Deputy accused of murder lived down the street from victim
In the blue-collar Sylmar neighborhood where Armando "Cookie" Casillas was gunned down, allegedly by a sheriff's deputy now charged with murder, a small shrine sits near the spot on Beaver Street where he died. There's a cross, a potted plant with U.S. and Mexican flags, and candles emblazoned with pictures of Jesus.
No one interviewed near the Casillas house Thursday knew the man charged with murder in his death: Los Angeles County Sheriff's Det. Francisco "Frank" Gamez, Sr., a 17-year veteran of the department. Nor did anyone seem to know Gamez lived only a hundred yards down the street, and within sight, of the Casillas home.
"We're happy because they arrested the suspect in the case," said Jose Luis Casillas, Armando Casillas' father. "I don't want to know where he lives."
Casillas said his son used to practice karate with police officers in San Fernando, and he finds it ironic that a law enforcement officer is now accused of killing him.
Beaver Street, meanwhile, remains tranquil, with many residents unaware of the drama involving their neighbors.
"It's a quiet street, but this thing broke the tranquility," said Jose Luis Casillas. "Things happen."
Casillas' neighbors recalled a friendly man who often waved and stopped to chat.
When Patsy Telles-Cabrera's daughter was selling chocolate bars door-to-door to raise money for her Catholic school, Casillas, an unemployed factory worker and divorced father of one, bought an entire box every year.
"He was a sweetheart, and very generous," said Telles-Cabrera, who lived across the street from Casillas, 38, and his family for many years. "He would check in on my parents."
More than 500 people came to his wake after he was shot to death on June 17 – Father's Day. Telles-Cabrera's daughter this year paid for her own chocolate and put it on an altar at the Casillas family house.
Gamez was formally charged with murder, attempted murder and discharging a firearm from an occupied vehicle on Thursday. He could face 75 years to life in prison if convicted of all charges.
In court, where he stood handcuffed in a plexiglass cage, sheriff's deputies peeked into the room to gawk at their former colleague. Sheriff Lee Baca described the whole thing as "deeply disturbing."
Gamez is being held on $4 million bail. His arraignment was postponed until Dec. 12.
-- Sam Quinones and Wesley LoweryPhoto: A small memorial was placed in front of the home of Armando Casillas of Sylmar. A Los Angeles County Sherrif's Department's deputy has been charged with murder. Credit: Michael Robinson Chavez / Los Angeles Times