‘Person of interest’ ID-ed in home invasion, beating

Chris Coté and his family have distributed this reward flyer

Police have identified a

person of interest

in connection with the near-fatal beating of local developer and
community activist Chris Cot
amp;#233, but declined to release the man’s name.
Police have identified a “person of interest” in connection with the near-fatal beating of local developer and community activist Chris Coté, but declined to release the man’s name “due to the active nature of this investigation,” said Gilroy Police Department Sgt. Jim Gillio.

Police did say that a Gilroy community member identified the man, but how exactly, Gillio declined to comment. Gillio also declined to say whether the man is a gang member or a friend or colleague of Coté, the controversial community figure who awoke in his spacious, gated home early the morning of June 10 to find his hands duct taped behind his back before two masked suspects almost beat to death with two-by-fours, according to his recollection and police.

“I cannot comment on any relationship or if there is a relationship between the person of interest and the victim,” Gillio said Wednesday. No arrests have been made since the incident, and Gillio also declined to say whether police have any knowledge of the person of interest’s whereabouts or whether he has fled the area.

Two weeks after the bloody wrangling at Coté’s home, police released a photo of the man they are looking for based on key evidence recovered from the crime scene. Things remained quiet until police recently received the man’s identity thanks to the Gilroy community member. Police still hope for more help from the communities in and around Gilroy, Gillio said.

For his own part, Coté – who said police have largely left him in the dark about their investigation – and his family have distributed flyers around town depicting the person of interest. The flyer promises a privately funded, $5,000 reward “for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the persons responsible for the home invasion and attempted murder.”

As for the motivation of his attack, Coté initially fingered spiteful cop-haters who were mad that two Santa Clara County Sheriff’s Department deputies would be moving into Independence Square: his vacant 18-unit solar housing development on the corner of Hanna Street and Gurries Drive. He declined to provide the deputies’ names, and his lawyer also did not return messages seeking copies of the housing contracts. After conferring with police, however, Coté said he suspects someone involved in the project’s payment dispute who could have skipped town.

There are two separate civil cases against Coté alleging that he owes more than $1 million to contractors, but Coté said he has satisfied all his debts and that the group of builders just wants more than they deserve. That simply is not true, though, according to the project’s general contractor, Al Valles, who has filed a civil suit along with South County Tile and Stone.

“We believe the evidence will show that Mr. Coté still owes a substantial amount of money on the Hanna Square Project, mostly to local subcontractors who are not in the position to withstand this type of financial loss,” Valles wrote in an e-mail last month hours after a meeting Coté had with his contractors. At the same time Coté claimed they had resolved the payment disputes, but the open cases and Valles’ e-mail contradicted Coté’s statement.

In his e-mail, Valles also denied any involvement with the assault: “Finally, we trust that your inquiry into the monies owed by Mr. Coté on the Hanna Square Project are not meant to suggest, in any way, a connection between our lawsuit and his recent attack.”

The assailants “somehow tied my arms behind my back with duct tape while I was sleeping, and the first thing I woke up to was someone strangling me and holding me down,” Coté said of the two unknown masked men who he recalled wearing black sweatshirts with hoods. “I knew they were breaking my legs, but I couldn’t feel it.”

The struggle moved outside, where Coté said his attackers struck him in the head until he passed out.

“I woke up outside and tried to get up, but there was nothing there. All the bones were shattered, and my legs just went sideways, so I struggled to the garage and propped myself up on an old wheely chair and rolled over to the security gate and somehow climbed it,” Coté said, adding that it was difficult to see since one of his eye sockets had been crushed. “My neighbor answered the door, and I fell inside his doorway. He got his gun and stood over me until the police got there.”

Coté underwent brain surgery after being airlifted to a trauma center, but he has not experienced any lasting brain damage, he said.

Anyone with information can contact Gilroy Police Department Detective Stan Devlin at 846-0335. Those wishing to remain anonymous may call 846-0330.

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