It has been almost 13 years since former San Diego Police Chief William Lansdowne pinned one of the department’s purple hearts on Officer Jonathan “J.D.” DeGuzman’s chest, but he has not forgotten the moment or the man.
“I am going to miss him. I really am,” said Lansdowne, who awarded DeGuzman a purple heart in 2003 after the officer was stabbed during a traffic stop. “I saw his picture [Friday], and I remember pinning that heart on him and how impressed I was with him as a person.
“In my time with him, he had a good sense of humor. He was positive and upbeat. He had nothing but kind words to say about the other officers in the department. He would always take the time to talk about his family. He was really the kind of person you would like to be around.”
To the San Diego Police Department, the 43-year-old DeGuzman was the ideal officer, the kind who wanted the tough jobs and had the personal and professional qualifications to do them well.
He and fellow gang-supression officer Wade Irwin were on duty Thursday night when DeGuzman was shot and killed after he and Irwin stopped someone in Southcrest. Irwin also was shot and seriously wounded, but he is expected to recover. DeGuzman died at Scripps Mercy Hospital.
Police later arrested suspected gunman Jesse Michael Gomez, 52, in a ravine near the site of the shooting, authorities said. Gomez was suffering from a gunshot wound to his upper chest, and officers followed a trail of blood to him. The investigation is continuing.
Police Chief Shelley Zimmerman described DeGuzman as a devoted family man and a dedicated officer.
“I personally worked with him when I was a lieutenant at Mid-City Division,” Zimmerman said during a news conference Friday. “I know him, and this is gut-wrenching. He cared. He came to work every single day just wanting to make a positive difference in the lives of our community. And last night, he lost his life trying to make a positive difference and trying to protect our community.”
For the friends and family who gathered Friday afternoon at the Chula Vista home DeGuzman shared with his wife and two young children, DeGuzman was remembered as friendly and outgoing. If he saw you, he would wave and say hello. If your burglar alarm went off, he would stop by to make sure everything was OK.
And for the parents, staff and students at Heritage Elementary School, where one of his children is involved in many activities, DeGuzman was an enthusiastic parent participant and a welcome presence on campus.
“His child was active in clubs and activities, and Officer DeGuzman was active in supporting them, and many people in our community interacted with him,” said Anthony Millican, spokesman for the Chula Vista Elementary School District. “Sometimes he would show up in his uniform, and many of our students would come up and ask him questions. He was very engaging about his career, and there was a great deal of respect and admiration for him.”
In 2013, DeGuzman was one of five San Diego police officers involved in the fatal shooting of William Daniel Mayes. Police said Mayes, who had pipe bombs in his car, pointed a shotgun at officers trying to arrest him after an attack on Mayes’ father, and the officers opened fire.
The District Attorney’s Office found the shooting to be legally justified. Ten years earlier, DeGuzman was awarded a purple heart after being stabbed during a traffic stop. In August 2003, DeGuzman had pulled over Carl Thomas Thompson in City Heights with the intention of issuing him a warning for driving 30 mph in a 25 mph zone. As DeGuzman approached the vehicle, Thompson stepped out, swinging a knife.
DeGuzman was stabbed in his upper right arm, and when Thompson tried to stab him a second time, DeGuzman fired one shot, hitting Thompson in the hip. Thompson, who spent nine years in prison for trying to kill a police officer in 1989, survived. He later was sentenced to 39 years to life for the attack.
In December 2003, DeGuzman was given the department’s purple heart. The ceremony honoring him and other heroic city employees and residents came during a heartbreaking year for the police department. Three officers died that year, two in the line of duty.
Even so, DeGuzman was determined to join the gang-supression unit, which is dedicated to patrolling areas where gang crime is particularly entrenched.
“It is a very specialized unit,” Lansdowne said. “You have very hard-working officers who know the dangers and the difficulties of being in that unit. They run into a lot of weapons and hardcore serial criminals. They are very experienced and very skilled, and it takes a special kind of officer to work in that unit.
“[DeGuzman] wanted to be in the gang unit, and he didn’t let his injuries stand in his way. He had always done a very good job. He worked hard, and he wanted to be out front. He was the kind of officer every chief would want to have.”
By Friday afternoon, the name of Jonathan DeGuzman had been added to the San Diego Police Department’s Officer Down Memorial Page. He was the 33rd officer to die in the line of duty since 1913.
Peterson writes for the San Diego Union-Tribune.
Union-Tribune staff writer Morgan Cook contributed to this report.