Joseph Libowsky,
former Special Agent

LASD Detective-Louie-Aguilera My name is Louie Aguilera and I’m a homicide detective for the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department’s Homicide Bureau. My career path in law enforcement goes back to probably the late ’70s, when I was about seven or eight years old, as far back as I can remember. Back in my neighborhood, I actually witnessed a homicide. I was standing on the street corner waiting for an ice cream man to show up. And while I was standing on the corner, I saw him stop probably about 40 or 50 yards in front of me for some of the other kids that were waiting to get ice cream. And as I was waiting, I saw three of the local teenagers from the neighborhood run inside, these are gang members, of course, and run inside the truck. After a few seconds, I heard a gunshot and saw them running out of the truck.

And what happened was apparently they went in to do a robbery and ended up killing this poor man. So as far back as then, I felt horrible for this guy. This was the guy that would come to our neighborhood every day. He was trying to earn a living for his family. And once I heard the gunshots, all these guys ran, I knew what they did. I knew from that moment on, that’s what I wanted to do. I wanted to go after suspects and people like that, and help victims as much as I can. So I knew from that moment on I wanted to get in law enforcement.

Throughout my life I stayed busy with sports, martial arts, boxing. Went to my first year in college and took as many administrative justice classes as I could, just to learn more about law enforcement. (See: Best Majors for Law Enforcement) And it just so happened, a lot of my professors were current and retired law enforcement officers. So I got to pick their brain for a while, and just fell in love with the job. I went on some ride alongs, and when I turned 19 years old, I started processing for the sheriff’s department and got hired in 1986 as a 19 year old. So once I joined the sheriff’s department in 1986, I was a community service officer for about a year and a half. And that’s basically an unarmed civilian position; you take police reports, criminal, traffic reports, and latent prints as well. So it was a really good starter for me. (See: Police vs Sheriff)

The day I turned 21, I got sworn into the sheriff’s department, and I worked the jail, the Los Angeles County jail for about 11 months before I went out to patrol. (See: Sworn vs. Non-Sworn) So I was essentially a 23 year old on the streets working at one of the local sheriff’s stations. I was transferred after about three years to another sheriff’s station in LA County. And after about three years there on patrol, I went to the gang unit and became a detective in the mid ’90s. So I did about 12 years in the gang unit. This was in South Central Los Angeles on the Inglewood, LAPD border. I specialized in Crips and Blood gangs. And then I had some cases with the Mexican mafia as well, so if you were to pinpoint me on what my expertise was in gangs, it would be Crips, Blood. and Mexican mafia gangs. (See: Detective Jobs)

LASDI did that for 12 years, and then I eventually promoted to the homicide bureau. And I’ve been at homicide bureau for the last 14 years. As far as special education goes, throughout my career, I knew I wanted to be two things. I wanted to be, one, a gang detective. And two, I wanted to work homicide and be a homicide detective. So throughout my career, I attended as many investigative classes as I could. I went to training with the FBI. I did gang training. I went through search warrant classes put on by the DA’s office. I attended as many interview and interrogation classes as I could. I went on ride alongs with the coroner’s office. And most importantly, I just talked to people with experience within the department.

I tell young investigators this all the time, don’t be afraid to talk and ask questions to people that you think have more experience than you. I see more often than not, a lot of us detectives or police officers are afraid to ask questions out of fear of either looking dumb or incompetent. And that’s just not the case. I think if you pick the brain of people that have been around a long time, you’re going to learn a lot.

The role of a homicide detective for the LA County Sheriff’s Department, now mind you, we are the largest sheriff’s department in the country, there are 18,000 of us total, and there’s 10,000 sworn. We have one homicide bureau for the entire department, we have 90 investigators and we handle all homicides in the county. We handle officer involved shootings where there’s a hit only. If they shoot and miss, we don’t handle it. We handle when deputies or officers are wounded or killed. We handle accidental deaths. We handle suicides. We handle industrial accidents. And we handle critical missing person cases where there are suspicious circumstances, and we think this person’s probably dead.

We’re on an on call basis. We don’t have special sections within our bureau. We’re just all homicide detectives. When you’re on call, whatever case comes in, that’s your case. So I think it’s really good in the sense that it makes us well rounded with our investigations. With all of our investigations, the process is pretty much the same. We have people from our crime lab respond with us. They take photographs. They help collect evidence. Sometimes we have criminalists that go out with us, and they specialize in the collection of DNA. Sometimes we have firearms examiners go with us. And obviously, they specialize with ballistics and firearms.

We have the specialists at our crime lab that, depending on what’s needed at the time, that’s what we’ll ask for. So since we are the largest sheriff’s department in the country, we have access to pretty much everything, which is nice. If we need to get on a helicopter on a moment’s notice, we can get on a helicopter and do fly overs. Once we process the scene, we’re basically trying to determine what we think happened. We form our theories and our opinions. We process the crime scene. We will highlight what we think is evidence and what we think we should take. We’ll interview witnesses. We’ll interview potential suspects. And then we’ll continue to investigate the case as long as it takes. And hopefully, eventually, bring the case to the district attorney’s office for purposes of filing.

I think the most challenging aspects of working homicide or being a homicide investigator is just the mental toll that it takes on you. Unfortunately, we are handling the worst possible case imaginable to these families. And I tell people this constantly, and I tell other detectives, I don’t like to use the word closure because to me, there’s no such thing as closure to these families. Homicides and suicides, they ruin families. They destroy families because of the nature of what occurred to their family member who’s the victim. I get text messages from victims’ family members all the time on the date of their birthday, or Christmas, or another holiday, where they’ll text me and thank me. And they’ll tell me this would’ve been their loved one’s whatever birthday it was. Or we miss him or her. It’s Christmas, we’re just wishing you the best.

Homicide-Scene-HouseSo I think the most difficult part is just the mental toll. You’re constantly wracking your brain as to what you can do on a case. I sleep with post-its and a pen next to my bed, and I don’t know what other profession there is, when you wake up in the middle of the night and just start writing notes because something jogs your memory, or something’s bugging you about a case. These cases just don’t go away. And they’re nonstop. And the hard part of the job is really when you’re on a murder scene in the middle of the night, and you’ve processed it and you’ve collected evidence, you’ve interviewed who you have to. And I think the worst part is when we have to go to the family members of these victims. And we show up in our suits, knock on their door, and we have to give them the worst possible news, that their loved one was killed. And it’s incumbent upon us to come up with some answers for these families.

We do the family notifications. Usually, the coroner leaves it up to us. But we like to do the notifications just because we can talk to the family members and get some background on that person that was killed. I understand, and I leave it up to the family members. Most of the time, I’m not there to question them for any period of time after I’ve just given them the worst possible news. So we do like to introduce ourselves and just let them know we’re there for them, provide our information for them so they can reach out to us when they feel like it. And if they have any answers for us, like I said, it’s incumbent upon us I think to introduce ourselves and then do the notification.

I would say the most difficult cases right now that we have are gang cases, gang murders. They’re not hard in the sense of collecting evidence and figuring out what happened. But they’re hard in the sense that it’s very difficult to find witnesses that are willing to come forward and talk to us. A lot of the information that we get are from other gang members. They may come to jail for another crime, and want to give up some information to get themselves out. But then you’re going to have to weigh what their reason is for wanting to talk, and if their information they’re providing is valid or not. I get it. I mean, I understand these people have to live in that community where that gang murder occurred, and they’re concerned for their own safety.

So I would say the most difficult cases are the gang cases, just because it’s easy to find out who did the murder. But it’s hard to come forward with witnesses that are willing to testify against a gang member, especially when they live in the same neighborhood. Social media plays a big part of our investigations, on several of our investigations. I would say probably 70%. People start posting things. A lot of gang members, which is surprising, are into social media now. They’re posting their rivalries of who they’re at war with at the time. They may post pictures of themselves with firearms, violating some of their parole or probation. We can also through social media track their locations. Social media’s a huge part, and we are constantly writing search warrants for social media accounts and trying to learn basically who’s who, and who may be involved in our cases.

I would say one of the bigger highlights of my career just happened back in January 26th of this year. I knew I was on call. And I saw a notice come up on my phone, and I’m looking at the phone. I see a TMZ post, something about Kobe Bryant being killed in a helicopter crash. So I called our office because I knew I was on call. I knew it was in Calabasas, which is in LA County, and it’s our area, patrolled by Sheriff’s Department. And they said, “Hey, we hear there’s a helicopter crash. We heard it might be Kobe Bryant and his family, but we don’t know anything other than that.” So I just left it alone, not thinking much of it, that we were going to be called out to it. And about 10 minutes later, I get a phone call saying, “Hey, we need you to go to Calabasas and assist the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) with their investigation.”

So we were on scene, and I’ve never seen anything like it. Usually, we have local news vans. But with this, we had news trucks with satellites. And it took me, once I got off the freeway, probably 35-minutes to get one mile because there were so many people. You could just feel the atmosphere in the air, how sad people were. And as I was driving to the scene, I was told it was Kobe Bryant and his family. That’s all I was told, Kobe Bryant, his family, and the pilot. And when I responded, I met with the FAA people and the NTSB representative. And they say, “Hey, look. This is an accident.” They showed me the flight plan. They said, “It’s probably just pilot error. He got disoriented. There were nine people on the manifest, Kobe and Gianna Bryant, and then seven additional people. The NTSB’s going to be here tomorrow.” So they basically told us, homicide, to do what we can do. Just leave the crash alone.

So I got together with the coroner, and we decided that we needed to go up there and get the remains of our victims and bring them down the mountain. I’m a firm believer in giving these people, our victims, dignity in their death. I don’t like to leave our victims out on scenes for very long, so I try and rush that, the process of recovering the victims. So we went up there with the Coroner’s Office and recovered as many of the victims that we could for the first night until darkness came, and then we recovered more the next morning. So that stands out most recently.

HomicideBut I think a case that really shows the work of all the local agencies was the 2017 case that I handled regarding the disappearance of a five year old boy named Aramazd Piqui Andressian. He was the son of Ara Senior Andressian and Ana Estevez, the mother. They were going through a contentious divorce. And I’m watching on the news one morning, and I see South Pasadena, in a park in South Pasadena, searching for a five year old boy after they found his father unconscious in the park beside his car, and his car had been doused in gasoline. So once again, I know I’m on call and I’m watching this play out throughout the news. And I’m just thinking the whole time, “This does not seem right.”

And I finally called the office. I said, “Hey. We handle South Pasadena’s murders and their missing persons.” I said, “Hey, is South Pasadena asking for our help? Do they need us?” And we got the okay, and my partner and I took over the case with about four other investigators. And got to interview the father, who basically said that he had custody of his son for that week. There was a one week at a time custody agreement. He had gone to Disneyland, and then he went to Santa Barbara with his son. And then he went to the park with his son in a matter of two days, without going home. And when he arrived at the park, he said somebody beat him up. He didn’t know what happened to his son, and he was unconscious.

So we spoke with the mother as well, and she said there was a contentious divorce. He had custody of her son, and that day he was found in the park, she was supposed to get the son back. She waited all day and didn’t hear from them, so she called the police. And then the search went on. So what we did is we traced the father’s steps back. And this is a man who’d never been arrested before. He had his master’s degree. And the mother was a principal at a local elementary school, and there was no prior abuse, verbal or physical, on the wife or are child. So for the next two months, we basically traced his steps. We were able to find video of him the night before his son disappeared. They were at Disneyland. And then he took his son to a lake in Santa Barbara.

And we looked at video at the lake in Santa Barbara and didn’t find the son on video at all, but we found the father, even though the father said his son was with him. So we knew some time after Disneyland and when he arrived in Santa Barbara, he probably killed his son and disposed of his body. So for the next two months, we tried to figure out what happened to this child’s body. We did do search warrants of the suspect’s social media, his computers, and his cell phone. And we determined that he was actually Google searching wilderness areas near that lake in Santa Barbara. So one weekend, we actually had about 200 officers from various agencies throughout the county and city, including LAPD, and we did a 30 mile grid search for this child’s body.

And it was great to see the teamwork amongst the agencies. It was difficult because at the same time, we’re trying to monitor this father and conduct surveillances on him because he was not in custody. And the father, while all these searches are going on, the mother’s helping with the searches for the child, the father’s in Las Vegas partying and doing prescription drugs, prescription meds, constantly, and not a care in the world. So we continued searching, and once we felt we had enough, about two months later, we went and arrested the father in Las Vegas. So this case took us all over a couple of states for two months. It was nonstop every day and night for two months, trying to figure out what happened, and making sure that our suspect, the father, didn’t skip town, because towards the end, he started talking about fleeing to countries that didn’t extradite. And that’s when we knew we had to go get him in Las Vegas.

So we extradited him from Vegas. We brought him back to the country jail. I rode with him. And during that drive to the county jail, he just, you could see the remorse on him two and a half months later. And he told me he wanted to talk about what he did to his son, and where he placed his son. And he eventually basically said that after he went to Disneyland, he went to the Lake Cachuma. And while his son was sleeping in the back seat of the car, he took his son’s jacket off and smothered him with the jacket until he stopped breathing. And then he placed his son on a hillside near the lake, and then he went to inside the lake. And that’s where we have him on video at the lake all day without his son because he had already killed his son and had dumped his body.

So based on the description and the area that he gave us, we were able to send units from Santa Barbara sheriff, and half of our team went out to Santa Barbara immediately, and we recovered the remains of the child. The suspect pled guilty, never went to trial, never went to a preliminary hearing. He pled guilty to the maximum and he is now serving a life sentence in prison.

Crime-Scene-HomicidePart of our investigation showed or revealed that the mother, Ana, had tried, this was her only child, and she had several miscarriages. She went through in vitro. This child was everything to her, everything. And he knew that, and he knew the only way to hurt her or get back her was to kill that child. And now we’re not talking about a person that was thinking rationally. I’m talking about a person that was using prescription medications to the amount of $2000 a week. He was just completely whacked out of his mind. So when he spent eight days in a Las Vegas jail before we could extradite him and interview him back here in LA, I think he came to his senses. He finally cleaned out, dried up. He was upset because his own family had started to turn on him. And he realized he basically didn’t have a friend in the world. And this case played all over the media throughout the country. We were getting tips from everywhere with possible sightings of this child.

We had several interviews with the mother on television, so this was all over the news. It was a really stressful case because, like I said, when these play all over the news media and throughout the country, you feel like everyone’s watching you, and they are. And obviously, you want a good outcome for the family. And unfortunately, this wasn’t because this child was dead. I had been talking to the mother throughout this case, and we kept her updated. She would come see us in the office. And I would say week two, when he had been missing for two weeks and she asked me, she said, “What do you think happened to my son?” And I had no proof that he was dead. I had nothing. We had no crime scene, no bloody crime scene, no nothing. There was no DNA, nothing to suggest he was dead.

But the fact that his father, who had never been arrested before, never even received a speeding ticket, was not providing any help at all. He never asked us what happened to his son. He never asked us about the investigation, nothing. And she was doing the complete opposite, the mother. She would pass out flyers every day, stopped going to work and was passing out flyers with a group of people every day. So she asked me, “What do you think happened to my son?” And I told her from the very first time she asked me, I said, “I hope I’m wrong, but I think he killed your son because it doesn’t make sense that this has gone on for a couple weeks now. He’s going to risk his freedom. And if he’s hiding your son, why wouldn’t he just say, ‘Okay. I tap out. I give up. Here’s where he’s at. Go get him.'” So the fact that he wasn’t saying anything, I just knew he had killed this son.

I think the career advice that I would give to anyone that’s getting in law enforcement is really research it. Research the agency that you want to work for. There are a lot of local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies, and each one can vary. Don’t be afraid to approach a peace officer and just talk to them. Pick their brain and see what they think of their job. See if they like their job, how they like their job, go out on ride alongs. I have two sons. One of my sons works for our department. And another one of my sons is a Los Angeles Police Department officer. And my advice to them was just do the right thing. Treat people nice. Be nice to people. Just talk to them normally. Don’t talk down to them like I’m the officer, you’re the suspect, or you’re the witness, or you’re the victim. Just treat people nice. There are going to be times when nice goes out the window. But for the most part, but treat people nice. Have common sense and do the right thing.

So if you’re interested in law enforcement, do that as you’re growing up, as you’re going to high school, as you’re going to college, you understand that you’re going to have to toe the line and not get in any trouble as you will need to pass the police background. Put yourself in classes in high school or colleges that you think are going to help you in law enforcement. Make sure that you meet the requirements to become a police officer. And do the right thing throughout your entire life, and good things will happen to you. It’s a great career. I understand that times are difficult now, but it is a great, fulfilling career when things go right for you. For those people interested in becoming a homicide detective, once you become a police officer, just do the things that I did. Put yourself in training. Put yourself in as many classes as you can just to learn about being a detective.

You start off as a patrol officer first with any agency. You just don’t become a detective. But once you become a patrol officer and start working the streets, start talking to the detectives at your station, start talking to detectives with specialized units, and just pick their brain on what their job encompasses and what would be good for you to do that would help you to become a detective. I always was interested in going back and talking to our detectives as a young patrol deputy, and just wanting to learn the ins and outs of being a detective. Definitely sign yourself up for as many classes as you can in every aspect of an investigation. Like I said before, search warrants, interview classes, any kind of class that will help you become a detective.

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