Chief calls San Diego officer’s death ‘an assassination’

As a captain in the Marine Corps Reserves, Jeremy Henwood deployed to one of the most dangerous regions in Afghanistan, where Taliban fighters use roadside bombs and snipers to kill or maim as many American troops as possible.

Dozens of Marines were killed and hundreds were wounded, some grievously, during his tour.

But Henwood, 36, returned home in May without a scratch and was proud of his yearlong deployment. He was equally pleased to get back to the San Diego Police Department, which assigned him to patrol in City Heights, an up-and-coming blue-collar neighborhood that, like much of San Diego, is enjoying a sharp decrease in crime.


His tour of duty on a relatively tranquil home front came to a tragic end early Sunday, when he died of wounds from a point-blank shotgun blast the day before.

Police Chief Bill Lansdowne, a cop for four decades, had trouble finding words to describe the shooting by a petty criminal who drove alongside Henwood’s patrol car and opened fire. The suspect was pursued and shot dead by other officers.

The slaying, said an ashen-faced Lansdowne, “was an assassination.”

Police gave the following account of the crime: While Henwood’s patrol car was stopped at a stop sign, the driver of a black Audi signaled with his lights, apparently to draw the officer’s attention. The driver then pulled alongside the cruiser, lowered his front passenger-side window, leveled a shotgun and fired, striking the officer’s head.

The driver of the Audi, later identified as Dejon Marquee White, 23, turned out to be a suspect in a shooting minutes earlier in the parking lot of a fast-food restaurant in nearby El Cajon. There is no evidence Henwood knew about the incident, authorities said.

“Jeremy had no indication he was in danger,” said Lansdowne, backed at a news conference by a dozen members of his command staff and officers from other departments who responded to the incident: the El Cajon Police Department, San Diego County Sheriff’s Department and California Highway Patrol.

As the Audi sped away, bystanders rushed to Henwood’s aid. One man attempted emergency first aid. His wife took down a description of the Audi and its license-plate number. She used the radio in Henwood’s car to alert the police dispatcher.

It was the kind of help from the community that San Diego officers, including Henwood, have tried to encourage in City Heights. Henwood had said it was the kind of neighborhood where a good beat cop could make a difference, giving adults a sense of security and their children some promise for the future, according to officers who knew him.

Within seconds the dispatcher’s alert, “officer down,” brought dozens of officers.

Henwood was rushed to the emergency room of a local hospital. Lansdowne and other high-ranking and rank-and-file officers raced to the hospital.

Henwood’s parents were alerted and flew from Texas to San Diego that night. At the hospital, the family and medical officials discussed the possibility of harvesting Henwood’s organs for transplant.

In a decision that Lansdowne praised as courageous, the family gave its approval. Henwood, who was unmarried, died at 1:45 a.m. Sunday. He had been a San Diego police officer for four years.

For the well-regarded San Diego department, the shooting followed a series of tragedies and scandals in recent months.

“This department is pulling together once again,” Lansdowne said. “This department is becoming a family as never before.”

On Aug. 1, Officer David Hall, 41, a 14-year veteran, committed suicide at his home. He was facing criminal charges of drunk driving and hit-and-run in an off-duty incident.

On July 18, Det. Donna Williams, 52, a 31-year veteran and mainstay of the child-abuse unit, was stabbed to death in her home along with her 18-year-old daughter, Briana. Williams’ 24-year-old son, Brian, has been charged; his lawyer says he is suffering from mental illness.

And on Oct. 28, Officer Christopher Wilson, 50, a 17-year veteran, was fatally wounded while assisting law enforcement in a late-night probation check on a drug suspect in the Skyline neighborhood. Three people have been charged in his death.

The department also has been struggling with allegations of officer misconduct, including rape, spousal abuse, stalking and excessive force. Four of 10 high-profile allegations involve on-duty conduct.

In response, Lansdowne, chief of the 1,800-officer department since 2003, has instituted a series of measures, including a hot line for citizens to report abuse, training supervisors in “early intervention” for troubled officers, and improved psychological screening for officers.

Within an hour of Henwood’s shooting, witnesses’ descriptions of the gunman and the Audi helped officers locate Dejon Marquee White outside an apartment building.

When he reached for a shotgun, several officers opened fire, killing him, said Capt. Jim Collins of the department’s homicide squad.

For several hours police surrounded an apartment building, believing a second suspect was barricaded inside. Finally forcing their way into the apartment, SWAT officers found no one.

But they did find a rambling, semi-coherent suicide note apparently written by White.

The motive for the shooting at the El Cajon fast-food restaurant parking lot is unknown, Collins said. The victim is expected to survive, according to a homicide official with the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department.

At the Sunday news conference announcing Henwood’s death, Councilman Todd Gloria, who represents City Heights, spoke of “a senseless, tragic loss of this hero.”

Mayor Jerry Sanders, a former police chief, said later that Henwood’s death “is another grim reminder that our police officers put their lives on the line every day to protect our community.”

Henwood’s name will be added to a monument in front of police headquarters that lists 31 officers killed in the line of duty since 1913.