Ofc. Louis Villalobos, 52, died March 18 from injuries he incurred when he slipped and fell off of a 10-foot catwalk during training exercises as a member of the Los Angeles Police Department’s Metropolitan Division, Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) Team. Villalobos was taking advanced training at the U.S. Marine Base, Camp Pendleton, observing a live-fire drill at a “shooting house.”
He was about to take a seat on a catwalk, when he apparently reached back to brace himself, lost his balance and fell. He sustained serious head trauma. Chief Bernard Parks stated, “This is a tragic accident. I have known Officer Villalobos for many years. He represented everything that was good about our Department, and he will be greatly missed.”
Villalobos, a 30-year member of the department, joined the elite SWAT unit in 1983. He was a highly regarded peer leader. For the last10 years, he held the rank of assistant squad leader, and was six months away from retirement.
Hundreds of law enforcement personnel from throughout California gathered for services for Villalobos, that were held on March 24, at the Rolling Hills Covenant Church in Rolling Hills Estates followed by interment at the Green Hills Memorial Park in Rancho Palos Verdes.
Fellow Officer Stuart Guidry told the group, “You would know at first glance there was something special about him. He possessed unbelievable skill and knowledge, and had the body of an Olympic athlete. But he was also a man who carried himself with a sincere humility. He was the best of the best.”
Villalobos’ colleagues described him as a guy they sought out for guidance, someone who made time for anyone of any rank, someone Chief Parks himself frequently went out of his way to acknowledge.
Mayor Richard Riordan said, “The Reader’s Digest used to have a series about ‘The Most Unforgettable People I’ve Met. At the top of my list would be Lou Villalobos.’ Mike Downey of the L.A. Times wrote, “Of all the ways to lose him – literally a fallen hero.”
Villalobos, born in Sacramento, attended Christian Brothers and Bishop Armstrong high schools. He enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps in 1964, where he trained as a radio-telephone operator and Naval gunfire spotter. He served two years in Vietnam, where he was awarded a Silver Star for bravery in battle during the Tet offensive. He was honorably discharged in December 1969 as a sergeant.
Graduating in the top half of his Los Angeles Police Academy class in December 1970, Villalobos went on to patrol duties in the 77th Street Area. Shortly after he started patrol duties, the department received a letter from grateful citizens thanking Villalobos and his partner for having a long talk with their unruly teenaged daughter. The parents credited them with making a difference in their daughter’s life and helping her to turn around.
Following 11 years of well-rounded, often commended police work, Villalobos was accepted into Metropolitan Division. After two years of dedicated performance in crime suppression work, he was selected as a member of the SWAT platoon. Villalobos, from 1983 until the present, was a part of practically every high-profile incident that the LAPD SWAT Team became involved in. He was awarded the following LAPD medals during his tour with SWAT: The Police Meritorious Unit Citation Medal, for SWAT’s overall service to the people of the City of Los Angeles, in 1984; the Police Star Medal, for his actions in a barricaded suspect incident at a law office in Century City, in 1988; and the Police Commission Unit Citation Medal, for actions in response to the LAX-Rainbow Man barricaded suspect / hostage / bomb incident, in 1992. Another Police Meritorious Unit Citation Medal was presented to him for his actions as a SWAT team member in the North Hollywood – Bank of America shoot-out aftermath in February 1997. And finally, last September, Villalobos received the department’s highest award for individual heroism, the Medal of Valor, for his actions in the rescue of an ambushed and mortally wounded Glendale Police Department detective in May of 1997.
The Medal of Valor is the highest award the department bestows upon its officers who have distinguished themselves by acts of heroism and bravery above and beyond the normal demands of police service.
His fellow SWAT officers regarded Villalobos as the “best of the best.” He was a dedicated SWAT instructor, training outside law enforcement special weapons teams and even some military units in need of learning hostage rescue techniques.
His daughters, Stephanie, Christina, and Samantha, 8; his son, Jacob, 7; his parents, Louis and, Abeline; and his sister, Irene, survive Villalobos. A trust fund has been established for Villalobos’ two minor children. Donations may be sent to: The Lou Villalobos Blue Ribbon Trust Account, c/o LAPD Metropolitan Division, 251 East Sixth Street, #221, Los Angeles, CA 90014.