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December 6, 2023

DA: Officers ‘saved lives’ at Gilroy Garlic Festival

Prosecutor's office releases report of investigation into 2019 mass shooting

An investigation into the deadly July 28, 2019 Garlic Festival shooting found that three Gilroy police officers acted lawfully when they fired multiple shots at suspect Santino Legan, striking him several times before he shot himself in the head.

The Santa Clara County District Attorney’s Office conducted the investigation into the officer-involved shooting aspect of the case, as is standard procedure among law enforcement and judicial authorities in the county. The DA’s report on the investigation was released to the public March 10.

The investigation by the staff of District Attorney Jeff Rosen included a review of crime scene evidence collected by the FBI and police agencies, reports by responding officers and recordings of interviews with more than 30 witnesses of the Garlic Festival tragedy, which left three attendees dead. The investigation also included interviews with the three Gilroy Police officers—Eric Cryar, Robert Basuino and Hugo Del Moral—who fired their handguns at Legan.

“Under the facts and applicable law in this matter, Detective Cryar, Officer Basuino and Officer Del Moral quite reasonably believed that they needed to use deadly force to protect innocent lives, and their own, from Santino Legan’s violent rampage,” reads the DA’s report, compiled by Deputy DA Robert Baker. “Placing themselves, literally, in the line of fire to stop a mass murderer undoubtedly saved lives and prevented further bloodshed. In light of the grave circumstances of this case, their actions were unquestionably lawful and justified.”

Legan, a 19-year-old Gilroy resident, fired at least 36 rounds of ammunition from an AK-47 style rifle that he snuck into the festival. His bullets struck 20 men, women and children, killing three. Stephen Romero, 6, Keyla Salazar, 13, and Trevor Deon Irby, 25, were identified as the fatalities of the mass shooting.

None of the three officers who shot at Legan was injured, but the DA’s report notes that the suspect turned his gun on them as they ran toward the suspect. “Once Legan began shooting, (the three officers) rushed to the area,” reads the DA’s report. “When they arrived, Legan turned his gun on them. The three officers returned fire, striking Legan multiple times.”

Wounded by the officers’ fire, Legan turned his rifle to the roof of his mouth and pulled the trigger, taking his own life. The county medical examiner determined that Legan died of the self-inflicted gunshot wound.

Gilroy Police Chief Scot Smithee said in response to the DA’s report, “I am incredibly proud of our officers and the swift actions they took to save countless lives. We hope the findings in this report will help our community to move forward through the healing process.”

Limited body cam footage

Cryar, Basuino and Del Moral were on roving festival foot patrol, in full police uniform, about 150 yards south of the location where Legan began firing his weapon at the crowd of festival goers, according to the DA’s report. Although Cryar and Del Moral were wearing body cameras that day, they did not turn the devices on while rushing to the area where Legan was spraying the crowd.

Del Moral and Cryar told investigators they did not have time to think about turning on their cameras due to the “urgency” of the situation. Cryar added that, as a detective, he is not used to activating his department issued body-worn camera.

Basuino was not wearing a body camera, according to the DA’s report. Basuino’s assignment at Gilroy PD was as a member of the Regional Enforcement Allied Computer Team, and these officers do not wear body cameras.

The body cameras of 34 other officers on scene were reviewed by DA’s investigators, but none of their footage captured the scenario leading up to or during the shooting. “The recordings only contain footage of officers transporting or providing first aid to victims, securing the area, searching for additional perpetrators, collecting evidence and interviewing witnesses,” reads the DA’s report.

Chaos and confusion

The DA’s report describes the chaos and confusion among the veteran officers. All three officers immediately began running toward the sound of gunshots as soon as they heard Legan firing his weapon.

When Basuino first saw Legan, who was wearing green and tan clothing and bullet proof vest, Basuino did not immediately know he was a civilian shooter. “Is that a cop? Who is that? Who is that?” Basuino yelled to his fellow officers, according to the DA’s report.

“The three officers initially had trouble identifying Legan as a threat because his clothing, tactical vest and assault rifle made it unclear if he was a suspect or law enforcement officer,” reads the DA’s report.

When Basuino saw Legan shoot his rifle toward Cryar, Cryar “hit the ground” and Basuino thought he was dead, the DA’s report says. While taking cover, Basuino fired two shots from his Glock 21 .45 caliber handgun toward Legan. “There was no doubt in my mind he was trying to kill me,” Basuino said of Legan.

Cryar, a military combat veteran, fired 12 shots at Legan from his .40-caliber handgun. He fired another “three or four shots” at Legan after the shooter fell down. “If we didn’t take the action that we took, there could be a lot of dead people,” Cryar told investigators.

Del Moral fired “five or six shots” toward Legan as he was running toward him, the DA’s report says. The officers struck Legan in the chest, back, legs and hands. Two shots to his abdomen failed to penetrate Legan’s bullet proof vest.

Once Legan appeared to be down, the officers slowly approached and provided cover while placing the lifeless shooter in handcuffs, according to the DA’s report. As officers turned his body over, body camera footage showed the suspect cradling his rifle with the muzzle near his head.

Details of shooter’s actions

The DA’s March 10 report describes in detail the shooter’s movements from when he parked his vehicle outside the Garlic Festival’s Christmas Hill Park boundaries. As the festival was closing down on its third and final day Sunday, July 28, Legan parked his Honda Accord on Uvas Creek Road at Laurel Drive. Carrying an assault rifle and bolt cutters, as well as a bag and backpack containing multiple loaded magazines of assault rifle ammunition, Legan walked about two miles along the dry Uvas Creek bed before reaching a closed fence “secured with a ziptie” surrounding the festival.

Legan used the bolt cutters to cut through the fence about 6:30pm, investigators said. He entered the festival grounds armed with his assault rifle and several loaded high-capacity magazines, including two that were taped together for faster reloading. He also had a “drum” style magazine that could hold up to 75 rounds.

As soon as he crossed the festival boundary, Legal walked past a line of portable toilets and into an open area of the festival near a “centrally located inflatable slide” where children and adults were gathered, the DA’s report says. Standing out in the open near the slide, Legan fired a single round from his assault rifle into the ground. Bystanders said it looked like the gun malfunctioned on the first shot, and “15 to 20 seconds” went by with no further gunshots while Legan struggled with the weapon.

After removing the first magazine and inserting a new one, Legan aimed at Salazar, striking her through the back, the report says. Salazar was with her parents under a white shade structure when she was shot.

Legan then began shooting people “in a roughly counterclockwise fashion,” killing Irby, who was shot once through the chest. Legan then began shooting toward the line of portable toilets, behind which Romero was hiding with his mother and grandmother. Romero was shot through the back, the DA’s report says. His mother and grandmother were also struck by the gunfire, but survived.

The DA’s investigation is separate from the criminal investigation of the incident, which is being conducted by Gilroy Police and The FBI as a possible act of domestic terrorism. Investigators have not identified a motive for the shooting.

The DA’s office added that investigators found no evidence that anyone other than the Gilroy police officers and Legan had fired any weapons during the July 28 incident. They also found no evidence that any civilians were struck by the officers.

“The evidence did confirm that the three victims were killed by Legan,” the DA’s office said in response to follow-up questions.

Michael Moore
Michael Moore
Michael Moore is an award-winning journalist who has worked as a reporter and editor for the Morgan Hill Times, Hollister Free Lance and Gilroy Dispatch since 2008. During that time, he has covered crime, breaking news, local government, education, entertainment and more.

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