Officer Filberto H. Cuesta Jr., a member of the Los Angeles Police Department Gang Unit, was eulogized Friday, Aug. 14, as a hero.
Thousands of officers from the Los Angeles Police Department and law enforcement agencies from throughout California gathered at the Calvary Chapel in Diamond Bar to mourn one of their “brothers.”
Cuesta, 26, died Sunday, Aug. 9, when he was shot in the head by bullets fired through the rear window of his patrol car. He and his partner, Officer Richard Gabaldon, were outside a party where gang members had shown up. They were waiting for backup units to arrive when the shooting occurred.
Catarino Gonzalez Jr., 20, surrendered to authorities Aug. 11 after learning he was wanted for the shooting. He is known for gang activity and has been arrested numerous times since 1994, mainly for drug-related offenses. Although court records didn’t reveal that Gonzalez is a gang member, his tattoos and his statements indicated that he is a member of the 18th Street gang a police spokesman reported.
More than 4,000 people attended the funeral honoring Cuesta. Hundreds of police cars, fire trucks and other law enforcement vehicles took part in a funeral caravan on the Pomona Freeway that stretched for miles. Rose Hills Memorial Park in Whittier was the site for Cuesta’s burial.
Mayor Richard Riordan, one of dozens of elected officials at the service, referring to Cuesta “You dedicated your life to the protection and safety of others. You protected the weak from peril, and you took time to shepherd young people who had lost their way. You served the LAPD with honor and dignity. You were a hero among heroes. Today, you are in a much better place.”
Cuesta is the youngest of the 15 LAPD officers who have died in the line of duty since 1990. He was shot just three days after returning from paternity leave.
During the funeral friends and relatives held his two daughters. Sierra Rose, four weeks old, sat quietly in an infant carrier, while her sister, Samantha, 18 months old, drank milk from a bottle. Clad in a white dress, Samantha waved at the large, color portrait of her father in his police uniform that stood over his coffin.
Cuesta’s wife, Sylvia, was assisted by two LAPD officers as she entered the chapel for the service. As she looked up at the large audience made up mostly of police officers, she seemed overwhelmed and said, “It’s beautiful. Thank you Father.”
Cuesta’s coworkers from the LAPD’s Southwest Division remembered their colleague during the eulogy. “Thanks for all the times you said, ‘Let’s cruise the area one more time before we end our watch,'” one officer said. All vowed to Cuesta’s wife that they would keep their promise to Cuesta and look out for his children.
Ofc. Timothy Kalkus stated “He was our brother, and we have sworn to protect his family.” He told Sylvia Cuesta to expect “birthday gifts and offers of help from 20 men” in the years to come.
Kalkus told the audience that Cuesta worked hard on the job but “he didn’t have to work hard at home because his love for his family came easy.”
Cuesta’s supervisor at Southwest, Sgt. Alexander Moreno, remembered the night he was shot. “From the moment that he fell, he was never alone. There were brother and sister officers on the ground, there were officers in the air, there were officers faraway, on the radio,” all looking after him.
Ofc. Gary Copeland, his voice cracking, said “There wasn’t a day that passed that Fil didn’t mention his wife and two little daughters. He loved his family and he loved his work.”
Sylvia Cuesta said, regarding the man who had shot her husband, that he “was out there, you know, to shoot an officer, not to shoot Fil. It wasn’t a personal thing.” She fought back tears as she struggled to speak.
“I just hope he realizes what he has done,” she said. “You know, he left two young girls without their father. And as much as I am strong, I can’t say the same for my girls, knowing they’re not going to have their dad there anymore.”
President Clinton, who was in the Los Angeles area, called Cuesta’s wife to extend his condolences. LAPD issued a statement that said “the president spoke of violence in America and how dangerous it is to be a police officer.”
Cuesta, who is the son of Filberto, Sr. and Rosalia Cuesta, was born in La Mirada, California. He received his primary education at St. Paul of the Cross and graduated from St. Paul’s High School in 1989.
He joined LAPD on March 21, 1994. During his tour of duty with the department, he completed his probation at 77th, then went on to Central Traffic Division. Later, he was assigned to Southwest’s Community Resources Against Street Hoodlums (CRASH) anti-gang program.
Cuesta was a devoted member of Las Buenas Nuevas Church in Norwalk where he served the youth by warning them against gangs. He loved all sports, but he had a great passion for baseball and Nintendo.
A memorial fund for Cuesta’s family has been set up. To contribute, send donations to: Sylvia Cuesta, c/o of the law firm of Gibson, Dunn and Crutcher, 333 S. Grand Ave., Suite 4600, Los Angeles, CA 90071.