SAN DIEGO (CNS) – A man charged with fatally shooting a San Diego police officer testified Thursday that he thought the patrol car that was “creeping up” behind him in the Shelltown neighborhood was occupied by gang members who were going to kill him.
Jesse Michael Gomez, 60, faces a potential death sentence if convicted of the murder of Officer Jonathan “J.D.” De Guzman, 43, on the night of July 28, 2016. He also faces an attempted murder count for wounding De Guzman’s partner, Wade Irwin, who was shot in the throat.
De Guzman, a 16-year veteran of the San Diego Police Department, died at a hospital, while Irwin was hospitalized for nearly a month.
Gomez, who was shot by the surviving officer, testified that he had been unable to recognize that it was a patrol car approaching him at slow speeds on Acacia Grove Way. He said he only saw that it was a car with its fog lights on, but testified that he found the manner in which it was traveling “pretty suspicious.”
When the approaching vehicle came to a stop, he said a man got out and asked him, “Where are you from?” Gomez said that question is a common gang challenge, which in his experience growing up in Shelltown means a violent encounter is soon to follow.
When asked to describe what was running through his mind at the time, he testified, “I thought gang members were going to shoot and kill me.”
The man who posed the question turned out to be Officer Irwin, who testified earlier in the trial that he asked Gomez, “Do you live in the area?”
Gomez, who testified that he was “real scared” during the encounter, said he heard the question differently.
“I did not hear that. He might have said that, but I didn’t hear that,” he testified.
After the car stopped, Gomez testified that the headlights turned on, obscuring his vision.
After Irwin posed the question, Gomez then “pulled my gun and started shooting towards the voice,” then turned his gunfire toward “the silhouette of the car.”
Irwin testified that while he and De Guzman were patrolling Acacia Grove Way, Gomez and another man split up and started walking along the north and south sidewalks of the street.
Irwin said Gomez was about 10 feet away from the police car when he looked in its direction. De Guzman then turned the car around and slowly followed Gomez, who Irwin said was “clearly looking over his shoulder” at the patrol car several times.
Irwin said that after getting out of the car and contacting Gomez, the defendant faced him with an “angry, hateful look on his face,” then “immediately” raised his hand and shot Irwin in the throat, before walking toward the police car and firing multiple times on De Guzman.
Gomez said he only realized later that the men were law enforcement and also denied that he shot the officers because he was afraid of being arrested due to carrying a firearm illegally.
In her opening statement, Deputy District Attorney Valerie Summers alleged that Gomez opened fire to avoid another possible prison or jail stint.
“He knows the consequences and he makes a decision. `Not tonight,”‘ Summers told the jury.
On Thursday, the prosecutor questioned Gomez regarding whether the man who approached him had threatened him in any way. Gomez answered, “I felt threatened when he said, `Where are you from?”‘
Summers referenced earlier statements in Gomez’s testimony when he said that the “Where are you from?” question could mean a shooting, but also could result in a beating or other non-fatal attack.
She alleged Gomez “upped the ante” when he decided to open fire on his potential attackers. Gomez said, “I didn’t have time to think. I just reacted.” He testified that though no other words were exchanged between himself and the other people, “that way they drove up always ends in a bad way.”
One of Gomez’s attorneys, Troy Britt, asked Gomez several times whether he felt remorse over the killing or what he thought when he realized he’d killed an officer. However, the defendant was not allowed to answer those questions over repeated objections from the prosecution.
Gomez testified that earlier in the day, he had taken part in a methamphetamine transaction, and that he was carrying the gun for protection.
After De Guzman was shot, Irwin, who was seated against the police car, drew his gun and fired across his body at the shooter, who ran eastbound.
A blood trail from the shooting scene led police to Gomez, who was found unconscious in a ravine off South 38th Street, a short distance from the scene. He was hospitalized with a gunshot wound to his upper body.
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