SAN JOSE, Calif. - A Gilroy man who was shot and killed by San Jose police on Thursday was unarmed during the confrontation, police confirmed on Monday, but it was his alleged connection to several violent offenses that had officers on heightened alert.
David Lee Tovar Jr., 27, was fatally shot on Jan. 21 at an apartment complex on La Pala Drive near McKee Road.
Tovar was running away from police on a second-floor landing of the complex and was shot by police on the ground floor after an officer saw Tovar reach into his waistband pulling out what the officer "believed to be the butt of a handgun," acting Police Chief David Tindall said on Monday.
"This elevated position gave Tovar a distinct advantage against officers on the ground," Tindall said. "Perceiving an immediate threat, three officers fired their department-issued rifles at Tovar."
Tindall said police then approached Tovar and "gave him multiple commands to show his hands," but he did not comply.
A police dog was then used to assist in the arrest and then officers began rendering life-saving measures while waiting for paramedics to arrive, Tindall said.
Tovar was transferred to a hospital where he died. Police later confirmed the object mistaken for a handgun was either a silver and black cellphone or a screwdriver found on the scene.
The confrontation in the Villa Fairlane apartment complex came after a 10-month investigation and multiple attempts to arrest Tovar in connection with multiple offenses, a homicide and two other shootings in southern Santa Clara County.
But Rosie Chavez, an organizer with Silicon Valley De-Bug, said 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 and said they had been left in the dark regarding the circumstances of the shooting.
Tindall, however, said there was ample evidence, including DNA, video and eyewitness reports, linking Tovar to the offenses.
During the Monday news conference, Tindall detailed a timeline of Tovar's alleged offenses between April and October of last year, which included several robberies, burglaries and at least two vehicle thefts.
More recently, Tovar was the main suspect in a Jan. 3 homicide of 35-year-old San Benito County resident Russell Anthony Lewis on Fairview Drive in Gilroy.
He was also being investigated for a shoot-out that occurred two days before the Gilroy homicide and for an almost deadly attack that occurred two days after on Jan. 5, when Tovar may have used a shotgun to shoot an unhoused man.
Tindall called it a "violent crime spree."
"San Jose police officers were part of a multi-agency effort to connect the dots and apprehend the prolific and increasingly violent person victimizing our South Bay," Tindall said.
On Jan. 14, Gilroy police tried to arrest Tovar, but he reportedly used his car to hit police cars and escape.
Tovar, a parolee and apparently a documented gang member, was under investigation in Gilroy, Morgan Hill, and by the California Highway Patrol, in addition to San Jose.
Chavez said the Monday news conference effectively detailed Tovar's suspected offenses but failed to display the impacts of "police violence in the community."
She said when she went to talk to the residents of the complex on Monday, she saw at least eight bullet holes in the walls and windows of apartments.
"There were kids on the other side of the shooting," Chavez said. "Police just terrorized and frightened this whole community right here at the complex."
She also noted the tactics of a covert police response unit, which approached the San Jose complex in unmarked vehicles and unmarked clothes, and neither had the capability nor the intention to de-escalate the situation.
"I know this because they did the same thing with my nephew who was killed by SJPD in 2017," Chavez said. "He was unarmed and complying with his hands up."
Tindall said the three officers involved in the shooting received crisis intervention training - an official de-escalation training for police.
The officers were not injured and their identities have not been released "due to the covert nature of their assignments," Tindall said.
The acting police chief also confirmed all three officers had their body-worn cameras on and the footage will be released in the next 30 to 45 days in accordance with state law.
"Residents and public will be able to see what the officers saw," Tindall said. "The investigation will speak for itself; the facts will speak for themselves."
Tovar's death marks the first police shooting of 2021. In 2020, there were five police shootings reported, one of which was fatal.
Editor's note: This story incorrectly stated the person of interest's name and that he had been involved in a San Jose homicide.