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How did a “known gang member” with “a long rap sheet” only get probation for a gun-related felony? That question became a lot more acute in Los Angeles after Justin William Flores murdered two El Monte police officers on Tuesday in an ambush at a local motel. Police later shot and killed Flores, but fingers have begun pointing back to District Attorney George Gascón for allowing Flores to avoid prison on his second strike:

The deceased suspect accused of killing two California police officers during a shootout was a gang member on probation for a weapons charge after receiving a lenient sentence under a plea deal.

Justin William Flores is accused of killing two El Monte police officers Tuesday night.

He had a previous strike conviction [and] received two years probation for a charge of being a felon in possession of a firearm. The sentence is in accordance with the policies of Los Angeles County District Attorney George Gascon, who was recently taken to task by a state appeals court over his refusal to prosecute three-strike cases.

That allowed Flores to plead no contest and receive a light sentence despite having a strike on his criminal record.

This case provides an infuriating counter-point to the debate over gun violence taking place in Washington DC and elsewhere at the moment. The best way to fight gun violence is to enforce the laws we already have on our books relating to illegal firearms possession. Rather than do that, Gascón has been pleading these cases down to avoid putting people in prison, now including known gang members with long rap sheets.

Like Justin William Flores, apparently. And now two El Monte police officers are dead because of it, only because Gascón doesn’t like California’s “three strikes” law and refuses to enforce it. As the Fox report mentions above, an appellate court scolded Gascón just a week before this shooting for his dereliction of duty in following the law in a lawsuit brought by deputy DAs in Los Angeles against their boss:

A three justice panel of the California Appeals Court ruled Thursday that LA County District Attorney George Gascón cannot order prosecutors to sidestep elements of the state’s 3-strikes law that may increase prison terms when filing criminal charges, and cannot order prosecutors to drop or withdraw special circumstance allegations that could lead to sentences of life without the possibility of parole.

“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.

The opinion followed a ruling by an LA Superior Court judge last year who found Gascón had exceeded his authority when he ordered prosecutors to dismiss or ignore prior convictions in many cases where those priors would increase the sentence of a person convicted of a new crime.

Gascón released a statement yesterday as criticism rose over the Flores case, saying that the negotiated plea deal was “consistent” with his handling of other similar cases. Indeed it is, which is exactly why the Association of Deputy District Attorneys sued Gascón in the first place. It’s also why Los Angeles County residents are signing recall petitions to get this radical nihilist tossed out of office. As John noted yesterday, they appear to have enough now for the recall to qualify for the November ballot, and organizers have three weeks to make sure they have enough valid signatures to qualify. After this week, they may have to erect queues to the petitions to handle the demand for Gascón’s scalp.

Before we pass new laws to deal with gun violence, let’s make sure we’re enforcing the laws we have — especially when dealing with known gang members who have long rap sheets that include previous firearm violations. And in the future, let’s make sure we’re electing DAs that want to enforce the law rather than dismantle it.