The man accused of killing a San Diego police officer and wounding another during a stop in the Southcrest neighborhood five years ago said he thought the two men were gang members -- not officers -- when he opened fire on them.
Jesse Gomez, 60, is charged with murder and attempted murder, plus a special circumstance allegation of murder of a police officer for the July 28, 2016, shooting of SDPD officers Jonathan "J.D." De Guzman and Wade Irwin.
De Guzman, a 16-year veteran of the San Diego Police Department, died at a hospital, while Irwin was shot in the neck and hospitalized for nearly a month.
Gomez and his defense team do not deny that he shot the two gang-unit officers. But, they argue he should not face the special circumstance allegation that could mean the death penalty, if convicted, because he did not know he was shooting at law enforcement.
Gomez said when he was approached by Officer Irwin that night, he couldn't see anything but a shadowy figure. Then, he heard a voice.
"The way they approached me. I mean, it happened so fast. It was done within seconds," Gomez said to defense attorney Troy Britt from the witness stand at the San Diego Central Courthouse.
"Then, all I heard was, ‘Where you from?’ I thought they were gang members," Gomez said. "I was afraid for my life."
Gomez didn't know "until later on" that he had fired on officers, he said. “I didn’t know what to do. Then I got shot and I turned and ran.”
Prosecutors asked Gomez to demonstrate in court how he shot at officers.
Defense attorney Jessica Petry said in her opening statement that in a dangerous neighborhood like Shelltown, when someone asks where someone is from, the question usually proceeds violent encounters.
Officers Gomez and Irwin were gang unit detectives. Gomez was a gang member who had plenty of previous interactions with police, he admitted. The neighborhood where the shooting occurred has been known for gang activity.
But prosecutor Valerie Summers argued in her opening statement that Gomez did know they were officers -- that he was a felon in possession of a gun and knew he would go to jail if he was caught. So, she said, he started firing on officers immediately.
On the stand, Gomez denied the accusation. He said he was not afraid to go back to prison as a convicted felon in possession of a gun.
Summers also questioned Gomez's statement that he could not see that the two men who approached him that night were in a black and white patrol vehicle.
Gomez also said he had a hard time remembering the events of the day because he had smoked methamphetamine three or four times that day.
July 28, 2016: SDPD Officers De Guzman, Irwin Shot in Line of Duty
On the night of July 28, 2016, De Guzman, 43, and his fellow SDPD gang unit partner, Irwin, were patrolling the Shelltown neighborhood of San Diego.
At Gomez’s preliminary hearing in 2019, Irwin testified that as he and De Guzman patrolled, they noticed two men split up and start walking along the north and south sidewalks of Acacia Grove Way.
Irwin said he thought the man on the south side was someone else he had previously arrested. De Guzman stopped the car and Irwin got out of the passenger side, leaving the door open.
Irwin approached the man – Gomez – and asked if he lived in the area. Irwin testified in 2019 that upon speaking to Gomez, the officers were shot “almost immediately.”
The officer said Gomez walked up to the open passenger door of the SDPD patrol car and fired, point-blank, at De Guzman as he sat in the driver’s seat. Prosecutors have said the attack on De Guzman happened so quickly, he didn’t even have time to draw his service weapon.
Gomez took off running; Irwin – also wounded – grabbed his service gun and fired on Gomez.
Gomez was found a short time later in a ravine off South 38th Street near the scene. He was hospitalized with a gunshot wound to his upper body but survived.
De Guzman was beloved by his colleagues and family. In 2003, the officer survived a stabbing while on duty, and was awarded a Purple Heart by the department for his valor. Even after that incident, De Guzman returned to the force and his passion to protect the public never wavered.
Irwin returned to duty in June 2017, less than a year after the deadly shooting.
The shootings of the officers jolted San Diego.
On day one of the trial, the jury watched dramatic body camera video of officers desperately trying to save their colleagues. The video showed the first officer arriving on scene minutes after De Guzman and Irwin were shot.
Officer Irwin took the stand on Aug. 24, and provided emotional testimony about the night he thought he would die.
“I immediately began thinking about my 18-month-old daughter,” Irwin said on the stand in a San Diego courtroom. “Started thinking about my wife, started thinking about my family. I believed at that time, if the defendant saw that I was alive, I would be executed. I was concerned for my partner and his safety; I didn’t want to die.”
Gomez remains at San Diego Central Jail, held without bail.