California cops shot in 2022 ambush were not verbally warned by dispatcher that suspect had gun, was on PCP

California cops shot in 2022 ambush were not verbally warned by dispatcher that suspect had gun, was on PCP

An El Monte police dispatcher failed to tell two officers fatally shot by a convicted gang member that the suspect reportedly had a gun and was under the influence of PCP and methamphetamine, reveals a 911 recording obtained by the Southern California News Group.

The frantic 911 call to the El Monte Police Department was made shortly before 5 p.m. on June 14, 2022, by Maria Zepeda, who reported that her daughter had been stabbed by her husband, Justin Flores, at the Siesta Inn, where they had been staying.

During the 7-minute, 20-second call, Zepeda repeatedly told dispatcher Ruth Bonneau that Flores had a recent history of violence against her daughter, was under the influence of PCP and methamphetamine and was armed and dangerous.

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

Lost in translation

That information, however, was not communicated over the radio by Kristen Juaregui, a veteran dispatcher who deployed officers to the Siesta Inn.

“Mother is RP (reporting party). She is en route from La Puente in a black Hyundai, advising her daughter, Diana Flores Cruz, 44 years, called a second RP advising that she was stabbed by her boyfriend, Justin Flores, male, 33,” Jauregui said during her dispatch. She further stated that Flores and his wife were possibly in Room 103 and that it was unknown if the two were still at the location.

The call terminated, and there was no follow-up radio communication from Jauregui to Officer Joseph Santana, Cpl. Michael Paredes and Sgt. Eric Sanchez, the three who responded to the call.

Flores ambushed the officers when they confronted him inside the motel room, brandishing a gun and fatally shooting Paredes and Santana and wounding Sanchez in a shootout before killing himself with Paredes’ gun, which Flores had seized when the officer was down.

Family briefed

At the request of the family, Detective Amber Montenegro, a lead investigator in the case, met with Santana’s sister, Jessica Santana, and three unnamed El Monte police officers nearly a year-and-a-half later. During that session on Dec. 11, 2023, at the Los Angeles County sheriff’s homicide bureau in Monterey Park, Montenegro played the recording of the 911 call.

While the detective confirmed Jauregui did not inform officers over the radio that Flores possibly had a gun and was on drugs, the information was typed into the computer-aided dispatch system and visible to the responding officers on the computer terminals in their patrol vehicles.

“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 the briefing, a recording of which was obtained by the Southern California News Group.

Nevertheless, Jessica Santana and the officers present questioned Jauregui’s actions.

“We rely a lot on dispatch, and I understand we’re busy, but they need to tell the cops everything,” one of the officers said during the meeting.

Jessica Santana was the most critical.

“I don’t understand. I understand how they protect the community and stuff, but how do you guys stay safe when there’s dispatchers here that could have potentially saved their lives?” she said. “That’s just what gets me, because my brother would still be here.”

Montenegro countered by noting that the responding officers had plenty of time to review their computer terminals after arriving at the motel.

“It’s not like they got there and things were happening dynamically, right? They weren’t running in there,” Montenegro said. Prior to the shooting, she explained, the officers stood outside for a few minutes discussing a similar domestic violence call to the same motel they received a week earlier involving Flores and his wife. The two, however, were not there when officers arrived.

“You can’t put any of this all on one person,” Montenegro said.

Santana responded, saying: “It’s just I feel if they would have voiced it, it would have been different.”

Expert weighs in

Tony Harrison, who trains police dispatchers and is president of the North Carolina-based The Public Safety Group, said the information about Flores having a gun and being on drugs should have been communicated to the responding officers immediately.

“It’s important to relay all pertinent officer safety information when possible. And a perpetrator being on drugs and having a gun is certainly at the top of the list. One-hundred percent undeniable,” Harrison said in a telephone interview.

He said dispatchers cannot always rely on officers seeing information relayed via their CAD terminals.

“If I’m driving 80 miles per hour to a stabbing scene, I’m not reading my computer. That’s not safe to do,” Harrison said. “I’m relying on the dispatcher to provide those updates in a timely fashion. The part of (Flores) being on PCP and carrying a gun needs to be verbally dispatched.”

Such information allows responding officers to plan accordingly and determine a tactical approach, he said.

“Do I exit my vehicle with a rifle? Do I wait for a second unit to arrive — a third or a fourth unit to arrive? Do we make a more tactical approach instead of being a little more nonchalant and walking in?” Harrison said.

How the shootout unfolded

During her briefing, Montenegro gave a play-by-play of how the shooting unfolded.

Santana, Sanchez and Paredes stood outside Room 103. Santana knocked for several minutes, telling Cruz to open the door. Flores kept telling Santana they were getting dressed and to “hold on.”

When the door was finally opened, Flores was in his underwear holding a pair of pants. What the officers did not know was that Flores was concealing a gun, stolen out of a police car in North Carolina, behind his pants, Montenegro said.

When Santana holstered his gun to detain Flores, Flores brandished the gun and a struggle ensued between the two. Sanchez ran out of the room and took cover. Paredes was standing at the door. Flores fired off two shots.

“He just fired two shots … and at least one of them hit Paredes dead center in the head, and he went down immediately,” Montenegro said.

Seven seconds later, Flores fired several more shots, hitting Santana in the head, arm and leg, Montenegro said.

For an undisclosed reason, Flores then seized Paredes gun, which was laying on the floor next to his body, and used it to shoot Paredes a second time in the head. Then he engaged in a shootout with Sanchez, who by that time had already called for backup on his radio, Montenegro said.

Flores and his wife “ran around the corner,” said Montenegro, but not before Sanchez shot Flores in the femoral artery and mortally wounded him.

“So the suspect was dead pretty quickly, he just didn’t realize it with all the drugs he was on,” Montenegro said.

Flores fell to the ground, rolled over and continued shooting at Sanchez as other officers started arriving. Sanchez suffered a through-and-through wound in his foot.

At 5:10 p.m., Flores killed himself with Paredes’ gun, Montenegro said.

Montenegro said toxicology tests later revealed Flores had PCP, methamphetamine and marijuana in his system. She also said they were pursuing criminal charges against Flores’ wife for her alleged culpability in the crime — for not being honest with officers and not telling them her husband had a gun.

“The DA is considering them (criminal charges), but it doesn’t look promising,” Montenegro said.

Systemic failures

Montenegro also noted during her briefing the multiple contacts Flores had with law enforcement in the months prior to the shooting. According to Flores’ wife, she said, Flores began using PCP — a hallucinogen known to cause violent behavior — in March 2022 after his cousin died and that the drug “changed his personality.”

“He started beating her and just started going a little bit more crazy than normal,” Montenegro said.

On March 14, 2022, Flores was arrested by sheriff’s deputies in the City of Industry for having a loaded gun in his glove department. At the time, he was on probation for another gun offense.

Flores subsequently was charged for being a felon in possession of a firearm not registered to him and being in possession of a controlled substance with a loaded firearm. He posted bail and was subsequently granted probation even though he was an admitted gang member, Montenegro said.

Two months later, Flores was arrested in West Covina in a fraud case, Montenegro said.

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In May 2022, Flores’ parents called police to report their son was acting erratically, yelling at passing vehicles and talking to himself, and that family members were holding him down on their front lawn. Flores was taken to a hospital on a psychiatric hold and later released, Montenegro said.

During her 911 call, Zepeda told Bonneau that the week prior, Flores had choked her daughter and left her for dead in Pico Rivera and that police had a report of the incident. And only three days prior, Flores showed up at her home with a gun. She said police came to her home and a police helicopter was even deployed.

And though Zepeda reported on the 911 call that her daughter had been stabbed, police later learned her injuries were minor.

“It was very superficial,” Montenegro said. “But mom did not know that when she called.”

Criminal justice failures

Some of the justice system’s failures regarding Flores were detailed in a scathing report by the Los Angeles County Office of Inspector General released in August 2023.

The OIG determined, among other things, that the county Probation Department failed to properly monitor Flores and act on pertinent information regarding allegations of domestic violence, gun possession and illegal drug use, and failed to alert local law enforcement that Flores may be armed with a gun and dangerous.

Flores had three outstanding warrants for his arrest, two from San Bernardino County and one from Los Angeles County, at the time of the shooting, and the Probation Department did not run a warrant check on Flores until just days before the shooting, when Flores missed his final appointment, according to the OIG report.

Police chief responds

El Monte Police Chief Jake Fisher said he stands by the actions of his dispatchers and officers.

“The El Monte Police Department continues to mourn the loss of our officers, Sergeant Michael Paredes and Officer Joseph Santana,” Fisher said in a statement. “Together we are moving forward as we collectively continue to grieve and recover from the horrific event.”

Fisher said his department is actively working with the Sheriff’s Department and the District Attorney’s Office in completing the final steps in the investigation.

Sheriff’s and district attorney investigators have interviewed all relevant witnesses, reviewed all police camera footage, CAD reports, call logs and have “found no wrongdoing by our police officers or civilian personnel,” Fisher said.

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

Dispatcher still on leave

Jauregui, a police dispatcher of more than 20 years and the daughter of retired El Monte Police Chief Tom Armstrong, declined to comment for this story. She hosts a podcast called 911 Strong, has modeled for Recoil, a firearm lifestyle magazine, and has been profiled in other publications.

Although city officials would not provide information on Jauregui’s employment background and current job status, officials who spoke on condition of anonymity said she is still employed at the department but has been on paid leave for the past several months. Sanchez also was reported to be on leave.

On Monday, Jauregui’s website hinted she was no longer actively working as a dispatcher.

“As a dispatcher for over two decades, Kristen Jauregui has seen and heard a lot, which brought on unexpected compassion fatigue & burnout. She didn’t want to leave the force, but she knew something had to change, so she turned to physical fitness and personal development mindset work,” the website said.

By Friday, several days after a reporter reached out to her, the website had been taken down.