.Gutzwiller Remembered for Beaming Smile, Passion for Community

As arrangements are being made for the memorial of Santa Cruz County Sheriff’s Sgt. Damon Gutzwiller, who was killed June 6 in Ben Lomond, local colleagues and fellow law enforcement personnel are gathering their thoughts about the man with the beaming smile. 

Watsonville Police Capt. David Rodriguez said he met Gutzwiller at the Police Academy at Gavilan College. They graduated together in 2006.

“We were in class number 79, a number I’ll never forget,” he said. “From the first day I met him—and staying connected these past 14 years—I knew him as a happy guy, a calm man and an overall great person. He treated everyone the right way and he had a way of making you feel like a real partner.”

Rodriguez said that though they worked for different departments over the years, they crossed paths now and again while working the same cases. 

“And I’d say every time it was pretty much the same thing: He was always happy, there with his big smile,” Rodriguez said. “He always gave me the feeling that everything was going to be OK. Whenever he saw me he’d always say, ‘What’s up D. Rod?’”

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Santa Cruz County Sheriff’s Lt. Dee Baldwin said he worked alongside Gutzwiller for 20 years.

“To me, Damon was a friend and he exemplified what we all aspire to be,” Baldwin said. “He was a great friend, mentor and father. We started around the same time and shared similar paths.”

Baldwin said Gutzwiller initially performed civilian work such as parking enforcement and volunteered for various duties.

“So many of his traits reflected a local connection to our community,” he said. “He was fair and honest. We were partners for a long time. And I can’t remember any time where he lost his composure. He was steady and one of the most reliable people I’ve met. There’s a good reason for the huge community outpouring we’re seeing.”

A day after his death, hundreds gathered at the Santa Cruz County Sheriff’s Office and created a makeshift memorial, leaving flowers, signs and other gifts for the fallen officer. 

Gutzwiller, 38, joined the sheriff’s office in 2006. Sheriff Jim Hart has called him a “true hero.”

“In this era that we’re in, what you want to see in a police officer—compassion, caring, someone who truly loves his job, who wants to help people, that’s what Damon was,” Hart said.

A fundraiser through the Peace Officers Research Association of California has raised more than $490,000 for the Gutzwiller family.

Gutzwiller left behind a 2-year-old son and a wife who is weeks away from delivering their second child.

Though he is now a San Jose Police officer, Bobby Paul said he knew Gutzwiller since junior high school. They worked together at the Santa Cruz County Sheriff’s Office for seven years. 

“I loved that guy. He was your buddy; he was one of those guys that had the right tenor for any situation,” Paul said. “Damon was the guy that could hear you out on anything.”

Paul said he and Gutzwiller grew up playing golf and competed against one another around Santa Cruz County.

“I was on the Monte Vista High team, and he was with Aptos High,” Paul said. “He was a stand-up guy and what you wanted in a cop. He could be tough when you needed it, but he knew how to listen and he was kind.”

Paul said he was particularly moved by the fact that Gutzwiller spent a good deal of time taking care of his mother, and that it was a priority.

“I have nothing but good things to say about Damon,” Paul said. “When my wife came and told me that he had been shot it hit me so hard. I still have flashes of him and the time we had together.”

Amy Christey, who worked at the Sheriff’s Office for 20 years and left as a lieutenant in 2012, attended Sunday’s vigil.  

“To see that picture of him, with his warm smile—that’s who he was,” she said. “I think of him as kind and caring. He began as a volunteer in community policing and, in my mind, he embodied the community policing spirit because that’s how he started. There are not a lot of people who do that. He brought that community feeling forward, to mentor to model that way.

“[He] was about a citizen serving citizens; that’s how he got where he got. When I worked with Damon, he was the kind of person that absolutely lights up the room with his smile.”


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Tarmo Hannula
Tarmo Hannula has been the lead photographer with The Pajaronian newspaper in Watsonville since 1997. He also reports on a wide range of topics, including police, fire, environment, schools, the arts and events. A fifth generation Californian, Tarmo was born in the Mother Lode of the Sierra (Columbia) and has lived in Santa Cruz County since the late 1970s. He earned a BA from UC Santa Cruz and has traveled to 33 countries.
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