Police today identified the man suspected in the shooting death of a Hells Angels member at a funeral in San Jose on Saturday afternoon attended by hundreds, if not thousands, for another murdered Hells Angels leader. Steven Ruiz, 33, of San Jose killed Steve Tausan, 52, also of San Jose, during an altercation at the Oak Hill Cemetery on Curtner Avenue, and then mysteriously disappeared, leaving behind his motorcycle, said Lt. Alan Cavallo, a commander in the homicide unit.
Police Officer Jose Garcia said Tausan was a “confirmed or validated member of the Hells Angels” motorcycle club. He would not comment on which chapter he was affiliated with. Just minutes prior to that confrontation, Cavallo said Ruiz, a member of the Hells Angels’ San Jose chapter, got into a fight with an “unpatched” member of the Hells Angels where he got knocked down to the ground and kicked in the head.
That fight took place in the parking lot outside of the chapel as Jeffrey Pettigrew’s coffin was in the process of being moved to the burial site, Cavallo said. Pettigrew was the 51-year-old president of the Hells Angels’ San Jose chapter who was killed at John Ascuaga’s Nugget casino resort in Sparks, Nev., on the night of Sept. 23. Ruiz’s friends picked him up and brushed him off and in the meantime, someone went to find Tausan to confront Ruiz, Cavallo said. Tausan then came to Ruiz and the two got into a fight. Ruiz took out a handgun and shot Tausan.
Several Hells Angels members “destroyed evidence,” and were uncooperative or confrontational with police, hampering the investigation, Cavallo said. Saturday’s shooting was reported around 12:50 p.m. Officers who had been stationed outside the cemetery for security purposes made their way through the crowd, but once they got to the crime scene, they found it had been “tampered with,” Garcia said. Someone at the funeral had taken Tausan to a hospital by the time the officers arrived.
Tausan had been shot at least once and died of his injuries at the hospital, Garcia said. “Our purpose is to be there for public safety,” police Chief Chris Moore said today. Moore was addressing questions by reporters at a news conference regarding police response to the shooting. He said that there was “no reason to expect violence within their own group. I don’t think anybody would have anticipated an internal feud.” Moore said police could have kept every funeral attendee from leaving, but that it made more practical sense to let everyone go. He said that the Hells Angels is notorious for being uncooperative with police.
Moore acknowledged that some adjustments would have to be made for Tausan’s funeral to ensure better security. Officers searched Pettigrew’s grave, but didn’t recover anything that could be considered as evidence, Cavallo said. He said the officers did not open Pettigrew’s coffin, though it is possible a firearm could have been inside. Police have obtained a Ramey warrant for Ruiz’s arrest. He has not been seen or heard of since Saturday.
Some speculate that he may already be dead, but Cavallo today said police have not had any indication to believe that. “We’d like for him to come forward and explain his circumstances,” Cavallo said. Anywhere from 1,500 to 3,000 people, mostly consisting of Hells Angels members or other motorcycle gang members, were in attendance at the funeral, Cavallo said. Garcia said that after the shooting, most people left but some remained for Pettigrew’s interment.
In October 1997, Tausan and two others were charged with the murder of Kevin James Sullivan at the Pink Poodle strip club in San Jose on Aug. 24, 1997. Tausan and one of the other defendants were ultimately acquitted by a jury. The third man pleaded no contest to a conspiracy charge before the trial started. The investigation is ongoing and a motive for the shooting has not yet been established.
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