santana responded to the report of the stabbing on Tuesday night and opened fire on Flores. The two men were so badly injured that officers rushed them on police cruisers to a hospital, where they died later.
Three officers fired shots, and Flores was declared dead at the scene.