SDPD Officer Jonathan “J.D.” De Guzman, 43, killed in the line of duty in July 2016. Photo credit: @SanDiegoPD, via Twitter

A man executed a San Diego police officer and shot his partner in the neck, a prosecutor said Tuesday, while a defense attorney told jurors that her client did not realize the men who approached him at night in a “gang-infested neighborhood” were law enforcement officers.

Jesse Michael Gomez, 60, is charged with shooting Officer Jonathan “J.D.” De Guzman, 43, and fellow gang-unit Officer Wade Irwin in the Shelltown neighborhood on the night of July 28, 2016.

De Guzman, a 16-year veteran of the San Diego Police Department, died at a hospital, while Irwin was hospitalized for nearly a month.

Then California Attorney General Kamala Harris speaks at the memorial ceremony for San Diego Police Officer Jonathan “J.D.” De Guzman in 2016. Photo by John Gibbins

Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty for Gomez, which he could face if convicted of murder and a special circumstance allegation of murder of a police officer. His trial is expected to last as long as two months.

Deputy District Attorney Valerie Summers told jurors in her opening statement that Gomez and another man split up and started walking along the north and south sidewalks of Acacia Grove Way as De Guzman and Irwin were patrolling the area in a marked car.

Irwin believed the man on the south side was someone he had previously arrested, though it turned out to be someone else — Gomez, the prosecutor said.

Jesse Michael Gomez in court. Image from KFMB-TV broadcast

De Guzman stopped the car, and Irwin got out of the passenger side, leaving the door open, then asked the man if he lived near the area.

The prosecutor alleged that Gomez shot Irwin once in the throat, then approached the open passenger door of the patrol car and fired five times into the vehicle, where De Guzman was sitting. The bullet that killed De Guzman struck him near his armpit, where he was unprotected by his bulletproof vest.

Summers said Gomez, who had prior run-ins with the law and was illegally carrying a firearm when he was contacted, was not going to risk going to jail again.

“He knows the consequences and he makes a decision. Not tonight,” Summers said.

But Gomez’s attorney, Jessica Petry, said her client was unaware that he was being approached by police. She said the officers did not clearly identify themselves as law enforcement upon contacting him and approached him from behind as he was walking through an area rife with gang activity.

Petry said the question Irwin posed to him, something to the effect of “Where are you from?” is a challenge and/or threat commonly made by gang members seeking rivals to target, which “almost always precedes violence” and is “a frightening lose-lose proposition” for anyone confronted with the question.

She also noted that Gomez was under the influence of methamphetamine at the time, which she said can result in enhanced paranoia and false perceptions.

“Jesse Gomez fired that gun because he thought he was going to die,” Petry said.

After De Guzman was shot, Irwin drew his gun and fired on the shooter, who was running eastbound, according to the prosecution.

A blood trail from the shooting scene led police to Gomez, who was taken into custody in a ravine off South 38th Street, a short distance from the scene, and hospitalized with a gunshot wound to his upper body.

Summers said forensic evidence tying Gomez to the shooting include a gun found in the ravine which was matched to the bullets fired at the officers, a bullet from Irwin’s gun located in a wall on Acacia Grove Way that had Gomez’s DNA on it, and a bullet that remains inside Gomez’s body to this day, also fired from Irwin’s gun.

Two officers who responded to the shooting scene testified Tuesday afternoon about the car ride that transported De Guzman to the hospital.

With no ambulance available, officers loaded De Guzman into the backseat of a patrol car, then sped away from the scene.

Officer Jennifer Gregory, who wept openly while testifying, said she got into the backseat with De Guzman to render aid to him during the car ride.

Gregory said the car was traveling so fast that she and De Guzman slid off the seat at one point, as she struggled to hold onto the bars of the patrol car partition with one hand for balance, and hold one hand onto De Guzman’s gunshot wound to stop the bleeding. At one point, she said she had to use her hands to scoop out blood that was pouring out of De Guzman’s mouth.

Through tears, Gregory testified, “I never stopped telling him that his family loved him and they needed him to come home.”

Sgt. Kelly Stewart, who drove the patrol car that delivered De Guzman to the hospital, testified that he, Gregory, and other officers did not wait for a gurney, and carried De Guzman into the emergency room, with each officer grabbing him by a limb.

The officers removed De Guzman’s uniform and utility belt to let the medical staff attend to him, but Stewart said he remained by De Guzman’s side as much as possible through the night.

“I didn’t want him to be alone,” Stewart testified.

Updated at 4:58 p.m. August 17, 2021

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