Family of 27-year-old man sues San Jose police for 'agonizing and tortuous death'

Civil rights attorneys on Wednesday filed a wrongful death suit against San Jose police after they shot and killed an unarmed 27-year-old man who authorities said was a person of interest in a string of violent crimes including homicide. 

But attorneys representing the family of David Tovar Jr. said that no matter what he was accused of, killing him was unnecessary and that his "last moments were a painful, agonizing and torturous death." 

The Tovar family -- father David Tovar Sr. and Tovar Jr.'s two children -- are being represented by Oakland attorneys Adante Pointer and Patrick Buelna.

San Jose police Sgt. Christian Camarillo declined to comment on Tuesday.

"As you know we do not comment on incidents pending or in litigation," he said in an email. 

However, on Jan. 21, police had explained that they shot Tovar as he was leaving the Villa Fairlane Apartment Complex, because he was a violent man who was a "person of interest" in a homicide and shootings in Gilroy, wanted for weapons violations in San Jose, and a shooting at Galvan Park in Morgan Hill on Jan. 5. 

In addition, then-Acting Police Chief David Tindall said that an officer saw Tovar reach into his waistband pulling out what the officer "believed to be the butt of a handgun," even though it later turned out to be a screwdriver.

Tindall said police gave Tovar "multiple commands to show his hands," but he did not comply.

To date, Tovar's family said he had never actually been charged with those crimes.

But Tindall said at an earlier news conference that there was ample evidence, including DNA, video and eyewitness reports, linking Tovar to the offenses. But police have not made any of that evidence public. 

WARNING GRAPHIC: San Jose police shoot David Tovar Jr. 

A San Jose police K-9 bites David Tovar Jr. on Jan. 21, 2021. Via bystander video

Rosie Chavez, an organizer with Silicon Valley De-Bug, said in a previous interview that regardless of Tovar's record, and especially considering he was unarmed, his death was not justified.

"I get the fact that he was known to commit crimes but that is exactly why we have a criminal justice system," Chavez said. "He was killed before he had the chance to be proven guilty or innocent."

She also noted that many family members disputed Tovar's involvement in the offenses. His family had described him as an overall good young man who had made some poor choices. 

As the lawsuit lays out, Tovar began running away from police when he was shot several times with high-velocity semi-automatic assault rifles.

Police never warned Tovar they intended to use deadly force prior to shooting and killing him, according to the suit, and police appeared to shoot him in the back as he "ran for his life."

In addition, police "inexplicably unleashed his police canine to attack and maul Mr. Tovar’s making certain that Mr. Tovar’s last moments were a painful, agonizing and torturous death," the suit alleges. 

The shooting and dog mauling were captured on video, both on police body cameras and from bystanders who shot the scene on their phones.

The suit also accuses Tovar of bleeding to death from the gunshot wounds for at least two minutes before being given any medical care.

Pointer said it is clear from the video and witnesses that Tovar did not verbally threaten any of the officers or brandish a gun. In fact, Tovar was unarmed and did not pose a deadly threat, Pointer pointed out. 

"The officers failed to make any reasonable efforts to bring Mr. Tovar into custody without using deadly force," Pointer wrote in his suit. "Instead, officers recklessly opened fire within mere seconds of approaching Mr. Tovar without using less-lethal weapons or any other de-escalation techniques which endangered the innocent tenants of the apartment complex and ultimately killed Mr. Tovar."