A traffic stop in a residential neighborhood late Thursday night turned into gunfire that killed one San Diego police officer and seriously wounded a second.
Officer Jonathan “J.D.” DeGuzman, 43, was mortally wounded and rushed in a patrol car to a hospital, where he died. His partner, Wade Irwin, 32, underwent surgery and is expected to recover
Jesse Michael Gomez, 52, was arrested Thursday night in the shooting, police Chief Shelley Zimmerman said in a late afternoon news conference. Gomez, who lives in Bay Park, had been wounded and taken into custody, as police scoured the Southcrest neighborhood, looking for a possible accomplice.
Police arrested Marcus Antonio Cassani, 41, about 11:40 a.m. Friday on Delta Street in Shelltown, not far from the shooting site. Investigators have not yet determined if he was involved in the shooting, Zimmerman said. Cassani, who has a criminal record that includes convictions for burglary, escape, methamphetamine and illegal weapons possession, was held on an arrest warrant out of Anaheim.
The two uniformed, gang-suppression officers were in their marked patrol car just before 11 p.m. Thursday when they stopped a person on Acacia Grove Way near 37th Street in Southcrest for reasons that remained unclear Friday afternoon, Zimmerman said in a news conference. The officers called for emergency cover. When nearby officers arrived to help, they found DeGuzman and Irwin shot in the chest and rushed DeGuzman to a hospital in a patrol car.
Nearby residents said they heard eight to 10 gunshots, then sirens as scores of police cars converged on the street.
One resident on Z Street, near Acacia Grove Way, said he and his wife looked out their back yard and saw a wounded officer being placed into a patrol car and whisked away.
Police said they had been shot several times. Investigators did not know if they had been ambushed.
DeGuzman, a 16-year-veteran of the department and a father of two young children, died at Scripps Mercy Hospital, Zimmerman said. Wade, also a father of a young child, underwent surgery at the nearby UC San Diego Medical Center. Zimmerman said that Irwin regained consciousness Friday and was talking, and that doctors expect him to recover fully.
The chief said both officers were wearing bulletproof vests. At least one of the officer’s body-worn cameras captured the incident, which she said unfolded “extremely quickly.”
Zimmerman said investigators will “determine with certainty the nature and circumstances surrounding the stop.”
Police arrested Gomez shortly after the incident, about 11:30 p.m., in the Chollas Creek ravine just south of the site of the shooting, Zimmerman said. Officers had found a trail of blood leading toward him. He was critically injured by a gunshot wound to his upper chest.
Investigators believed there was a second suspect, so police, including officers from many other agencies, swarmed the area and, with guns drawn, searched with the aid of police dogs, helicopters and heavily armed SWAT team members. They focused for hours on the ravine where Gomez was found. Residents were asked to stay indoors and streets were cordoned off for several blocks in all directions.
“They were telling people to stay inside,” said Dunwick Agoncillo, 42, an 11-year resident of Southcrest. “It was pretty intense. Friends started texting us, saying two officers were shot. With all the stuff happening in other cities, I thought, dang, that’s happening in my neighborhood.”
Another neighbor, 17-year-old Johan Torres, said he heard gunshots while watching TV.
“It’s really tragic, for the families,” Torres said. “(The officers) didn’t go out that day for that to happen.”
No other suspects had been found by sunrise. Many officers from the other police agencies were released from their posts by 4 a.m. and some streets reopened after that.
Residents said police knocked on their doors through the early morning hours, asking what they had heard or seen and whether they had security cameras that may have caught part of the incident. Officers also repeatedly searched back yards along Chollas Creek.
On Friday morning, SWAT officers looking for Cassani surrounded a house on Epsilon Street near 41st Street in Shelltown, half a mile from where the officers were shot. They remained there for hours, trying to convince the “potential” suspect, who they believed to be inside, to surrender. Other family members were reported to have gotten out before the standoff. Cassani’s sister owns the house.
A negotiator using a bullhorn repeatedly appealed to “Marcus” to come out.
“We’re not going anywhere,” the officer called out. “It has been a really long night. I’m worried about you. I haven’t heard from you for a while.
“I need to hear from you. You need to talk to me. Your sister … is really scared. What should I tell her? It’s not fair to have your sister so worried about you.”
Officers fired a barrage of about 50 gas bombs into the home, which had an armored SWAT vehicle in the driveway. A remotely controlled robot searched the house and no one was seen on through its camera, but it couldn’t not open a closet door.
A few moments later, the officer could be heard on the bullhorn saying, “Hey Marcus. We hear you coughing in there. Come on out.” But hours later, about 12:30 p.m., SWAT officers entered the home and found no one there.
During the SWAT incident, however, officers swooped down on Cassani, found about three blocks away, standing in the middle of the street waiting for them to arrest him at 11:40 a.m. His sister had called police to tell them where to find him.
Cassani’s sister, Marissa Cassani, said in a brief telephone interview that he had phoned her and told her the police were after him in a case of mistaken identity. She did not elaborate.
Slain officer survived stabbing in 2010
It was the first officer slain under Zimmerman’s leadership of the department, and it came at a time of national tensions following attacks earlier this month on police officers in Dallas and Baton Rouge, La.
“This is one of the difficult and heart-wrenching situations for police officers to go through,” Zimmerman said in an early morning briefing outside the hospital where DeGuzman died. “I want to commend all of the officers and detectives and staff who have demonstrated courage and professionalism throughout the night and continue to do so while we seek to find answers to the senseless murder and attempted murder of our police officers.”
Zimmerman, who said she knew DeGuzman personally, described him as a family man and father of two young children.
“He talked about his family all the time,” she said.
Earlier Friday, Zimmerman said she had gone to DeGuzman’s home to tell his wife, two children and extended family members that he had been killed.
“It is extremely difficult, but something you have to do. There’s nothing that prepares you to do that,” Zimmerman said, joined by other department leaders, outside of Scripps Mercy Hospital.
At the main entrance in the pre-dawn hours, some officers could be seen hugging one another. Others stood stoically, guarding the hospital doors. Zimmerman escorted several people into the hospital.
The wife of the critically injured officer was beside him at the hospital before he underwent surgery, Zimmerman said.
In 2003, DeGuzman was awarded the San Diego Police Department’s purple heart for his valor during a traffic stop that left him with a stab wound in August of that year. DeGuzman, then 31, was stabbed in the upper right arm after he pulled over the driver for speeding. When the man tried to stab him a second time, DeGuzman fired a shot, striking the aggressor in the hip. Carl Thompson was sentenced to 39 years to life in prison in 2014 for the attack.
More recently, in June of 2013, DeGuzman was one of five officers who shot and killed a felon who raised a shotgun at officers at an Escondido intersection. William Mayers was wanted in a violent attack on his father and at the time of the shooting was driving an SUV packed with explosives and weapons. The District Attorney’s Office later found the shooting to be legally justified.
On Friday evening, the civil rights group National Action Network held a vigil on 35th Street at Boston Avenue, a few blocks from the site of Thursday’s shooting, to denounce violence and show solidarity with police.
Rev. Shane Harris of the organization asked for police and citizens to come together, saying reforms are needed in both the police force and community.
“We have to begin to bridge the gap between communities and the police,” he said.
Pastor Jared Moten of Southcrest’s Ebenezer Baptist Church led a prayer before the group of nearly a dozen laid a wreath at the intersection to honor DeGuzman.
Local civic leaders issued the following statements.
San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer
“Last night we lost one of San Diego’s finest. We grieve for our fallen officer and stand with his family during this very difficult time. We also pray for the second officer shot last night as he recovers from surgery. Violence against the men and women who wear the badge is violence against us all. I ask all San Diegans and all people across our nation to join together in support of our officers who courageously protect our communities. We need them and they need us.”
District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis
“The shooting of two SDPD officers has sent a shock wave through law enforcement and the wider San Diego community. Our thoughts and prayers are with the officers’ family, friends and colleagues at this difficult time. This senseless act once again highlights the dangers our peace officers face on a daily basis as they work to ensure and protect the public’s safety. The District Attorney’s Crimes Against Peace Officers Unit is working closely with SDPD to investigate and review this case so those responsible for this cowardly act will be held accountable.”
San Diego County Sheriff Bill Gore
“Today, we grieve with the men and women of the San Diego Police Department who last night suffered the loss of one officer and traumatic injury to another.
On behalf of the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department, I want to extend my deepest condolences to the family of Officer Jonathan DeGuzman. We also want to wish Officer Wade Irwin a full recovery. We stand in solidarity with our colleagues at the San Diego Police Department and all who work in law enforcement.
While we struggle to make sense of these acts, we also must reaffirm our commitment to each other, our families and communities. I ask our deputies to continue to remain vigilant and above all, be safe while you carry out your duties.”
GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump
Two policemen just shot in San Diego, one dead. It is only getting worse. People want LAW AND ORDER!
United States Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch (In remarks law enforcement and emergency personnel in Baton Rouge.)
“I know that this community, more than most, knows exactly what those families are feeling at this moment, knows exactly what the San Diego Police Department is going through at this moment.”
City Councilwoman Myrtle Cole
My sincerest condolences to the family of the officer murdered protecting and serving us. We must stop this madness. Please pray for all.
U.S. Rep. Scott Peters, D-San Diego
“The loss of one of our police officers is a loss for all of San Diego. I send my deepest condolences to the officer’s family and loved ones, and prayers for the full recovery of the wounded officer. From my time on City Council I have been aware of the dangers our police officers face and I’m tremendously grateful to them for the risks they take every day to keep our communities safe. San Diego is fortunate to have the steady leadership of Chief Zimmerman in this difficult time.”
Miles McPherson, the pastor of The Rock Church in San Diego
“As the son of a police officer myself, I cannot describe the feeling I felt when I awoke to today’s news. Our city’s heart is broken. The Bible tells us to ‘mourn with those who mourn and to weep with those who weep.’ We especially mourn with the wife and two children of our city’s fallen police officer. We pray for the recovery of his partner. We refuse to let hatred and violence divide our city. We stand together.”
Attorney General Kamala D. Harris
“My deepest sympathies are with the family and friends of Officer Jonathan “J.D.” DeGuzman, who lost his life in the line of duty last night. Officer DeGuzman served his community with bravery and heroism, making the ultimate sacrifice. His service will never be forgotten by the people of California. As we remember Officer DeGuzman, we also hold the men and women of the entire San Diego Police Department in our thoughts and prayers, especially Officer Wade Irwin, who was gravely injured last night.”
The incident comes as police in Southern California and throughout the country are on high alert following the targeted attacks on officers in other cities.
The National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund on Wednesday issued a report revealing that 67 law enforcement officers have been killed in the line of duty this year through July 20 — an eight percent increase over the same period last year, when 62 officers were killed. Other figures on the Officer Down Memorial Page website showed that 19 officers had been slain nationwide in July, through Monday.
A Department of Justice study released Friday found that vehicle stops between 2010 and 2014 accounted for 63 percent of officer deaths related to patrol duties in which officers initiated action to enforce the law.
The second most common incidents resulting in police killings during patrols included investigating suspicious persons or vehicles, according to the report, titled Deadly Calls and Fatal Encounters.
“Although a vital aspect of policing, traffic stops and investigatory stops of persons and vehicles can be some of the most dangerous work a police officer performs,” the study said.
Previous officers slain
DeGuzman became the third San Diego police officer slain in the line of duty since 2010. The last two were Christopher Wilson and Jeremy Henwood.
• Wilson, 50, a 17-year police veteran, was shot and killed on Oct. 27, 2010, as he and other officers tried to take a parolee into custody at a South Meadowbrook Drive apartment in the Skyline neighborhood.
Police, probation officers and U.S. marshals wanted to talk to Alex Charfauros in hopes he could lead them to a fugitive named Holim Lee. Charfauros was removed from an apartment, then officers kicked in a bedroom door. They were met with a barrage of gunfire, with a round hitting Wilson in the head. He died early the next morning.
Inside the bedroom, Lee and girlfriend Lucky Xayasene died of self-inflicted gunshot wounds. Lee is believed to have killed Wilson.
Melissa Ortiz and Patrick Luangrath also were holed up inside a closet in the bedroom.
They surrendered to police after a SWAT standoff that lasted several hours. Charfaurous, Ortiz and Luangrath were all sent to prison in connection with the fatal shooting.
• Henwood, 36, a four-year police veteran, was killed in an ambush-style shooting on Aug. 6, 2011, as he was patrolling through City Heights. The gunman, who had just shot a man in Santee 30 minutes earlier, drove alongside Henwood’s car, aimed a shotgun at the officer’s head and opened fire.
The shooter, Dejon White, was killed by other officers a short time later.
Only moments before the shooting, Henwood had stopped at a Fairmount Avenue McDonald’s and took time to buy cookies for a 13-year-old boy who didn’t have enough money for the treat. Next week will mark the fifth anniversary of the officer’s slaying.
In a more recent, non-fatal assault, Officer Tim Bell, 29, survived being shot four times on Oct. 24, 2013, by a wanted felon he chased into a storm drain in City Heights. Bell’s bullet-proof vest saved his life as he took rounds to the chest, arm and leg. At the time of the shooting, Bell had been on the department for 5 1/2 years.
Ignacio Canela, an ex-convict who had led officers in a pursuit before running into the storm drain beneath state Route 15, was sentenced in June to 54 years to life in prison for premeditated attempted murder.