Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department Scientific Services Bureau, Forensic Identification Specialist Michelle Acevedo and her partners, routinely go above and beyond the call of duty. On one particular day, Michelle’s supervisor received a request from our Homicide Bureau to photograph human remains found 600 feet down a cliff off of Angeles Crest Highway.
This request could only be accomplished by rappelling down the side of the cliff with an array of gear and supplies.
Since she was trained to rappel by the Sheriff’s Department Montrose Search and Rescue Team (MSAR Team), she “jumped” at the chance to rappel 600-900 feet off the side of a cliff. The next morning, Michelle gathered her gear (camera, sketch pad, measuring tape, paper bags, etc.) and rappelled over 600 feet through difficult terrain with high temperatures. She said she really wasn’t scared because, “The team that trained us is awesome at what they do, and the training they give us is the best. Although it can be a little dangerous, they make you feel confident, and to [learn to] trust the harness that is securing you.”
So how did Michelle end up here? The initial call came to Crescenta Valley Station of a possible motorcyclist over the side of Angeles Crest Highway on August 4, 2017. The location was approximately 32 miles into the Angeles National Forest from La Canada Flintridge. Montrose Search and Rescue personnel were initially called to the scene to locate and rescue the motorcyclist, however, they discovered human remains instead. The on-scene Coroner Investigator requested photographs of the scene and the human remains.
When processing a crime scene, she has to document the scene thoroughly. This involves photographing, marking, re-photographing, measuring and then collecting the evidence. Michelle had to improvise a little since the mountain was steep, and she was working with several people on the same rope line (i.e. the coroner’s Special Operations Response Team and MSAR personnel). She basically had one chance to get it right, and wanted to be meticulous in her documentation. It took longer than expected, approximately eight hours.
At the end of the exhausting day, Michelle said this was her first rappelling incident, and she would do it all over again. She loves getting out of the office and going outdoors. It was physically challenging, but practice makes better. Without Forensic Identification Specialist like Michelle Acevedo, we would not be able to present evidence in court and put suspects away in prison.
Michelle Acevedo started her career with the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department as a Custody Assistant at the Inmate Reception Center. Once she got her foot in the door, she finished college and got a degree. With her degree in hand, she applied to work in our crime lab and began her formal training in 2008. Michelle completed training at the crime lab in 2010. The training consisted of two and a half years in the area of latent print analysis and crime scene investigation. Since then, she has responded to dozens of major crimes scenes and completed hundreds of fingerprint comparisons.
The remains have since been identified by the Los Angeles County Department of Medical Examiner-Coroner’s Office and Department of Justice as that of Mr. Makoto Ofuji, a 57 year-old resident of Los Angeles. Based on the Homicide detective’s investigation, his death was the result of an unreported motorcycle accident on the Angeles Crest Highway sometime around July 4, 2017.
When I asked Michelle what was the most rewarding part of her job, she stated, “Knowing that I can help bring closure to a victim’s family is immeasurable. By doing my job properly, meticulously, and with great pride, I can assist in finding clues, be that in crime scenes or in fingerprint comparisons, that assist in the grand scheme of the case. I would highly recommend this job to anyone who has a love for forensics and who enjoys working hard! It is very challenging and rewarding, but unlike what you see on TV, it involves long hours and being on-call. It is still the greatest job in the world!”
Portrait of Michelle Acevedo
Thank you to Lieutenant Hiroshi Yokoyama for sharing Michelle’s awesome story.