January San Jose police shooting of unarmed homicide suspect unfolded in seconds, body cameras show
Videos show officers opened fire at David Tovar Jr. so quickly that some of their cameras didn’t capture sound of the deadly confrontation
An image taken from San Jose Police body-camera video shows David Tovar Jr., 27, of Gilroy, running from police before being shot and killed. Police were trying to arrest Tovar in San Jose, on January 21, 2021, in connection with a homicide and two other shootings. (San Jose Police Department)
SAN JOSE — In dramatic newly released video, San Jose police can be seen firing several rounds at an unarmed suspect in a South Bay homicide, moments after an officer reported that the man had a gun in his hand.
After the officer described what looked like a butt of a gun, three other officers shot at least a dozen rounds at 27-year-old Gilroy resident David Tovar Jr. as he ran along a second-floor apartment walkway in the city’s east foothills in January.
The roughly five minutes of footage excerpted from four body cameras — a K-9 officer was also present — show a rapidly unfolding scene in which the three officers who shot at Tovar opened fire within seconds of seeing him.
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The shooting happened so quickly that the body cameras of two of the officers did not capture sound of the shooting. While buffering systems in the devices ensure 30 seconds of video is captured prior to an officer activating their camera, the first 30 seconds of recorded video does not contain audio.
One officer closest to Tovar could be heard yelling “Put your hands up” as Tovar ran by above him, quickly followed by gunfire. As Tovar lay face down on the elevated walkway, several officers could be heard telling him to stop moving, including one officer who yells “I said don’t f***ing move!”
The video was released Friday by San Jose police to comply with AB 748, a two-year-old law that compels law-enforcement agencies to disclose footage of critical incidents, with narrow exceptions, within 45 days.
It all happened the morning of Jan. 21 when police tracked Tovar to an apartment complex on La Pala Drive near McKee Road in San Jose’s east foothills. Police said officers were wary of Tovar’s elevated position and contend that he was reaching into his waistband when they shot him.
After Tovar was shot — he later died at a local hospital — investigators found a black-and-silver cellphone on the floor next to where he was wounded, and a screwdriver in his pocket, but no gun.
The three SJPD officers who opened fire at Tovar have not been publicly identified by the department, which cited the officers’ ongoing undercover assignments. At a January news conference, acting Chief David Tindall described said the officers had between 13 and 15 years of police experience.
Tindall said earlier that authorities had been tracking Tovar and were on heightened alert because Tovar had violently escaped arrest for a series of armed crimes dating to last year and allegedly threatened to commit more shootings, including of police officers.
Even so, Tovar’s father and civil-rights advocates said Tovar was entitled to due process, and that authorities’ emphasis of his criminal history was an attempt to justify what they called the extrajudicial killing of a man who, by virtue of being unarmed, did not pose a mortal threat.
Raj Jayadev, founder of Silicon Valley De-Bug, a South Bay social-justice organization that supports families of people killed by police, described the footage as some of the most disturbing he has seen, and was particularly troubled by the volley of gunfire aimed in the direction of apartments.
“His body is laying next to a kid’s soccer ball. There are children’s bikes in the eyeline of these military-grade weapons,” Jayadev said. “To be this lethally reckless, to indiscriminately fire limitless rounds into the residences and dwellings of families … It’s a miracle that the body count isn’t higher.”
Authorities say Tovar was being investigated by police in San Jose, Gilroy, Morgan Hill, and by the California Highway Patrol in connection with a dozen robberies and auto thefts between April and October last year, and the recovery of guns in at least two stolen vehicles linked to Tovar.
Tovar was also a suspect in the Jan. 3 fatal shooting of 35-year-old San Benito County resident Russell Anthony Lewis on Fairview Drive in Gilroy, and in an earlier shootout on the same street. Tovar was also suspected in a Jan. 5 shotgun shooting in Morgan Hill that seriously injured an unhoused man.
Besides an internal review and a shooting investigation with the county district attorney’s office, as early as this summer, this type of shooting could also compel a separate probe in accordance with Assembly Bill 1506, which calls for the state Attorney General’s office to investigate police shootings of unarmed civilians.