Death sentence ordered for man who gunned down San Diego police officer

Jesse Michael Gomez is seen in court.
In this Aug. 17 photo, Jesse Michael Gomez sat in court as his murder trial got under way in San Diego.
(Nelvin C. Cepeda / San Diego Union-Tribune)

A San Diego man was sentenced to death Friday in the 2016 shooting death of San Diego police Officer Jonathan “J.D.” De Guzman, who was gunned down behind the wheel of his patrol car.

Jesse Michael Gomez, 58, did not react on hearing the sentence. He was convicted last year of first-degree murder and a special-circumstance allegation that he knowingly killed a police officer. Gomez also was found guilty of attempted murder for shooting De Guzman’s partner, and of being a felon in possession of a firearm.

“He executed a police officer,” Superior Court Judge Frederick Link said before issuing the sentence. “He didn’t kill or shoot a police officer. He executed a police officer.”


It’s the first death sentence handed down in San Diego County in a dozen years.

De Guzman’s widow, Jane De Guzman, sat with her hands folded and eyes closed as she listened to Link speak. Earlier in the hearing, she tearfully spoke of the trauma of the loss of her husband, father to their two children.

“I hope you realize what you have done,” she said. “I do not understand how you could take someone’s life without thinking of their family.”

San Diego police Officer Jonathan De Guzman
(San Diego Police Department)

Gomez admitted at trial that he shot De Guzman and Officer Wade Irwin on the night of July 28, 2016, when the pair tried to stop Gomez as he walked along a sidewalk on a dark street.

De Guzman, 43, died that night. Irwin was shot in the throat but survived, after spending nearly a month hospitalized.

The Superior Court jury that last September found Gomez guilty of all charges also recommended he be executed. On Friday, Irwin asked Link to sentence Gomez to death, saying Gomez’s actions “destroyed people’s lives.”

“The time has come for Jesse Michael Gomez to pay with his life for the choice he made on July 28, 2016,” said Irwin, now a homicide detective.

He later directed his comments to Gomez.

“I want you to remember my name and my face,” Irwin said. “When the day comes to execute you, I want you to look over, because I will be watching. Just like I had to watch as you executed my partner.”

De Guzman and Irwin were members of the San Diego Police Department’s gang suppression team. They were doing one final patrol for the night in the city’s Southcrest neighborhood when a gunman opened fire on them on Acacia Grove Way shortly before 11 p.m. July 28, 2016.

Irwin said they had spotted Gomez at a corner with another person and the two abruptly split up. That raised suspicion for De Guzman, so the officers drove up behind Gomez.

When Irwin got out of the patrol car and asked Gomez if he lived in the area, Gomez spun around suddenly and opened fire. At trial, Irwin said Gomez had an “angry, hateful look.”

After he was shot, Irwin fell back against the car. He said the gunman moved in toward the patrol car, coming within a few feet of it while continuing to shoot. De Guzman was still in the driver’s seat when he was hit.

Although badly wounded, Irwin was able to shoot Gomez before Gomez ran off. Police found Gomez in a nearby ravine, unconscious and bleeding.

Gomez — who had been drinking and had used methamphetamine the day of the shooting — testified that he opened fire on the men, thinking they were gang members issuing a challenge — not police officers.

That, he said, was because they were tailing him slowly in a car as he walked on the darkened street, and also because Irwin asked him where he lived — a question often used as the opening salvo in a gang challenge.

In court Friday, Gomez offered a brief statement.

“I want to let the De Guzman family know that this was not an intentional act,” Gomez said. “If I could trade places with Officer De Guzman, I would. But I cannot, and I am truly sorry.

“I told the truth about what happened that night,” Gomez continued. “That’s all I have to say about that.”

Link said it was “ridiculous” to say that Gomez did not know what he was doing.

“He knew he was shooting an officer when he shot Officer Irwin, and he knew what he was doing when he put his gun inside that automobile and emptied it on Officer De Guzman,” Link said.

Aside from the death sentence, Link also sentenced Guzman to an additional 65 years to life.

In 2019, Gov. Gavin Newsom placed a moratorium on carrying out the death penalty in the state during his time in office.

That does not bar a judge from issuing a sentence of death, nor does it preclude prosecutors from continuing to pursue capital punishment in current cases.

As of Friday, there were 693 inmates on death row in California. Not including Gomez, 36 of them were sent there from San Diego County. The last was Derlyn Threats, now 40, convicted of killing a young Vista mother during a home burglary in 2005.

Aside from Gomez, there is a second local case in which prosecutors are seeking the death penalty. The defendant is Cesar Alvarado, who is accused of killing a man mistaken for an undercover police officer and shooting and paralyzing a 19-year-old woman during a two-week crime spree in 2018.