Like many others associated with the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, we were left speechless this week when we learned of the unexpected death of Sergeant Danilo Castaneda. While the final results are unknown at this time, preliminary information tells us that he died while at home on Tuesday, January 2nd, the apparent victim of an apparent fatal heart attack or possible aneurism.
While the word “hero” can sometimes be seen as an over simplification of someone’s impact on others, such is not the case with Sergeant Castaneda. In my estimation, there is no sliding scale of heroism; either someone is a hero or they are not. By all accounts, it is clear that Castaneda, 46, was the dictionary definition of hero.
Based on the outpouring of emotional sentiment being received from people throughout the Department, it is clear that Danilo touched many of them with his professionalism, commitment to service, and kindness. Two particularly poignant observations were made by Deputy Garrett Rifkin and retired LASD Sergeant, Brian Hill (now a captain with Cerritos College Police Department).
About Danilo, Brian wrote:
“Once in a lifetime, there is a bright star. It is your guiding light.
it leads you through the fog, it is your beacon home, that shines
much brighter than the rest. And sometimes God will extinguish
that star way before their time. Love you buddy, until we see you
Brian went on to explain that while assigned to Norwalk Station, Danilo would routinely invite officers from Cerritos College to participate in tactical and active shooting training, even though not required to do so. Hill concluded that Castaneda did so, “out of the kindness of his heart.”
Upon hearing of Sergeant Castaneda’s death, Deputy Garrett Rifkin explained that Danilo was the reason he was still working as a deputy sheriff. Rifkin had been in a life-altering vehicle incident on August 3rd, 2018, when he had been struck by another vehicle that ran a stop sign as he was driving to work on his motorcycle. As a result of the collision, it had been necessary to amputate his left foot and leg below the knee.
After his amputation and receiving a prosthetic leg, Rifkin said he returned to work on November 7th, 2018. He said he knew at the time that he wasn’t ready to take on the rigors of patrol, because he is “stubborn.” After a short while back in patrol, he was placed on loan to the TAS unit in January of 2019 (Tactic and Survival, commonly referred to as Laser Village). He said that at this point in his recovery, he could barely walk up a flight of stairs.
Rifkin said it was at this assignment that he began working with Danilo. He said that Castaneda took him “under his wing” and began retraining him on several basics of the job, including introducing him to a new shooting stance, how to “clear corners” without having an ankle, how to go up and down stairs, and how to get into and out of a radio car again.
Rifkin had a number of fond recollections of his time with Sergeant Castaneda. He said at one point during his training, Castaneda told him that he needed to “point his toes” in a particular position while posting up on a shooting scenario. Rifkin said he looked down and told Castaneda didn’t have any toes on the foot and therefore couldn’t point them anywhere. He said that he and Castaneda laughed about the situation and the sergeant ultimately came up with a creative new way for him to know how to accomplish the task, albeit toeless.
Rifkin also related another story, wherein Castaneda assigned him to some training that was taking place with other deputies on the Department. Castaneda told him to go to the trunk of a car and remove his prosthetic leg from it to see if the amped up attendees would shoot without recognizing what he was retrieving. Rifkin said that Castaneda’s assumption had been correct, in that, “they shot me every time.”
Rifkin concluded his recollections by stating;
“I can say without a doubt that if I did not go on loan to TAS and he
didn’t take the time out of his day to help me, I would not be a cop
It’s safe to say that by any measure imaginable, Sergeant Danilo Castaneda was an exemplary example of what it means to be a modern-day member of the law enforcement community. His humility, humanity, passion for training, selflessness, and giving spirit all served to make him a “hero.”
It’s also safe to say that he will be dearly missed by all who knew him.
Rest in Peace dear friend.