Despite a heavy police presence at a Hells Angels funeral in San Jose on Saturday, a top bike-club enforcer nicknamed "Mr. 187" after the state penal code number for murder was gunned down in front of stunned mourners.
Multiple sources told this newspaper that the victim of the 12:51 p.m. shooting at Oak Hill Memorial Park on Curtner Avenue was Steve Tausan, a notorious sergeant-at-arms for the Santa Cruz chapter of the club who was suspected of murder in the 1997 beating death of a man at the Pink Poodle strip club.
San Jose police would not confirm the identity of the shooting victim, but did report that he was pronounced dead at a hospital at 1:44 p.m.
Saturday's violence appeared to be a confrontation between fellow Hells Angels members that was set off when Tausan punched a fellow biker, and the biker retaliated by shooting him.
The funeral drew thousands of bikers from clubs all across the West Coast, who rumbled into the cemetery Saturday morning. Uniformed officers from various law enforcement agencies ringed the perimeter, while others attended the ceremony in plainclothes.
By 2 p.m., when police allowed mourners to leave, a thundering herd of bikers from the Henchmen, East Side Riders Car Club, Devil Dolls, Top Hatters and more roared west on Curtner Avenue toward the freeway.
Police have no suspect in custody but are interviewing several witnesses, according to San Jose police spokesman Jose Garcia.
Headquarters guarded
When asked why the heavy police presence was not enough to prevent the shooting, Garcia said, "Let's suppose we were embedded in there. We can't be next to every individual. There were 4,000 people there."
He said the shooting suspect may have fled, and the chaotic scene may have aided his escape. Asked if the shooter may have been attacked, as some witnesses reported, and then spirited away or hidden by Tausan's friends, Garcia said, "It's possible."
Police and the Santa Clara County Sheriff's Office were guarding the Hells Angels headquarters in San Jose on Saturday afternoon, as well as other locations where bikers gather.
The funeral at the Oak Hill Cemetery was for fellow Hells Angel Jeff "Jethro" Pettigrew, president of the San Jose chapter of the club, who was shot last month at John Ascuaga's Nugget Casino in Sparks, Nev., by a member of the rival Vagos club.
By Saturday night, police were searching Pettigrew's grave, sources said, but it was unclear what they were hoping to find.
Pettigrew was remembered as a cheerful redhead who lost his right leg about 20 years ago after a car slammed into his motorcycle, shattering his foot. His day job for the past two decades was repairing pavement for the San Jose Department of Transportation.
After Tausan's close friend Pettigrew was killed, Tausan, who was in his early 50s, received death threats, he told a reporter for this newspaper recently.
Prosecuted in 1997
A former Marine and professional middleweight boxer raised in East San Jose, Tausan was prosecuted 14 years ago on suspicion of killing Kevin Sullivan for drunkenly badgering a dancer at the Pink Poodle strip club in San Jose and then insulting the motorcycle club.
But Tausan and the club's manager, David Kuzinich, testified that Tausan struck Sullivan only after Sullivan attacked him. At his trial, Tausan testified that Sullivan attacked him as he approached, and that in self-defense he punched him twice in the face.
At the end of his testimony, the biker, covered in Hells Angels tattoos -- including "Mr. 187" on his left wrist -- broke down in tears. The jury acquitted both Tausan and Kuzinich.
A series of police raids after Tausan's arrest also backfired. The raids were conducted to gather evidence of his Hells Angels membership and portray the club as a criminal street gang, potentially adding three years to Tausan's sentence.
The raids not only failed to bolster the case, they also wound up costing local governments $1.8 million in legal settlements. The Hells Angels filed a civil-rights lawsuit, alleging police wrecked their property, frightened their children and needlessly shot three of their dogs.
In light of an appellate court decision that the searches caused unreasonable damage, San Jose police now make plans to avoid shooting dogs at homes being searched.
Contact Tracey Kaplan at 408-278-3482.