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February 26, 2021

Police release more details about shooting of Gilroy suspect

Man identified as David Lee Tovar

San Jose Police identified the man who died in a Jan. 21 officer-involved shooting as David Lee Tovar, who was a suspect in dozens of violent crimes, burglaries and thefts in the South Bay dating back to April 2020, according to authorities.

Tovar’s alleged crime spree that “dramatically escalated in violence” includes the Jan. 3 shooting and murder of Russell Anthony Lewis in Gilroy, and the Jan. 5 shooting of a homeless man at a park in Morgan Hill, San Jose Acting Police Chief David Tindall said at a Jan. 25 press conference.

A map of Tovar’s alleged crimes, displayed by Tindall at the press conference, lists 25 crimes he allegedly perpetrated in the last 10 months. Of these, 13 took place in Gilroy and three were in the Morgan Hill area, according to police.

Police in Gilroy, Morgan Hill and San Jose, as well as the California Highway Patrol and Santa Clara County Sheriff’s Office have investigated Tovar as a suspect in the numerous incidents. Each time officers have tried to arrest Tovar, he escaped capture by driving away recklessly or fleeing on foot. In some instances, officers found firearms in abandoned vehicles they think Tovar had used as getaway cars.

“These crimes included many stolen vehicles, commercial and residential burglaries, kidnapping, robberies, carjacking, weapons theft and illegal possession of weapons, assault with a deadly weapon, felony evading arrest, at least three attempted murder shootings and at least one homicide that occurred on Jan. 3,” Tindall said. “More than 20 victims have been impacted by what can only be described as a violent crime spree.”

Evidence linking Tovar to these crimes include DNA analysis, cell phone location data, fingerprints, video footage and witness statements, Tindall said.

Earlier this month, San Jose Police and other agencies began a concerted effort to “connect the dots” and find Tovar so they could arrest him. That led San Jose Police to an apartment complex on La Pala Drive Jan. 21, where they learned Tovar could be found.

Three officers visited the complex to contact Tovar, Tindall said. Upon seeing Tovar exiting the apartment building toward an outdoor carport, officers identified themselves as police and ordered him to stop, Tindall said.

Tovar ran back into the interior of the apartment complex and upstairs, where he continued to run along a second-story outdoor walkway, Tindall said. The officers ran after him, repeatedly commanding Tovar to stop and put his hands up. During the foot chase, the officers saw Tovar reaching for something in his waistband or near his front pocket.

At one point, as Tovar ran toward an officer, the officer saw “what he believed to be the butt of a handgun” in the suspect’s jacket, Tindall said. All three officers, “perceiving an immediate threat,” fired their weapons on Tovar. He was struck by gunfire and unresponsive, and taken into custody by a K9 dog and the officers.

The officers began first aid on Tovar before fire and EMS personnel arrived. He was transported to San Jose Regional Medical Center, where he was pronounced dead, Tindall said.

The Santa Clara County District Attorney’s Office and other agencies are investigating the officer-involved shooting. Tindall said all three officers were wearing body cameras, which were recording during the incident. San Jose PD will release the footage within 45 days after the incident.

After Tovar was shot, officers determined he was not armed with a firearm or other type of weapon, Tindall said. Recovered from his person were a cell phone and screwdriver.

None of the officers were injured. All three were placed on “routine administrative leave” after the incident, Tindall said.

Tindall said he met with Tovar’s family earlier in the day Jan. 25. He offered his “deepest condolences” to the family.

“I understand that parts of the story will include things that are hard for a grieving family to hear, and the person they knew might not be the person we know,” Tindall said.  

Tovar was distantly related to Gilroy City Councilmember Fred Tovar, who said in a statement that he had never met the suspect and has not been in contact with that side of his family for 40 years.

David Tovar’s last known address was in Los Banos, according to police.

Tindall said before the Jan. 21 incident, Tovar was known as a previously convicted felon and gang member, and was assumed to be “armed and dangerous.” He was wanted on numerous warrants related to the alleged preceding crime spree, including vehicle theft, burglary, grand theft, vandalism and firearms related offenses.

Tovar’s previous criminal convictions include resisting arrest, domestic violence, controlled substances violations and grand theft, Tindall said.

Timeline

At the Jan. 25 press conference, Tindall listed details about the following incidents leading up to the Jan. 21 death of Tovar:

-Dec. 29: San Jose Police recovered a stolen vehicle that contained jail booking paperwork with Tovar’s information on it, as well as a loaded shotgun and ammunition. A fingerprint from the shotgun matched Tovar’s file and a warrant for Tovar’s arrest was issued, Tindall said.

-Jan. 1: A shooting between two groups of people on Fairview Drive in Gilroy. Officers arrived and did not locate any suspects or involved vehicles, but recovered shell casings and other evidence. “Tovar was linked as a primary suspect in this shooting,” Tindall said.

-Jan. 3: Another shooting was reported on Fairview Drive in Gilroy, this time resulting in the death of Lewis, a 35-year-old Paicines resident. Tovar was the primary suspect in this homicide, according to Tindall.

-Jan. 5: Morgan Hill Police responded to a shooting at Galvan Park on Crest Avenue. Tovar allegedly shot a homeless man in the chest with a shotgun, Tindall said. The victim survived.

-Jan. 8: San Jose Police attempted to pull over a vehicle they believed Tovar was driving. Officers called off the pursuit due to the suspect’s dangerous driving, Tindall said.

-Jan. 12: Sunnyvale Police notified San Jose PD that officers had attempted to stop a vehicle in Sunnyvale. The pursuit reached speeds of 120 mph, and the fleeing vehicle got away. The car was later found abandoned in Redwood City, with apparent damage from a bullet strike, Tindall said. Police think Tovar had been driving this vehicle as well.

–Jan. 14: Someone called 911 to report Tovar was armed in public with rifles and handguns, and had been talking about wanting to kill a police officer, Tindall said. Later that day, San Jose Police located Tovar at 7-Eleven on Tenth Street in Gilroy and tried to contact him. Tovar “used his vehicle and rammed his way through the police vehicles that were blocking his exit,” Tindall said. No officers were injured.

During this incident, the officers briefly observed a duffel bag “the size of a shotgun” inside the car.

-Jan. 15: Tovar stole a vehicle in Watsonville, according to police.

Police have not accused Tovar of shooting Robert Marks in a Jan. 2 shooting in Gilroy. Marks, 21, was shot while driving a car in the area of Santa Teresa Boulevard and Mantelli Drive. Marks was transported to a hospital, and died of his injuries Jan. 12.

No suspects have been identified in relation to the Jan. 2 shooting. Gilroy Police have said the investigation is ongoing.

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