Roberto Flores, Varrio San Maros gang member, immediately after collision
As soon as deputies closed the door of the holding cell, Roberto Ignacio Flores, 26, spoke to the other two men who were already in there. “What’s up? What you guys in here for?”
The first cellmate replied, “Got in a fucking pursuit. You?”
Flores was pleased to announce, “Murder of a police officer.”
First cellmate replied, “No shit! That’s what’s up! What happened?”
Flores slapped his hands together and said, “Got ’im!”
First cellmate said, “Fucking got one? Got one today?”
And the second cellmate asked, “Got one for the team, perro?”
Putting on a suave manner, Flores confirmed, “Yeah.”
Evidence photo of the Dodge
But later in their conversation, Flores had to admit, “But I think cabrón is still alive, it’s an attempted. Attempted murder, assault on a police officer.”
First cellmate asked, “Oh, is that what they booked you on? Attempted?”
Witness car that was pulled over
But second cellmate offered a comforting thought: “That could change at any time, my boy.”
Officer Brad Hunter is a large man, 6 feet 4 inches tall, not wearing his motorcycle boots. He had worked as a police officer in San Diego County for 29 years and he planned to end his service at 30 years.
Judge Blaine Bowman and prosecutor Keith Watanabe in courtroom
He was to finish his police career working his favorite detail — as a motorcycle cop in Oceanside. As it happened, his motorcycle helmet saved his life that day, last June, when a car ran into him.
The morning of June 19, 2017, at about 10:30 a.m., Officer Hunter pulled over a dark sedan with expired registration tags. The 2007 Acura TL promptly turned off Oceanside Boulevard onto Foussat Road, headed south, and parked at the curb.
Jury was shown computer animation of Hunter's version of accident.
Hunter parked his bike behind the Acura and walked to the driver’s window and asked to see his registration paperwork. Because he is so tall, Hunter said that he typically either bends over or goes down into a crouched, “catcher’s position” as he talks to motorists at the driver’s window. He can’t say which position he was in next to the Acura because he can’t remember anything that happened that day.
Officer Hunter was first witness.
Flores had recently bailed out of jail. Three months earlier, he was arrested for being a felon in possession of an illegal assault rifle. Cops found an unlawful assembly of rifle parts hidden near the crib of his expected son, in his pregnant girlfriend’s home. The serial number had been shaved off the weapon. An informant told officers that Flores intended to make money selling the weapon to someone in the Varrio San Marcos street gang.
Flores heard victim statements.
Flores was infuriated at his in-laws: he was sure someone in his girlfriend’s home had snitched on him.
After he bailed out of jail, Flores was sitting behind the wheel of a Dodge Neon, fuming about the unfairness of things. While he waited at a red light, he saw a motorcycle cop next to an Acura at the side of the road. When the light changed, Flores took his foot off the brake and rolled forward slowly, watching the cop.
Surveillance video showed driver running from parked car.
Michael was the driver of the dark Acura that Officer Hunter had pulled over. Michael first looked in his glove compartment, but the registration paperwork wasn’t there. Next he started digging in his wallet. He had his head down when, “I definitely heard acceleration,” Michael testified in court. “I felt and heard the impact.”
Brad Hunter in hospital
A small silver car violently scraped along the side of his Acura where it picked up the police officer and threw him. Michael looked up and was shocked to see the officer flying head over heels. “It was horrific.” After he saw the officer “airborne,” the next thing in his sight was the little car speeding away. Without slowing down, the silver car made a quick turn around the next corner.
“So I grabbed my phone and started dialing 911.” While he was on the phone, Michael hurried to check on the officer: “He was on the ground in a fetal position.”
Toni is a petite blonde. She said she is from South Central Texas and recently graduated from cosmetology school. She speaks softly and at first appears dainty, but she can curse fluently when necessary. On that Monday in June, Toni was with her friend Holly who was driving them around in her new black Infinity. The happy girls were going from shop to shop looking at hair extensions. Theirs was the third car in line stopped on Foussat Road at its intersection with Oceanside Boulevard in Oceanside’s Loma Alta neighborhood two or three miles from the beach. Toni was busy on her cell phone. “I was looking at Snapchat or something.” When Toni looked up she saw a car getting pulled over, “The motorcycle officer pulled him over.”
The light changed and the car in front of them turned left, so Holly drove forward and quickly caught up with the lead car, the little silver car. “We ended up behind him.” He was going so slowly, the man driving the silver Dodge Neon, “Holly was getting frustrated. She gets road rage, you know, she was getting mad, ’cause they were not starting to go.” The silver car rolled slowly across the intersection. Toni said Holly cursed the dawdling Dodge, “Like, ‘Get the eff out of my way!’” And then she “started riding their tail.” But suddenly the small car accelerated, “Just floored it, slammed the gas pedal.” Toni was astonished to see the car swerve and strike the officer. “Literally enough to swoop him up and throw him! Down the road!” Toni testified in court four months later.
“I saw him kinda get swooped up, the bottom half, and he kinda tumbled over the top of the car, then the car kinda dropped him off, then he continued rolling, like, another ten feet.” Field evidence technicians later photographed white scuff marks across the black asphalt, where the officer’s helmet traveled.
“We slammed the car in park just past the crosswalk. Me and Holly just kinda pulled up; we were freakin’ out. We were just cussing up a storm.”
They could see the officer lying in the street. “He was just, like, in the fetal position. On his side.... So I didn’t touch him. I yelled for help. I thought he was dead.”
Toni said she could see the silver car jet away. “It was one single accelerate,” she remembered. She said the car “continued to stay on the gas pedal as they fled the scene.”
Holly is another blonde, and she has an unabashed street style. The cutoff denim shorts she wore to court looked like underwear. A parakeet could perch in her hoop earrings. Holly is not timid with the eyebrow pencil. After disobeying two subpoenas and being threatened with a $10,000 bench warrant, Holly did appear in court. When her barely covered fanny was finally in the witness box, Holly quickly confirmed to the prosecutor that, “No,” she did not want to be in court and, “Unfortunately,” she understood that she better show up.
Holly was asked about her plans on that sunny June day. “Was going to get myself some hair” with her gal pal Toni. First they went to Mimi’s beauty supply. “It was closed.” So next they planned to try Sunny’s. While they waited at the intersection, Holly saw a motorcycle cop pull over a dark sedan. After she drove through the intersection, her next memory was, “Then seeing the car in front of me running over the police officer....
“I mean, it was going pretty fast, I don’t know if he was accelerating.” But he was going fast?
“Well, for the officer to go flying over the car, yes, clearly.” Where did the cop go?
“Over the hood of the car, over the roof, over the back.”
Did the car keep on driving? “Honestly, I wasn’t really paying attention to the car; I was paying attention to the officer.”
Holly stopped her car after she cleared the intersection. “I got out of my car.”
She said she was standing maybe eight feet from the officer, and she was afraid to approach him. She just remembers being “shocked.” And your friend Toni? “Ten million times more shocked and freaking out.”
Todd said he had begun his work day at 6 a.m. “I’m a commercial plumber.” He and his coworker were driving in their truck at about 10:30 a.m. that morning. “I was on lunch.” Todd was a passenger in the truck and both guys were enjoying the cooler weather on the coast. Todd is 32 years old and lives in East County.
The guys noticed an attractive blonde in the street and Todd said they decided to drive that way. At first he thought there was a duffle bag lying in the road, and then he realized it was a person.
The two men in the truck turned a corner and soon they noticed a little car parked at the curb. Todd said he made a mental note: “I saw a vehicle that had obviously hit someone, because it had a big dent in the windshield.” Then they noticed a man ducking between buildings in the industrial park there. “I was a security guard for nine years; it didn’t seem like he was in the right place.”
Todd phoned 911. His recorded call was played for a jury later. “He’s wearing a plaid shirt and blue hat and light-colored jeans, tan work boots. Baseball hat. He’s going into [building] 3093, towards the trolley tracks.” There was a long pause in his descriptions to the dispatcher, even while she was trying to get more information out of him. Todd explained in court that during that part of the phone call they were driving right next to the suspect as he walked down the street, and Todd’s window was rolled down. The plumbers directed police to the suspect’s location, and Flores was arrested about a half mile from the collision site, at a Sprinter station.
A field-evidence technician who worked with Oceanside police for 20 years began to cry when she remembered arriving at the scene. She knew Officer Hunter. “He kept saying the same three things, over and over again.” Hunter was asking, “What happened? Why won’t anyone tell me what happened? My leg hurts.” Suzanne said that everyone on the scene answered Hunter’s questions, over and over again. To this day, Hunter can’t remember any part of June 19, 2017.
After he was arrested, Flores was put into a holding cell at about 9 p.m. For almost an hour he spoke freely with the two men already there. He told them that the cop broke the windshield of his car and that he was close enough to the cop to look into his eyes. “Yeah, he didn’t expect what I was gonna do,” Flores told his cellmates. “I was, like, I know that the minute that he, the minute...if I didn’t do it, he gonna book me anyways. So right there I saw it in his face.”
Flores explained his reasoning: “Just like a gang member, and you’re looking at different, rival gang members. It doesn’t matter who they are, just fucking buck buck, and that’s it. Yup. There’s more fucking of us than chotas [Mexican gang slang for police officers]. Once people start realizing, you know what, fuck ’em. We’re gonna do 20 years, 30 years for drug sales and gang affiliation, why not fucking just buck ’em too?”
San Diego County prosecutor Keith Watanabe said that “buck ’em” is slang for “kill them” and that Flores is an affiliate of the Varrio San Marcos street gang.
Flores has been documented with VSM gang associates since he was 16 years old and has arrests for being armed in a rival gang’s territory, possession of drugs for sale, and stealing alcohol from a grocery store, according to the prosecutor. When Flores was 17, he was caught spray-painting VSM on a trash dumpster in San Marcos gang territory. When he was booked for his last arrest, Flores claimed “association” with the VSM gang, according to the prosecutor. Persons in jail want to be locked up with their homies and not rival gang members, so they let the jailers know their preferences.
The Varrio San Marcos territory is also known as “Ghost Town” among gangsters, and Flores referred to himself by the gang nickname “Casper” in recorded jail conversations, the prosecutor claimed.
In the holding cell at the police station, Flores commiserated with his cellmates. He asserted that cops are just another rival gang. “They’re gangs. Like I say, they’re all gangs. Everybody’s a gang. It’s, like, they look out for themselves, and that black guy didn’t want to see that. When he talked back, they fired his ass, or something happened. And he took the life of the daughter of the chief commissioner of L.A.”
Flores was speaking of the Los Angeles cop who was fired in 2013 and then went on a killing spree. “I don’t know if you guys remember Christopher Dorner?” Flores asked his cellmates. “Oh man, I remember the juras like this, the police like this, they, like, following each other. Three, four cars in a row every day, everywhere. Murdering. He just saw the red and blue, pop pop pop pop. San Diego, I think. Yeah. He lit one off in Riverside, though.”
Dorner’s rampage traveled through Los Angeles, Orange, and San Bernardino Counties.
Flores sneered at the police. “Oh yeah, they’re trying to make a living, homie. They’re taking our living away. And destroy our families. What kind of living is that?...
“Everywhere it’s crooked, Doggie, they’re trying to use their power....
“That’s how they conquer us. The laws are for the peasants, because we don’t get education.... Because you don’t understand their ways, you’re gonna get fucked over.”
Flores already had some experience passing through the legal system for selling meth (for which he was convicted of a felony), and he shared his knowledge with his cellmates.
“Yeah. Because when they come to your house and they do a fucking drug raid or whatever, they need to have a search warrant. They need to have probable cause. They have to have an indictment. They have to have so much bullshit, but they skip all that shit just because we don’t know that. And the fourth waiver, when they take your rights away, they can’t even do that; it’s against your constitutional rights. No government can infringe on your rights.” The cellmates listened and one cellmate agreed, “Yeah!”
Flores continued, “So you have your First Amendment, that’s the freedom of speech and freedom of religion. Then you can even, I don’t know, tell your lawyer. But your lawyer here is porched with them, so you need to hire a lawyer that works for you, because these fucking lawyers just want to get a charge or want to get easy, want to get paid. And then there’s the NACCP, National of Colored People [sic]. I’ve never tried them, I might look them up. Because all my life I’ve been fucked with these people. They fucked with my life and keep fucking it up.” One cellmate said, “Right, you’re right.” The other cellmate said, “Knowledge is power.”
Flores went on, “Knowledge, my friend, knowledge. The only thing I saw is that knowledge is fucked up, because now I realize that you can’t do shit about it. Because they fuck you over. It’s for them only. The only thing you can do is rob them. I mean, it’s, fucking, fuck ’em. Like that. Kill ’em, one by one or all by one.”
Flores seemed to despair: “You get tired and shit. You know what I mean? Because the record I have and shit. You try to get a jale [job] and try to be positive, stay away from [drugs] and all that shit. It ain’t a life out there, man. That ain’t no life. You know I started dealing again, started doing this. You know what, man, what’s the point? I’m just getting fucked over by these fuckers over here.”
Flores speculated on his possible defenses in the legal system. “Maybe my brakes went out [laughter]. Fucking shitty car.” And, “Told them it wasn’t me, homie. What the fuck? ‘You fit the description.’ It’s like any Hispanic male can fit the description.”
In the hour or so he spoke with his cellmates, Flores declared “they got to prove it” at least seven times.
The two men in Flores’s cell had been planted there by investigators, and their intent was to record any statements Flores might make about his collision with the cop that day.
Flores might have become suspicious after a while. The two strangers, already there when he got there, were so friendly. And chatty. In the middle of one back-and-forth he suddenly announced: “I said I didn’t do shit. I could sit here in this cell and I could be lying my ass off, you know? Making it all up.”
And, “Like I said, there’s probably a speaker box you know, right here, or something right here. Probably is. It doesn’t matter, though, I’m just talking out of my ass, you know. I’m delusional. Give no specifics. No details or anything. I’m just ranting, you know what I mean? It’s just talk, to pass the time.”
Flores’s defense attorney tried to get his recorded statements suppressed, saying it was all lies and false bravado from a scared young man who was smaller than his cellmates. In jail records, Flores is described as 5 feet 5 inches tall and 186 pounds. San Diego Superior Court judge Blaine Bowman declined to suppress the evidence and allowed the jury to hear the recording.
Flores was held in custody in lieu of $5 million bail. Every time he was brought to court, he refused to waive his right to a speedy trial. Because of this, Flores’s attempted-murder case went to trial in only 127 days; selection of his jury began in October of 2017.
As the trial went on and he heard testimony and observed the evidence, Flores must have known how bad it looked to the jury. He began interrupting witnesses and yelling out that it was a kangaroo trial and that he was being treated unfairly. After one outburst, the judge cleared the jury out of the room and was admonishing Flores when the defendant spoke out again. Flores talked over the judge and seemed to demand a “good deal.” But prosecutor Keith Watanabe, who was seated just a few feet from the defendant, looked directly at Flores and said, “No deal.”
There were no special deals offered to Flores by the San Diego County District Attorney’s office. The trial continued, even though Flores made repeated outbursts.
Flores was found guilty of all charges: attempted murder of a police officer, felon in possession of an assault rifle, and offenses committed while out on bail.
On November 30, 2017, Flores was sentenced to 29 years to life in prison.