The Death of Officer Guadalupe Martinez, SAPD

I was twenty five years old, and in my fourth year with the Austin Police Department that morning in 1971. I was working the day shift, and had stopped my unit on Waller Street just north of E.1st Street, when a truck pulled up behind my unit. I watched in my rear view mirror as a middle aged Mexican man got out of what I seem to remember was a truck carrying produce, and approached my unit. He wanted to talk. For the next half hour and more, I listened as that broken hearted man quietly unburdened his feelings. He had seen me before, and had sought me out for the opportunity to talk with me, because I reminded him of his son, San Antonio Police Officer Jose Guadalupe Martinez, whom he terribly missed. When one is twenty five years old, he does not comprehend the need of a father who has lost a son to want to bond with someone who reminds him of that son. When we parted company that morning, he embraced me, leaving me with the parting words, “Cuidate mi hijo!” (“Take care of yourself, my son!) I carried his son’s picture in my wallet for many years. Each time the father came to Austin, he sought me out, for in me he thought to see his son. He is surely gone now, united with a son he loved dearly. I have thought often of that broken hearted father. Oh, that I had known how to console him!

That evening in September 1970, Officer Guadalupe Martinez and his back up, Officer James Servantez, didn’t want to hurt the old man. Would he please put the gun away before he hurt someone? No, they didn’t want to hurt him, but the situation was rife with danger for themselves. As yet, neither Martinez nor Servantez had drawn their weapons, hoping to talk down what was a very tense and dangerous situation. The man had a pistol in his hand, and was holding another man. The officers were out in the open and exposed, away from their units and cover. Going for their weapons would set him off.

Where possible, officers of my era tended to go for their weapons only as a last resort. My brother in law, Raul Pacheco, was riding with me one afternoon in 1970 when in answering a disturbance call I walked smack dab into a situation where a man was holding a deer rifle, which he then pointed at me. I remember Raul taking cover behind a telephone post, very sure he was going to see me get blown away. Looking back on it today, it scares me too, but in that moment, I didn’t have time to get scared. Go for my gun? It would have gotten me killed. One must understand that a .357 Magnum is seriously outmatched by a 30-06. We didn’t have protective vests in those days, but it wouldn’t have mattered. Protective vests don’t stop 30-06 rounds. I talked the man into putting the rifle down. Raul hasn’t gotten over it yet, but it worked for me. Tragically, it doesn’t always work out that way. It didn’t work for Officers Martinez and Servantez.

Officer Martinez had been dispatched to the corner of Chupaderas and Santiago Streets that evening in September, on what appeared to be a minor disturbance, that of a man breaking bottles in the street. As those things go, matters can quickly escalate, into another situation an officer is generally unprepared for, with not the time to mentally prepare himself. While Martinez was talking to the man who had broken the bottles, his attention was called to something far more serious, not far from where he stood on the street, at 1201 Santiago. At 1201 Santiago lived Jose Alfaro, and this Jose Alfaro, with pistol in hand, was arguing with a Mr. Garcia. Mr. Garcia’s mother lived at the house with Alfaro.

Officer Martinez turned from the man he was talking to and began walking toward 1201 Santiago. At this moment, his back up, Officer James Servantez, drove up and exited his vehicle. Matters began heading south the moment Alfaro shot Garcia in the shoulder. Now here are Officers Martinez and Servantez in the street, exposed with no cover. Without drawing their weapons, they ordered Alfaro to put his weapon down. Instead, Alfaro pointed his weapon at Officer Servantez, and posed the chilling question, ”Do you want me to get you too?”

There was no way out of this except one of them get shot, and perhaps both. I have known of officers who gave up in similar circumstances, dying without ever firing a shot. These officers went for their weapons, with Martinez taking the lead. Someone had to make the first move and be the bait, knowing almost of a certainty that he was going to get shot, and Martinez assumed that role. He pulled and fired, and given the limited light, his rounds would have naturally gone high. He missed, and as he turned to look for cover, one of Alfaro’s bullets caught him in the back of the head. With Alfaro thus distracted by Officer Martinez’s courageous action, Officer Servantez was able to adjust himself and engage him. Turning from Officer Martinez, but now under pressure, Alfaro got off three more rounds, missing Officer Servantez, who emptied his weapon, killing him.

Those who manage these matters from the safety of their arm chair may suppose that gunfights work out as they do in the movies. They cannot understand that this tragedy played out as they usually do in real life. They are usually close distance, and almost always there are more misses than hits, because of the savage intensity and awful violence of the moment, and the dreadful knowledge that someone is going to die.

It has always been so. The evening of October 11, 1918, legendary Texas Ranger Frank Hamer was one of a group of Rangers and lawmen who laid an ambush for Encarnacion Garcia, allegedly the murderer of Ranger Joe Shaw four months earlier. Hamer unloaded 15 rounds from his automatic rifle, and Cameron County Sheriff W. T. Vann unloaded his shotgun. After all that shooting, Garcia was hit but twice to the body, and a wound to his hand. Garcia got off only one round, but that round killed Ranger Sergeant Delbert Timberlake, who had earlier told Hamer that, “I’ll be cashing it in tonight.” Gun fighting is a brutal and deadly business.

Although only twenty three years of age, and with but one year on the force, Officer Guadalupe Martinez was no stranger to violence, for he had recently returned from Vietnam, where he served as a Lance Corporal with the United States Marines Corps. One shoots, one moves, one seeks cover. He would have learned this in the Corps. It was evening, and light was scarce. With the sort of concern that officers have for one another, Martinez willingly turned Alfaro’s attention to himself, by going first for his weapon to engage Alfaro, who had just shot one man, and whose pistol was aimed at his partner, but now would be turned on him. He would have realized that the moment he went for his weapon, his chances for survival were slim, but would possibly ensure Alfaro’s survival. This courageous and totally unselfish distraction provided Officer Servantez with the opportunity to take Alfaro out. Truly, “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.”

Few there be who knew, and few that so much as cared, that on a Friday evening, on the 4th of September, 1970, twenty three year old San Antonio Police Officer Jose Guadalupe Martinez, a clean cut former Marine and Viet Nam vet who had already served his country in a foreign war, for a nation that little appreciated his service, came home to pay the ultimate sacrifice, laying down his life for the citizens of San Antonio.