Los Angeles police investigators Monday pursued a number of "solid leads" in the ambush slaying of a fellow officer, interviewing witnesses and gang members during an intensive manhunt for suspects in Sunday's killing.
At one point, sources said, detectives seemed on the verge of arresting gang members suspected of shooting Officer Filbert H. Cuesta in the back of the head as he sat in a patrol car. Despite promising information early in the day, no arrests had been made by late Monday.
"We're going to solve it," said Capt. Jim Tatreau, who heads the LAPD's Robbery-Homicide Division. "It's just going to take some time."
Cuesta, a 26-year-old gang specialist, was mortally wounded as he and his partner, Officer Richard Gabaldon, waited for other officers to help them break up a loud party early Sunday near Jefferson Park in South Los Angeles.
Throughout the LAPD on Monday, downcast officers put black bands around their badges to mourn Cuesta's death. Meanwhile, department psychologists met with officers from the Southwest Division--where Cuesta was assigned--to help them cope with the tragedy.
"The mood in the station is very somber," said Capt. Jim McDonnell, who supervises detectives at Southwest. "It's like losing a member of your family."
The shooting was particularly upsetting to police because of its callous and senseless nature. Cuesta leaves a wife and two young daughters, ages 18 months and 4 weeks.
"Of all the cowardly acts I've witnessed in this business, this is the most cowardly," said Deputy Chief Martin Pomeroy. "The fact that his two children could be deprived of their father's love in this manner is absolutely appalling."
City officials from Mayor Richard Riordan on down condemned the shooting.
"I'm not allowed to release any of the information at this point, but the police are very much on top of it," Riordan said after a Metropolitan Transportation Authority news conference Monday.
"They are going to . . . capture whoever committed this horrible crime," he added. "Right now, I still want to break down and cry when I think of Sylvia Cuesta, the wife of Fil Cuesta."
Councilwoman Laura Chick, head of the city's public safety committee, called Cuesta a "valiant hero" who "was murdered by lowlife scum. . . . I vow I will not rest until this animal is captured and our streets are returned to the people of Los Angeles."
Councilman Nate Holden said he is willing to propose that the City Council offer a $25,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of Cuesta's killer, if investigators believe such a reward is needed.
Few Details on Shooting
Police sources said detectives still are investigating some very "hopeful leads" and that it may be premature to start offering a reward. Police generally ask for reward money only when all their leads have dried up.
Detectives remained tight-lipped about many of the details of the shooting. Police would only say that at the time of the shooting Cuesta and his partner were sitting in their parked squad car in the 5300 block of Carlin Street, a few blocks south of the Santa Monica Freeway and just west of La Brea Avenue.
They were waiting for backup officers to arrive and help them disperse a wedding party at a residence that had become too loud. Police said gang members showed up at the party uninvited. Cuesta apparently recognized gang members at the party, police said, but they declined to say how he saw them.
Before their backup arrived, Cuesta and his partner were barraged by gunfire. Cuesta was struck in the head. Gabaldon returned fire. Police declined to say how far the attacker or attackers were from the patrol car before the gunfight erupted.
"The officers weren't even taking any real enforcement action," said Gary Fullerton, a director of the Los Angeles Police Protective League. "They were just sitting in their car minding their own business. This shows you the sign of the times and the total disregard for authority there is."
Police sources said investigators are exploring the possibility that there were two gunmen firing at Cuesta's squad car.
Neighborhood Beset by Gang Clashes
On Monday, residents in the mostly working-class Latino neighborhood where the shooting occurred said they were upset about the shooting, but not surprised.
They said gang-related gunfire is common in the area due to clashes between members of the 18th Street gang and rival gangs from adjacent neighborhoods.
"You hide with fear when you hear it," said Milton Revero, a mechanic who lives a few doors away from the site of the shooting.
Neighbors on Carlin Street said they hope the shooting will force police to crack down on the gang violence that forces them to lock themselves in at night.
Meanwhile, in Norwalk, Cuesta's family and friends spent the day crying and talking about his life and plans.