He’s young, only 23. He’s short, only 5-5. “Call of Duty: Modern Warfare” is his video game of choice. On his right hip is a semiautomatic Sig Sauer .45-caliber pistol. He’s sharp, compassionate, caring and with an inherited work ethic from his parents. And he’s already seen the results of a gruesome accident up close that he’ll never, ever forget.
This young professional is Officer Luis Sanchez-Castillo of the Knoxville Police Department (KPD). His patrol beat is the West District. Born in Long Beach, California, at age 5 his family moved to Georgia and then to Knoxville when he was 10. He’s a proud Bearden High School Bulldog, class of 2018. He is fluent in Spanish and is often called to translate and assist other officers. That’s a skill the KPD appreciates about him.
What led this young man to be a cop? “When I was 17, I was trying to decide between the military or being a cop,” he says. “I knew I needed structure. So, I talked with the Army Reserves and they said I needed to try college first. I knew college was not for me – not enough structure. So after graduation from Bearden, I applied to the police department and the second time I applied they hired me.” In August 2021 he graduated from the KPD Police Academy.
Another reason that helped with his decision – watching the TV show “COPS.” He came away with a young man’s thought – “being a cop is cool.”
“I knew I’d enjoy the adrenalin rush you get in this job plus I loved the idea of arresting the bad guys and helping people and we do a lot of that in a variety of ways,” he explained. “It’s fascinating the different types of people you meet in this job. A whole slew of people I work with and getting to know the ones you deal with on the beat. You never know what you’re going to get into out here minute to minute and who you’ll interact with. I’m learning life lessons out here, like not ever judging a book by its covers.”
This past winter he met a homeless couple. “I was patrolling in Cedar Bluff and about 2 a.m. I saw two people walking through the Bank of America parking lot, so I pulled in to talk with them and they were nice people, homeless, down on their luck.”
A few weeks later in March he responded to a call at Home Depot on Kingston Pike about an apparent homeless man asking people for money. He did not find him, but the woman from the Bank of America parking lot was there. “I recognized her and stopped to check on her. Her husband was in the hospital and it was really cold that morning,” he says. “I asked her if she needed anything and she said she needed a warm coat.”
Sanchez knew the Amvets Thrift Store was close by on Seven Oaks Drive and was known for helping the homeless. “She told me what size she needed so I went to the store and I got her a really nice coat. When I was paying for it they said it cost only $1. Trust me – there are some really nice people there.” Here is a LINK to his body camera video of their conversation. https://twitter.com/Knoxville_PD/status/1641066305104101384?s=20
Last week he saw her again. “I was in my cruiser close to Cokesbury United Methodist Church and she waved at me and I waved back. She seemed to be doing OK. She’s homeless but she’s a really nice lady doing the best she can. Some people saw the video and made a big deal of it. I didn’t think twice about it. It’s just common human decency and the right thing to do.”
He enjoys using his Spanish to help non-English speaking Hispanics in town. “Many of the Hispanics here speak no English and get scared and intimidated when they can’t understand what’s being said to them. I’ll give you an example. I responded to a call about (a man) who tried to sexually assault his 14-year-old cousin. She was able to run away but was scared of the officers. When I got there I could see the fear in her eyes. Her father spoke no English and her mother was out of the country. I started speaking to her in Spanish and she immediately calmed down. She needed someone she could trust and I filled that void and I’m proud to be here to do that.”
The one call to deeply affect him was a one-vehicle accident at South Northshore Drive at Lyons View Pike in April 2022. The crash happened around 7 a.m. and Sanchez and his partner were the first to arrive. He said the car came to a rest just inside Lakeshore Park after plowing through a wooden fence. The driver, 21, was pronounced dead at the scene.
“We found him face down and thought maybe he was alive, but when we turned him over he had massive facial and head trauma,” Sanchez said. “I’ll never forget it. I’m 23 and he was just 21 and it makes you really stop and think – why him? Others are in hundreds of wrecks like this and don’t die. Why him? It has popped into my mind randomly ever since. You don’t ever get over seeing something like that, but I have to learn how to deal with it. There will be others.”
Two years into his KPD career, what’s one of the major things he has learned? “Understanding other people’s perspectives and opinions is really big. I’m not saying mine is right or wrong, but as I listen and try to understand them and help them understand mine. It’s about showing respect for one another.”
And he’s just 23.
Tom King has been the editor of newspapers in Texas and California and also worked in Tennessee and Georgia. If you have someone you think we should consider featuring, please email him at the link with his name or text him at 865-659-3562.