The vehicle driven by Nicholas Sanchez-McCormick was traveling westbound on Katella and ran a red light at the intersection of Valley View.

Cypress PD remembers fallen officer Donald Sowma forty years later

Members of the Cypress Police Department gathered in front of the Cypress Police Memorial to remember Sergeant Donald Sowma on November 16, 2016, honoring the fortieth anniversary of the fallen officer’s death in the line of duty on November 19, 1976.

Sowma is the only member of the Cypress Police Department to be killed in the line of duty. Current Chief of Police Rod Cox and Police Chaplain (and retired Police Captain) Jerry Shumard remarked on the dangerous and hostile environment faced by police today and honored the risks officer take by putting on the uniform everyday.

Sergeant Sowma’s daughter-in-law spoke briefly about the profound loss his death inflicted on the family.

The Story

Reprinted with kind permission from the Cypress Police Department.

On November 19, 1976, at about 2:33 a.m., the Cypress Police Department received a call from the Wells Fargo alarm company regarding an activation of a silent burglar alarm at the Pomeroy’s medical clinic. Two officers, Agent James Worden and Officer Scott Atkinson, were dispatched to the call. Sergeant Don Sowma, the shift supervisor, responded as well. The other two remaining Cypress units, Officer John Schaefer and Officer Robert Tinnell, also responded to assist with a perimeter around the building.

A check of the exterior of the building and rooftop did not reveal any forced entry. A closer inspection revealed an unlocked window with fresh footprints on the windowsill and interior floor. Through that same window, a crowbar was also observed inside the building.

A search of the doctor’s office did not reveal any suspects, so officers proceeded to enter the attached art gallery. Upon opening the door leading into the art gallery, officers heard noises. As Sergeant Don Sowma stepped into the doorway, he was shot once by Bobby Joe Denney, who was hiding inside the gallery.

Denny fired a second round as other officers attempted to rescue Sergeant Sowma. Agent Worden and assisting officers were able to remove Sergeant Sowma, who was transported to La Palma Hospital. While at the hospital, Sergeant Sowma succumbed to his injuries, which were caused by a single .38 caliber gunshot wound to the chest. Unfortunately, Sergeant Sowma did not have the added protection of a bulletproof vest, since this type of protection was very uncommon in 1976.

Bobby Joe Denney, who had entered the business through an unlocked window to steal drugs and money, remained barricaded inside the building for the next several hours. Later that morning, an entry team breached the building, and after firing one round at the team of officers, Bobby Joe Denney was taken into custody without further incident.

Bobby Joe Denney, a 32-year-old drifter who had been living with friends in Hawaiian Gardens, was the son of the Carter County (Oklahoma) Sheriff. During his trial for the murder of Sergeant Sowma, Denney was convicted and sentenced to life. He remains in custody despite several parole attempts.

Sergeant Donald Sowma was the type of individual who could be counted on during any circumstance. He was a great friend, peace officer, and supervisor. Sergeant Sowma’s tragic death at age 44 was a loss to those who worked with him, to the community he served, and to his loving family. At the time of his death, Sergeant Sowma was survived by his wife Colleen and their four children: Michael Robert, James Patrick, Donald Jack Jr., and Donna Marie Sowma. May his memory live on as we vow never to forget Donald Jack Sowma.

Remembering Sergeant Sowma

The Cypress Police Department holds a memorial service yearly to honor the service and loss of Sergeant Sowma. A street near the Cypress Civic Center is also named in his memory.

The Department also dispatches officers to peacefully protest when Sergeant Sowma’s murderer, Bobby Joe Denney, comes up for parole. At the memorial service on Nov. 16, Chief Cox announced that Denney’s latest bid for parole was denied for another five years. Given Denney’s age, it is quite possible he will die in prison before his next parole hearing.

The fortieth anniversary memorial featured Taps performed by Professor Gary Gopar of Cypress College and a bagpipe recessional performed by Cliff Armas of the Los Angeles Police Emerald Society. The colors were presented by the Police Department Honor Guard with drum accompaniment by former Explorer Post Captain Ryan Sweeney. The National Anthem was performed by Human Resources Director Cathy Thompson.

Those wishing to show their support to the Cypress Police Department may donate through the Cypress Police Foundation, a 501(c)(3) non-profit group.