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Violent crime was on the rise in Gilroy in 2021, capped off by six homicides that were well above the city’s average rate, according to police.

Gilroy Police Chief Pedro Espinoza said the city typically averages about one homicide a year. But the six this year, which included a pair in January and another two in June, represented a nearly across-the-board increase in the rate of violent crime.

Aggravated assaults, which include stabbings and other attacks that cause injury, were up 43 percent, according to Espinoza. Calls for domestic violence increased by 13 percent, which Espinoza said was likely due to the pandemic lockdowns that kept people at home.

Statistics that include December are not yet available.

But police experienced less calls in other areas, such as property crimes, which were slightly below “status quo” in 2021, he said. Espinoza attributed that to many businesses being closed for the first quarter of the year, as well as some businesses not reporting crimes.

Juvenile arrests declined from 102 in 2020 to 63 in 2021, while robbery is down 28%, according to Espinoza.

Police also took dozens of guns off the street, he said. A total of 46 guns that were attributed to a crime were recovered in 2021, according to Espinoza, and that number doesn’t include guns that were taken in other cases, such as restraining orders and welfare holds.

Still, police are concerned with the rise of homicides and violent crime, as well as the effect it has on the relatively small department, which includes five investigators, he said.

“For a smaller organization, it’s very taxing,” Espinoza told the Gilroy City Council on Dec. 6. “We have utilized every available resource.”

Staffing levels remain about the same as a dozen years ago, according to Espinoza, and recruiting officers to replace those that are retiring at an “alarming rate” is an issue for the department, as it is nationwide.

“It’s always difficult for a chief of police to say we need ‘x’ amount of officers to lower the homicide rate, because there’s zero correlation between the number of officers and homicides,” he said.

Homicide cases continue through courts

Gun violence took the lives of six people in Gilroy in 2021—far surpassing the city’s average of one homicide per year, according to authorities.

Suspects in two of the incidents are currently facing charges of murder and other crimes, and their cases are still making their way through the Santa Clara County court system. Another suspect was shot by San Jose Police in an attempt to arrest him in January, and information is not readily available on the case of a pair of juvenile suspects accused of shooting a man at a Gilroy intersection at the beginning of the year.

The first murder of the year occurred Jan. 2, when Robert Marks, 21, was shot while sitting in his vehicle at the intersection of Mantelli Drive and Santa Teresa Boulevard. Marks was transported to a nearby hospital, where he died Jan. 12, according to authorities.

In May, police arrested two juvenile suspects, ages 15 and 16, on suspicion of shooting and killing Marks. Gilroy Police said the shooting was “random and unprovoked,” but authorities have not released additional information about the suspects because they are juveniles.

Marks was a Gilroy resident who attended local schools and worked for CalTrain.

On Jan. 3, Russell Anthony Lewis of Paicines was shot and killed on Fairview Drive in Gilroy. No suspect was publicly named in that case until after San Jose Police shot and killed David Lee Tovar Jan. 21 at an apartment on La Pala Drive.

Police said they had linked Tovar to the murder of Lewis, as well as a string of violent crimes throughout the South Bay—including other crimes in Gilroy and Morgan Hill—dating back to April 2020.

San Jose Police shot Tovar as they attempted to arrest him outside an apartment complex, according to authorities. During the police confrontation with Tovar, an officer thought he saw a handgun in the suspect’s jacket. Three officers fired their guns on Tovar, resulting in his death, according to San Jose Police.

On June 8, Anthony Villalobos, 48, was shot in the area of Railroad and Martin streets. Villalobos was found in the roadway by Gilroy Police suffering from a gunshot wound. He was pronounced dead after he was transported to a local trauma center.

Police arrested a suspect, Joshua Munoz, 36, for Villalobos’ murder after he led officers on a high-speed pursuit through two counties June 9, authorities said. Munoz had numerous outstanding warrants, and allegedly tried to shoot at officers as they tried to stop his vehicle.

Munoz lost control of the vehicle in Salinas and was arrested on suspicion of murder and other charges, police said.

In relation to a June 24 homicide at a Gilroy jewelry store, Jose Francisco Valiente-Martinez, 44, is out of custody in lieu of $500,000 bail, according to the Santa Clara County District Attorney’s Office.

Valiente-Martinez allegedly shot and killed his brother, Nelson Martinez Suncin, 39, inside Littlejohn’s Fine Jewelry. The shooting resulted from a dispute between the two family members, according to authorities.

Valiente-Martinez admitted he shot Suncin, claiming the victim had threatened to kill him, according to police. Valiente-Martinez is charged with murder in Santa Clara County Superior Court.

The Oct. 30 murder of Michael Daniel Zuniga-Macias, which occurred at the home of Gilroy Councilmember Rebeca Armendariz, remains unsolved. Police have not arrested a suspect directly accused of killing 18-year-old Zuniga-Macias, but a young man has been charged in relation to a search conducted during the murder investigation.

On Nov. 9, police arrested Lucas Tomasetti, 18, while executing search warrants in Gilroy in relation to the Oct. 30 shooting. Tomasetti was subsequently charged with possession of a firearm by a former juvenile offender and possession of ammunition by a prohibited person, according to the DA’s office.

Tomasetti is out of custody while awaiting court proceedings on the charges. His next hearing is scheduled for Jan. 11 at the Hall of Justice in San Jose.

Three other teens were shot and injured in the Oct. 30 incident at Armendariz’s home on Las Animas Avenue. Police said the shooting resulted from an altercation during a large outdoor Halloween party on the property.

The most recent murder of 2021 in Gilroy was on Nov. 24, when Jorge Barraza of Sacramento and an occupant of his vehicle were shot while driving in the area of Monterey Street and Leavesley Road. The victims drove to another area to call for assistance, but Barraza died at the scene, police said.

After an investigation, police arrested Nicholas Jose Carrillo IV, 20, of Morgan Hill on Dec. 22, in relation to the Nov. 24 shooting, authorities said. Carrillo is charged with murder, attempted murder and assault with a firearm.

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