SAN JOSE -- The president of San Jose State University said a campus police officer was standing behind a saw-wielding man when he opened fire to protect his partner, who was reportedly backpedaling from the charging suspect.
President Mohammed Qayoumi added that one of the two bullets fired in the Feb. 21 off-campus confrontation passed through the suspect then ricocheted through the second-floor window of a nearby sorority house.
The new details regarding the shooting were included in an email Qayoumi sent late last week to the university community and obtained by this newspaper over the weekend. The account sought to bolster what until then had been sparse information about the shooting, particularly after it surfaced that 38-year-old Antonio Lopez Guzman died from two gunshot wounds in the back.
Whether that quells community suspicions remains to be seen. That's not the case for Laurie Valdez, who told ABC7 on Friday that she is the partner of Lopez Guzman, with whom she has a 4-year-old son.
"How was that they were afraid for their lives? He was walking away. I don't understand ... shooting him in the back? Come on," Valdez told the station.
But Qayoumi asserts the suspect was not retreating when he was shot. San Jose police, which is investigating the shooting because it occurred off campus, has declined to comment in detail, and the university police department insists that its officers acted appropriately.
According to investigators, Lopez Guzman was spotted on campus holding what was described as a "large knife" by a witness who called police. Sgt. Mike Santos, a 15-year department veteran, looked for and eventually spotted the man and followed him as he walked off campus toward Eighth and San Salvador streets. Santos was soon joined by Officer Frits van der Hoek, an eight-year member of the force.
The officers caught up with Lopez Guzman on the west side of Eighth Street and contacted him from a distance and ordered him to drop what turned out to be a 12-inch saw blade typically used for cutting drywall. It was not clear how much he understood -- both Valdez and police sources said he had limited English skills -- but he did not follow their orders.
That's when van der Hoek tried to subdue him with a Taser, but it either missed or misfired, and Lopez Guzman reportedly charged at the backpedaling officer with the blade raised. That left Santos spinning around to see what was quickly unfolding behind him, and he fired two shots, both hitting Lopez Guzman in the back. He fell and later died at the hospital.
SJSU police Chief Pete Decena has said Santos and van der Hoek were wearing uniform-mounted video cameras at the time, but did not disclose what they recorded.
Qayoumi's message also sought to address questions about one of the bullets hitting the occupied bedroom of a sorority house in the area, saying the bullet was one that already passed through the suspect.
"The trajectory carried the bullet across the street," he wrote. "At that point, its ballistic impact was significantly reduced."
Valdez told ABC7 she believes her partner, who earned money by gardening and performing odd jobs, collected recyclables and that the saw was just another thing he picked up. She remains skeptical of the notion that he would confront police, given his undocumented status.
"He would never challenge the law because he wouldn't want to risk himself getting deported and never ever seeing his son again," she said.
Santos has been placed on paid administrative leave as San Jose police launched an investigation monitored by the District Attorney's Office, which is routine after officer-involved shootings. A report from that investigation is expected later this year.
Contact Robert Salonga at 408-920-5002. Follow him at Twitter.com/robertsalonga.