Officers Gene Simpson and Gordon "Gordy" Silva. Courtesy SJPD
I began working for the San Jose Public Library in October of 1988 and was assigned to the Silicon Valley Information Center (SVIC) on the third floor of the old main library on San Carlos Street. That unit later dissolved and some of its contents are now part of the California Room’s collection as the Silicon Valley Company Archive. I was at my desk in SVIC on January 20, 1989, when I heard that a police officer had been shot and killed just blocks away on Santa Clara Street.
My immediate concern was for my dad, Jim Pearce, a patrolman with the San Jose Police Department. Growing up in a police family (grandfather, father, uncle, cousin), we were very aware that danger was a part of the job, but we didn’t dwell on that too much. My dad had been working "in the hole" for a while, meaning that he could be assigned any area or “beat.” He’d recently been working Downtown. I was relieved to learn some time later that my dad wasn’t involved in the incident, as he easily could have been.
Two officers died in the shooting that day, both colleagues of my father. The shootings were the result of an unstable man wrestling with Officer Gene Simpson and obtaining possession of his gun. Officer Simpson was able to take cover and report on the situation by walkie-talkie, but was eventually located and shot by the armed man. The second officer shot in the incident, was Officer Gordon “Gordy” Silva. Silva was fatally wounded, apparently hit in the crossfire that brought down the unstable man shortly after the shooting of Officer Simpson. A more complete and official account of the incident can be found on the San Jose Police Department’s website.
Discussing the incident with my dad, we speculated whether Officer Simpson might have gotten back to his patrol car for his shotgun. My dad, who had worked many years with Gene Simpson, said that Simpson (an ex-Marine) would have been “embarrassed as Hell” that someone had overpowered him to gain control of his pistol, and that he likely felt that his best means of maintaining control of the situation was to coordinate the arrival of “fill” units. If Officer Simpson had tried to get back to his patrol car for his shotgun, he might have lost sight of the armed man.
My dad concluded with these thoughts, “As with all of the subsequent officers that were lost in the line of duty after I was hired (7), any one of those incidents could have had my name on them…. So they wound up giving all that they had to give of themselves; the last full measure that duty required. That is what they did, and is essentially all that I would have known to do. And they would do it again.”
Site of the January 20, 1989 shooting of Officer Gene Simpson. Now on the grounds of San Jose City Hall, this location was then the parking lot for Winchell’s Donuts on the southwest corner of Fifth and Santa Clara Streets.
Further reading in the California Room: