NATIONAL NEWS

Report: California officers shot in ambush were not verbally warned that suspect had gun, was on PCP

Jan 28, 2024, 3:43 PM

EL MONTE, Calif. (AP) — A California police dispatcher failed to tell two officers before they were fatally shot by a convicted gang member that the suspect reportedly had a gun and was under the influence of PCP and methamphetamine, according to a 911 recording.

El Monte Police Department Officer Joseph Santana, 31, and Cpl. Michael Paredes, 42, were ambushed and killed on June 14, 2022, while responding to a report of a stabbing at a motel near Los Angeles. Another officer was wounded. The gunman, Justin Flores, then shot and killed himself.

The 911 call was made by Maria Zepeda, who reported that her daughter had been stabbed by Flores, her 35-year-old husband, at the Siesta Inn, the Southern California News Group reported Saturday.

During the 7-minute call, Zepeda repeatedly told the dispatcher that Flores had a recent history of violence against her daughter, was under the influence of PCP and meth and was armed and dangerous.

“He’s on PCP. He has a gun!” Zepeda said during the call.

That information, however, was not communicated over the radio by the dispatcher who deployed the three officers to the motel according to the news group.

Investigators said Flores ambushed the officers when they confronted him.

Detective Amber Montenegro, a lead investigator for the case, confirmed the dispatcher did not inform officers over the radio that Flores possibly had a gun and was on drugs. But the information was typed into the computer-aided dispatch system and visible to the responding officers on the computer terminals in their patrol vehicles, Montenegro said.

“They definitely had all the information in their boxes before they arrived, so they were able to look at the call and review it,” Montenegro said during a Dec. 2023 briefing with Santana’s family.

Montenegro said the dispatcher shouldn’t be blamed. “You can’t put any of this all on one person,” she said.

Santana’s sister, Jessica Santana, said she believes the dispatcher should have relayed the information over the radio.

“It’s just I feel if they would have voiced it, it would have been different,” Santana said. “That’s just what gets me, because my brother would still be here.”

Flores was on probation for a gun charge at the time of the shooting, which occurred a day after his probation officer requested that he return to court later in the month, according to court records.

El Monte Police Chief Jake Fisher said he stands by the actions of his dispatchers and officers. Fisher told the news group his department is actively working with the Sheriff’s Department and the District Attorney’s Office in completing the final steps in the investigation.

“We fully anticipate this finding to hold and that our DA will officially clear all involved officers and close the investigation,” Fisher said.

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Report: California officers shot in ambush were not verbally warned that suspect had gun, was on PCP