OFF THE WIRE
San Jose police allowed hundreds, perhaps thousands, of bikers to leave the chaotic crime scene of the Hells Angel funeral killing at Oak Hill cemetery without searching or interviewing them.
That unusual strategy, police acknowledged in a Tuesday news conference, allowed valuable witnesses and even the killer to vanish beyond the cemetery gates.
But police Chief Chris Moore staunchly defended that decision "100 percent" as well as the initial strategy to keep officers strictly on the outside of the cemetery during Saturday's massive funeral for San Jose Hells Angels President Jeffrey "Jethro" Pettigrew, who was gunned down in a Nevada casino last month.
Moore and other police officials said both decisions were made for logistical reasons, to protect the public and avoid a potentially dangerous confrontation between officers and outlaw bikers, who en masse wanted to leave the cemetery shortly after 52-year-old Steve Tausan was shot. After considering the tense situation, the ranking officer who was there decided to let them go, according to police.
"We could have held everybody inside those gates," Moore said. "I think the absolute correct decision was to let those folks vacate. It was in the interest of public safety that we not force a confrontation."
The chief said the plan was created to stop outside people -- including rival motorcycle clubs -- from attacking the mournful gathering of 1,500 to 3,000 bikers. But Moore
said police had "no reason" to expect violence at the funeral from the Hells Angels and allied motorcycle clubs.
"I don't think anyone would expect an internal feud rising to the level of what did occur," he said.
Moore said the decision to let everyone exit was also sound.
But the lack of cooperative witnesses has badly hampered the investigation, police said. Lt. Alan Cavallo, head of homicide investigations, and Moore both alleged several bikers washed away blood and other evidence with the water from their beer coolers.
Investigators on Tuesday also confirmed they had issued an arrest warrant for Steven Ruiz, a 33-year-old San Jose Hells Angel who police believe shot and killed Tausan during the massive funeral for Pettigrew, Tausan's good friend.
But they said they have no idea where Ruiz is, or even if he is alive. Police said they do have his Harley Davidson, which was left at the cemetery.
"He has not come forward," Cavallo said. "We are looking for him and we would like for him to explain his circumstances. If he was still around, he would want his motorcycle as well."
Police said they found a 9 mm handgun they believe may be connected to the shooting and are performing ballistic tests on it. They also confirmed they searched inside Pettigrew's grave in an effort to locate evidence, but found nothing buried near the casket. They did not open it.
Investigators do know a little about what led up to Tausan's shooting.
After the funeral, Ruiz was apparently punched and kicked in the head and knocked to the ground by an unidentified motorcycle club member before his fatal altercation with Tausan, police said.
Afterward, Tausan confronted Ruiz and knocked him down again.
Police said Ruiz drew a handgun and shot Tausan, fatally wounding him.
Tausan was placed in a car by friends, who drove him to the hospital with a police escort.
Now police are beginning to plan for Tausan's funeral, which may be held at the same cemetery later this month.
While the chief would not specify what police will do differently, if anything, he said: "We will take the lessons learned from this. I think everybody on all sides would be interested in making sure it would go off safely."