Apr 13, 2021
SLO Sheriff Press Conference Transcript April 13: Updates on Kristin Smart Case, Paul & Ruben Flores Arrested
Tony Coppola: (04:16)
Good afternoon. Thanks for joining us. My name is Tony Coppola and I am the public information officer with the San Luis Obispo County Sheriff’s office. Today is a day that many had hoped for, wished for, and prayed for. We have major developments in the Kristin Smart investigation. Let’s begin the news conference now by introducing the president of Cal Poly, Jeff Armstrong, Robin [Bab 00:04:43], Cal-Poly Police Chief George Hughes, Undersheriff Jim [Bode 00:04:50] and San Luis Obispo County sheriff Ian Parkinson.
Tony Coppola: (04:54)
Ian Parkinson: (05:01)
Good afternoon. One person that was not introduced standing up front is detective Clint Cole, who is our unsolved cold case detective and I wanted to introduce him myself. I also have several members of my staff that are, excuse me, out in the audience.
Ian Parkinson: (05:18)
So my name is Sheriff Ian Parkinson. I’m joined here obviously by the president of Cal Poly, Jeff Armstrong. I want to begin today or we’re beginning here today because this is where it all began on the campus of Cal Poly University.
Ian Parkinson: (05:34)
On May 25th, 1996, this was the last place that Kristin Smart was seen alive. It has been 24, almost 25 years since Kristin went missing 24 years without a resolution until today. I’m here this afternoon to announce the arrest of Paul Flores for the murder of Kristen Smart and arrest of his father, Ruben Flores as an accessory to the murder.
Ian Parkinson: (06:04)
I’m going to start just with a little timeline for those who may not follow this completely. So how did we get here? It’s been a long process. Kristin Smart was a 19 year old freshman Cal Poly student in May of 1996. She was last seen on May 25th of 1996 at approximately 2:00 AM near the intersection of Perimeter and Grant Avenue, which is right over my left shoulder. As she walked home from an off campus party, Kristin was last seen with Paul Flores, also a 19 year old freshman that walked her home from the party. Kristin never returned to her dorm room that night and has not been seen or heard from since that time. She was reported missing to the Cal Poly Police Department on May 28th, 1996. Cal Poly Police handled the initial investigation into her disappearance with the assistance of investigators from the San Luis Obispo County district attorney’s office.
Ian Parkinson: (07:11)
On June 26, 1996, about a month later, the San Luis Sheriff’s office assumed the lead investigation in the case. We have actively investigated the case since that time. We have received assistance from the FBI, California Department of Justice, numerous other law enforcement agencies throughout the state of California. And actually out of the state of California.
Ian Parkinson: (07:39)
I introduced Detective Cole for a reason. About four years ago, the Board Of Supervisors, and I think the chair of the board Lynn Compton is here, granted a request that I had for a unsolved cold case detective. Many of our cold cases are actually assigned to our detectives in addition to their normal caseload and Kristin’s was one of those cases. Kristin’s was one of the cases that I targeted for this position. And after granting that position, Detective Cole assumed that position and has been working on Kristin’s case since then.
Ian Parkinson: (08:15)
Throughout our investigation, Paul Flores has remained a person of significant interest. There’s been some discussion of what is a person of interest versus a suspect. And it’s really a matter of terminology. When a crime occurs, everybody involved in that area could be a person of interest until they’re ruled no longer of interest, either through alibi, through witness, through physical evidence. But Paul remained as a person of interest, and as the case progressed became a suspect, and the prime suspect of the case.
Ian Parkinson: (08:47)
So I became sheriff in 2011 and did a complete and requested a complete review of all the physical evidence that had ever been been taken in the missing person case in…
Ian Parkinson: (09:02)
… the missing person case. In late 2016, we discovered additional evidence that confirmed that Paul was the suspect in the disappearance. In 2019, we interviewed several witnesses that had not been previously interviewed. And I’ll say, some of that information came to light through the podcast that many of you are familiar with that was produced and eventually led to our interviewing that witness. And with the knowledge discovered of new evidence, new witnesses, Sheriff’s Detectives secured a court order authorizing the interception and monitoring Paul Flores’ cell phone and text messages. This is one of many things that have been done over the last 10 years. In February of 2020, detectives served search warrants at the home of Paul Flores, as well as his sister, mother, and father, all simultaneously last year.
Ian Parkinson: (10:10)
Physical evidence recovered during these searches led to the service of an additional search warrant at Paul Flores’ residence in April of last year. During the search warrant, detectives recovered evidence related to the murder of Kristin Smart. In March of this year, detectives served another search warrant in Arroyo Grande at the home of Ruben Flores, the father of Paul Flores. Additional evidence related to the Smart investigation was discovered at that time. So as a result of this evidence, a San Luis Obispo Superior Court Judge signed two arrest warrants and two additional search warrants. At approximately 07:30 this morning today, both were arrested simultaneously with a team down in San Pedro, California, and a team in Arroyo Grande, California, and they arrested Paul Flores and his father Ruben.
Ian Parkinson: (11:06)
Paul was arrested for a charge of murder with zero bail, meaning he is unable to bail, and Ruben Flores was arrested as an accessory to murder, with a bail of $250,000. We are still currently in the process of executing those search warrants. Could be there for the remainder of the day or even into tomorrow, depending on what they find. Now, I understand a lot of people want to know what we found in the detail, and that’s the question that people continuously ask us, going to ask me is, “What exactly did you find? And what exactly do they have that has led to this?” Well, I can tell you, unfortunately, the search warrants were sealed, which means I cannot discuss what evidence was found. And probably more importantly is that we have a due process right, right now. And everybody here is allowed that due process right. That means it has to go to court. There has to be a trial of 12 people and decide his guilt or innocence. So discussing specific items of evidence is just not appropriate at this point.
Ian Parkinson: (12:23)
I will say this, and this is probably a question that I will answer at this point, that we have not recovered Kristin. We will continue to focus on finding her remains regardless of any court action. So we will continue the process of finding out where Kristen is. We know that’s an important issue with the family. When I took office, one of the first acts that I mentioned was re-examining starting from the beginning, and I often tell people this, that law enforcement solves crimes really two ways, through witnesses and physical evidence. When we lack witnesses, we rely on physical evidence. You hear it in the news all the time about physical evidence that has linked somebody to a crime. Well, that’s extremely important to solving a crime. In this case, we were dealing with a case that was at my point of coming in office about 14 years old, which makes it very difficult. Since that time, I believe there’s a list somewhere, I can’t see it, probably somewhere over here, thank you, that is highlighting what I’m just about to tell you.
Ian Parkinson: (13:36)
Since I came into office in 2011, we’ve served over 41 search warrants on this case, done physical searches of 16 different locations, one of which was back on the back hill, you may remember a few years ago, a complete re-examination of every physical items seized, submission of 37 items of evidence from the early days of the case for modern DNA testing, recovery of 193 items of physical evidence, new physical evidence. We’ve conducted approximately 137 person-to-person interviews, and in addition, completed over 500 additional police reports. I can tell you, this file, the size of it is probably in the size, if you put it on a hard drive, it’s in excess of three terabytes. It’s that much involved in this case. It’s my hope that we’re able to take the first step toward justice for the Smart family, peace for the community, some justice out there for all of us, and most especially, for Kristin.
Ian Parkinson: (14:50)
I have spoken to the Smart family numerous times, including this morning. Matter of fact, twice today, I think they’re feeling a bit of relief, but as you can imagine, until we returned Kristin to them, this is not over. And we have committed to them that we are not going to stop until Kristen has been recovered, no matter what the cost, no matter what the time. We are committed to that. And I know they believe in us. I know they believe that we will find Kristin. So this afternoon, we have turned the case over to the San Luis Obispo District Attorney’s Office. The way the process works, the warrants that were signed by the Superior Court allowed for the arrest and booking of Paul and his father, Ruben. Now, the case has been handed to the District Attorney for review and their announcement of further proceedings.
Ian Parkinson: (15:53)
I’d like to thank my investigators. There was certainly the investigator that I introduced, Detective Cole, but there was the Detective Commander that’s in the audience, a new Detective Commander, many people over the years that have worked on this case. I think the people that are representing here today, myself, the Chief of Cal Poly Police, weren’t part of this investigation, weren’t part of this agency that we are all in when this happened, and I think the cooperation that’s taken place, I know President Armstrong has really opened the door for us to do and provide us anything that he possibly can, including having this press conference here in Cal Poly today. So I would like to introduce President Armstrong to say a few words.
President Armstrong: (17:01)
Thank you, Sheriff Parkinson. I appreciate so many members of the Cal Poly and Central Coast community, San Luis Obispo, being here today. Our Cal Poly and Central Coast communities have watched the case of Kristin Smart’s disappearance closely and hoped for justice for Kristin and resolution for the family for years. The news today of arrests in connection with the case brings sadness, but also a measure of relief and hope for resolution. While we know that today’s developments do not represent the end of the case, it is a significant step. We at Cal Poly offer our thanks to Sheriff Ian Parkinson and his department, as well as District Attorney Dan Dell and his office, who have worked hard to find answers in this case for Kristin and her family. I know that many across California in the U.S. and many of you here today also thank Chris Lambert for his efforts as well. Last, our thoughts-
Speaker 2: (18:03)
… For his efforts as well. Last, our thoughts and prayers continue to be with Denise and Stan Smart, all of Kristin’s family and friends as this process proceeds. Thank you.
Sheriff Parkinson: (18:17)
Thank you, President Armstrong. I am prepared to answer any questions that you might have, just understand, as I stated, that some of the items that I just will not be able to discuss.
Speaker 3: (18:35)
When will Paul be extradited to San Luis?
Sheriff Parkinson: (18:36)
He was driven from San Pedro and booked into San Luis County Jail today already. So he’s here.
Speaker 4: (18:40)
Sheriff Parkinson, are you guys any closer to finding Kristin at this point? And, the search warrants that are being served currently reason to believe that she may be at Ruben Flores’s home or any of the properties belonging to the Flores family?
Sheriff Parkinson: (18:56)
Well, the first part of the question is, are we any closer? And the answer is yes, I believe we are, but only time will tell. So if obviously we recover, we’d be making that announcement today. In regards to the search warrants, we’re after all kinds of things, physical evidence, again, anything that might lead us to the location of Kristin and as you know, from the previous search, and as you reported from this search, we’re out there with our ground penetrating radar again. So yes, it’s safe to say we’re checking everywhere possible.
Speaker 5: (19:31)
Sheriff Parkinson, when might we see either Ruben or Paul or both in court?
Sheriff Parkinson: (19:38)
I believe that that Paul’s arraignment will be on Thursday. It really depends on Ruben. Ruben has the ability to bail out. If he bails out, then he will not be there on Thursday. But if he is still in custody, he will too, be in court on Thursday.
Speaker 5: (19:55)
Thursday at the latest, then?
Sheriff Parkinson: (19:57)
Yes, yes. Yes, sir.
Sheriff Parkinson: (20:06)
Sheriff Parkinson: (20:06)
Well, as I’ve said before, and in this case is probably the best illustration of it, is that it’s not what you believe, it’s what you can prove. So when people ask, “Why is this taking so long?” Because the general public knows this much about the case and the case is this big. And so, as it progresses, and when I talk about that due process rights, we have a duty, an obligation to protect people that are innocent as well as guilty. So we can’t base arrest on what we might believe. It has to be based on physical evidence.
Speaker 6: (20:48)
Sheriff, you mentioned you can’t talk a lot about some of the evidence, but can you talk to me in general about the physical evidence, and was any of the physical evidence that had belonged to Kristin Smart do you believe? And was any of that physical evidence found in one of the Flores’ homes?
Sheriff Parkinson: (21:04)
Let me see if I can answer it this way. Forensic, physical evidence was located and yes, we believe it’s linked to Kristin and yes, we did find physical evidence at at least two homes.
Speaker 6: (21:22)
You also mentioned some information in the podcast, can you expand on that a little bit?
Sheriff Parkinson: (21:27)
In regards to what Chris Lambert discovered? Yeah, that comes up every year. So since I’ve come into office, we have two anniversary dates that are really centered around Kristin, and that is her birthday, and that is the date she went missing. That’s typically when people want to interview me or interview the department on Kristin’s case. I’ve always said that those are really good things because it’s getting that message out. I think what Chris did with his podcast was he took a local story that was generally locally, and he expanded it to a national story, and international actually, I’ll say. Because once that message got out, we started getting more information.
Sheriff Parkinson: (22:13)
Now, some of it is information that we already had and knew, but the value to it was, is that as we see here, there’s a lot of people that are students here that aren’t from San Luis Obispo. And so when they graduate, a lot of them will leave, back to their home area or on to pursue other jobs, and so they’re dispersed all over the country. So as that message gets out to the nation, those people that used to live here during that time might remember something. And so that’s always the value of that. And I think what Chris did with the podcasts was truly put it out nationally to bring in new information. So it did produce some information that I believe was valuable.
Speaker 6: (22:58)
The podcast also talks about some alleged missteps early on in the investigation. Can you talk about that? Do you believe there were missteps early on? Do you think this arrest should have happened back in 1996, 97?
Sheriff Parkinson: (23:12)
First to the missteps. Yes. I think there were certainly some missteps. Were there some things that were done really, really well? Yes, too. You can be an investigator and look at a case that was investigated 10 years ago, look at that case and say, “Well, I wish they would’ve done this,” or, “I would have done this.” So you can always look back and see things that could have been different. But there really is no hiding the fact that there were some mistakes made early on, and they made it much more difficult. That first 48 hours is pretty critical in a missing person or a homicide. And there was mistakes made that made that that much harder.
Sheriff Parkinson: (23:55)
And I think that’s why, when I talk about, it’s what you can prove, it’s not what you believe, I think there’s a lot of people that listen to Chris’s podcast and either relived it because they were around during that time, or learned of the story. And then what they tended to focus on was, “Hey, why aren’t we moving forward?” And trying to really impress upon people that our duty has to be to prove it beyond a reasonable doubt. It’s not just, we believe this person did it, and we’re going to pull them off the street and deprive them of their freedom.
Speaker 6: (24:31)
Finally, you mentioned the search warrant on the phone and the text messages. [inaudible 00:24:36] information?
Sheriff Parkinson: (24:38)
Yes. As Denise Smart has said, it’s a puzzle. And the puzzle is, we’re assembling the puzzle. And imagine if you’ve ever built a puzzle, you’ve found missing pieces, how frustrating that is because you’re looking for the one piece and you find out there’s three pieces that somebody has taken out of the puzzle and were not putting it back. Well, this is what it has been. It’s been a puzzle. And it’s a very slow process to find each of those little pieces, because at the end of the day, we got to see what that puzzle reveals. And so that was something Denise said early on to me, and I absolutely agree with it. That’s the slow process of this and finding a little bit each place. So when you ask, “Was there something of value?” My answer would be yes, there was something of value in various locations that kept coming up and coming to light.
Speaker 4: (25:39)
Sheriff, could Paul be charged with anything else in addition to murder?
Sheriff Parkinson: (25:39)
I really think that’s a question that the DA is going to have to answer. I mean, once we turn the case over to them, they’re the ones that actually file the charges. We know that the 187 of the Penal Code murder, is applicable. Whether or not something else will be, I think that’s to be determined by the DA.
Speaker 4: (25:57)
Without finding Kristin, without remains or a body, how confident are you that evidence, physical evidence alone will hold up in court?
Sheriff Parkinson: (26:04)
Well, you know what? You never know. I mean, you can have eye witnesses and it doesn’t hold up in court because of either the admissibility or believability of the witnesses. So we don’t know that until we try it. I’m confident that we have enough of a case to prove beyond a reasonable doubt.
Sheriff Parkinson: (26:24)
Now, the second part of your question is without Kristin. Well, there’s cases all over the nation what they call no body homicides. As a matter of fact, there’s a case in point, that was on 48 Hours up in Placer County, where they prosecuted, were successful. It went through appeal, they won and years later, they actually recovered the victim, the female victim’s body in that case. So it’s done all the time, well, I say it’s done regularly is probably a better answer. So yes, I believe it can be done, and I think that the district attorney can be successful because I think there’s enough evidence to support it.
Sheriff Parkinson: (27:03)
… attorney can be successful, because I think there’s enough evidence to support it.
Speaker 7: (27:04)
My last question is, this is such a high profile case. I mean, you can see the crowd that this has garnered just for this press conference. Do you think that this is going to be a fair trial in San Luis Obispo County or will it have to be tried elsewhere?
Sheriff Parkinson: (27:17)
It’s a good question and I don’t have an answer. Is there a chance that it’s going to push for a change of venue? Yeah, absolutely. But that, again, is going to be a court function to determine. That’s an item that will be placed in front of a judge to make that determination.
Speaker 8: (27:37)
Is the accessory charge against the father based on the belief that he helped get rid of Kristin’s body?
Sheriff Parkinson: (27:40)
It’s a belief that he participated.
Speaker 8: (27:48)
Is he investigated for the murder?
Sheriff Parkinson: (27:48)
Speaker 9: (27:48)
Sheriff? Does any of the evidence show that Kristin’s remains are possibly at any of the previous searched locations?
Sheriff Parkinson: (27:55)
Can’t comment on that. I can’t discuss that other than to say that every location, I think I mentioned that we searched 18 locations, and most of those involve digs, the most significant one being on the hillside behind us. But we’re going to continue until we find her.
Speaker 10: (28:22)
What’s your theory of the crime? How did it happen? What’s your theory?
Sheriff Parkinson: (28:24)
That’s something that is presented in court. I can’t present a motive or a theory. That’s what court is for.
Speaker 11: (28:32)
Sheriff, what about the mom? What about Susan?
Sheriff Parkinson: (28:36)
That was answered just a little bit ago. You might’ve missed it.
Speaker 12: (28:42)
Sheriff, for the two men arrested, are they on suicide watch? If not, why?
Sheriff Parkinson: (28:46)
If not, why? Well, I can tell you this, anybody that comes in on a high profile crime, there’s probably, I’d say, a dozen people right now in custody for murder. They’re all on watch, because of the level of their charges. And it’s not just murder. It could be any serious crime or high profile crime, that’s always an issue. And that’s always watched for that specific reason.
Speaker 13: (29:11)
Sheriff, did the arresting officers, did they give any information as to the reaction to when they were arrested, Paul and Ruben, what their reaction was? And did they say anything?
Sheriff Parkinson: (29:23)
The only thing that’s been relayed to me is that there was virtually zero communication. No response.
Speaker 14: (29:40)
Why was a Ramey Warrant [inaudible 00:29:40]?
Sheriff Parkinson: (29:40)
Well, as you know, I’ll assume you know that a Ramey Warrant is a warrant that allows for a law enforcement officer to go into a home and take somebody. If it was purely an arrest that a peace officer has the authority to make, they could make that in a public place on the street. But if you’re going into a house, you cannot make that without an arrest warrant. So in order to make sure that he was in custody, it was imperative that we went to Superior Court and a judge signed an arrest warrant, in this case a Ramey Warrant, to allow us, if we needed to go inside a home, to take somebody that we could do that legally.
Speaker 15: (30:24)
Is this where their pictures were taken?
Sheriff Parkinson: (30:25)
Sorry, let me peek. Yes. Those first two pictures of Paul were taken in San Pedro. And the third one was taken in Arroyo Grande.
Speaker 16: (30:37)
Did Paul or Ruben Flores say anything when they were arrested? And what did they say?
Sheriff Parkinson: (30:46)
No. Nothing of consequence.
Speaker 17: (30:51)
I mean, what was their demeanor? Were they surprised? I heard reports of Paul being in Arroyo Grande over the weekend?
Sheriff Parkinson: (31:15)
Well, at least it was at the end.
Speaker 16: (31:16)
Sheriff Parkinson: (31:18)
Okay. I’m sorry.
Speaker 17: (31:22)
I had just a question about their demeanor when they arrested. We heard that Paul was here in Arroyo Grande or San Luis Obispo County over the weekend. What was the reason for waiting?
Sheriff Parkinson: (31:34)
Oh, why not arrest them when he was in Arroyo Grande? We were well aware that he was in Arroyo Grande. We had a warrant to be executed in San Pedro at his residence. So yes, it could have happened here and we could have gone down there. But when you set a timeline, when you talk about an operation of that size, when I’m sending 30 people or 20 people down to Southern California and 20 people here along with forensic people, it’s a lot bigger operation than meets the eye. So when you start planning that and figuring out what personnel you have, once you get to a timeline, it’s just better to follow the timeline, unless something really changes. And really that didn’t change much. Okay. Anything further, I’m going to refer you to my PO Tony Cupola, and thank you for coming today.
Speaker 18: (32:44)
Did it? I had a spare one.
Speaker 19: (32:57)