Mental health hearing ordered for man accused of running down cop
VISTA, Calif. — Criminal proceedings were suspended Tuesday in the case of a man charged with intentionally running down an Oceanside motorcycle officer during a routine traffic stop, with a judge declaring doubts as to the defendant’s mental competency.
Roberto Ignacio Flores, 28, was previously found guilty of attempted murder, but his conviction and 29-years-to-life prison sentence were overturned by an appellate court panel that ruled his attorney ignored the defendant’s argument that he was innocent of the crime.
Flores contended that he was not the driver of the Dodge Neon that struck Oceanside police Officer Brad Hunter on June 19, 2017, leaving him hospitalized with life-threatening injuries that kept him out of the field for just over six months. Flores’ attorney, John Wilshke, argued at trial that Flores was the driver, but did not have the intent to kill required for an attempted murder conviction.
Flores also disagreed with his lawyer’s concession on weapons possession charges related to a collection of guns found at the defendant’s home.
Flores’ retrial was slated to begin later this month, but is now on hold until his competency can be restored. State law holds that defendants are considered incompetent to stand trial if it can be determined that they do not understand the nature of the charges filed against them and/or cannot assist their attorney in their defense.
Flores is due back in court Aug. 15 for a mental competency evaluation, with a competency trial slated for Sept. 6.
“The current trial date is now vacated, but we expect him to be found competent and sent back for a speedy trial within 60 days of his finding of competency,” prosecutor Keith Watanabe said.
A three-justice panel ruled in April that Flores’ Sixth Amendment rights were violated, as he was not allowed to present the defense of his choice.
According to facts laid out in the appellate panel’s ruling, Flores was angry at law enforcement following his March 2017 arrest on the gun possession charges. While in jail, he called his girlfriend and told her to claim she owned the guns, since she didn’t have a prior felony conviction, the ruling states.
He also said the officers “harassed and mocked him” and swore “that when he was released he would go after the people who were responsible,” according to the ruling.
Hunter, a 29-year veteran of the department, was struck while pulling over a driver for an expired registration near Oceanside Boulevard and Foussat Road.
Flores, who was not involved in the traffic stop, allegedly accelerated and veered directly into Hunter, who was flung up and flipped over the defendant’s car. Hunter suffered head injuries and his leg was broken in three places. The officer had to be placed in a coma until swelling on the brain subsided.
Hunter testified he has no memory of the crash.
Flores sped away, but was captured a few minutes later, Watanabe said.
Once in a jail cell, Flores told a sheriff’s detective posing as an inmate as well as a confidential informant that he intended to hit Hunter and wasn’t sorry about it, the prosecutor alleged.
The appellate court based its ruling on McCoy v Louisiana, a case recently ruled on by the U.S. Supreme Court. In that case, Robert McCoy was accused of murdering three of his estranged wife’s family members. While McCoy sought to maintain his innocence at trial, his attorney pursued a defense that involved admitting the killings. In a bid to avoid the death penalty, McCoy’s attorney argued that the defendant suffered from severe mental issues, and pursued a second-degree murder conviction instead.
Jurors recommended death sentences, but McCoy’s convictions were overturned and a new trial was ordered.