Every year, on Nov. 19, members of the Cypress Police Department remember the man who gave his all.
Sgt. Don Sowma is the only officer killed in the line of duty in Cypress’ history and, on the 38th anniversary of his death, members of the department, his family and city officials commemorated his service with a ceremony Wednesday outside the police
Police Chief Jackie Gomez-Whiteley presented the Sowma family with a new badge the department’s Honor Guard will wear that bears Sowma’s badge number — #3613.
“Sgt. Sowma’s leadership, his inspiration and his family’s inspiration prompted us to create this badge so his memory will live on in perpetuity,” Gomez-Whiteley said.
“We vow to never forget.”
Cypress Chaplain Jerry Shumard, a former captain with the department, said Sowma was known for his deep love of the job.
“He was one of the most dedicated police officers I knew,” Shumard said. “He was a leader with pride and respect, and was usually out in front.”
Out in front, leading his men, is how Sowma responded to the burglary call that ended his life on Nov. 19, 1976.
Felon and parole violator Bobby Joe Denney was attempting to steal drugs and money from an old home on Lincoln Avenue that had been converted to a small medical practice in the back of the building and an art gallery in front.
Denney entered through a window, leaving footprints and a crow bar behind to alert police someone may be in the building.
He hid in the dark, and when Sowma led his men to investigate noises coming from the room, Denney shot him once in the chest.
At the time, bulletproof vests weren’t commonly worn by police officers, Gomez-Whiteley said.
Sowma died later that day at La Palma Hospital.
“He was a great friend, peace officer and supervisor,” Gomez-Whiteley said. “Sgt. Sowma’s tragic death at age 44 was a loss to those who worked with him, the community he served and to his loving family.”
Denney, a former police officer from Oklahoma, was convicted of first-degree murder in 1977 for the crime and sentenced to life in prison.
Killing a police officer is a crime punishable by death, but that year the government temporarily prohibited capital punishment.
His family has been actively fighting to keep Denney behind bars by showing up at his parole hearings and pleading their case.
Denney’s last hearing was in September 2013, after which he was eligible to apply for parole again after three years.
Instead, Denney asked the parole board for an early hearing just one year after his last denial.
The Sowma family, members of the Cypress Police Department and the community urged to the California Board of Parole to deny Denney’s request.
Hours after Wednesday’s ceremony, the Sowma family learned Denney’s would not get an early hearing.
He will stay behind bars.
In the photo at the top of this story, Cypress Police Chief Jackie Gomez-Whiteley presents Jack Sowma with a police badge that will be worn by all Cypress Police honor guards bearing the police badge number of his father, Cypress Police Sgt. Donald Sowma, the only Cypress officer to be killed in the line of duty. Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC