Steve Tausan, a sergeant-at-arms member for the California Hells Angels who had been acquitted for murder in 1999, was apparently shot and killed while attending a funeral on Saturday for one of the bike gang's leaders, who was slain in a casino shootout in September.
San Jose Police will not disclose the name of the murder victim until the autopsy is complete and the family has been notified, which will happen Oct; 17. Tausan, however, has been identified by California news outlets as the victim in question, as well as by several witnesses.
Tausan, 52, who was a bail bondsman, was at a San Jose cemetery on Oct. 15, grieving for Jeffrey Jethro Pettigrew. Pettigrew has been the head of the Hells Angels' San Jose chapter, according to the San Francisco Chronicle.
At around 1pm, despite a heavy police presence, an unknown gunman shot Tausan in front of thousands of stunned mourners. He died at a nearby hospital from his wounds, police said.
History of Violence
This is the latest in a string of well-documented shootings and similar violence surrounding the Hells Angels, who have been under suspicion by police for decades as a violent criminal street gang.
Pettigrew, 51, a friend of Tausan whose funeral was the site of the shooting, was shot by an alleged member of Vagos, a rival motorcycle gang. He died on Sept. 23 while attending a motorcycle festival, in a brawl at Nugget Casino in Sparks, Nev. near Reno. Ernesto Manuel Gonzalez, 53, has been charged with Pettigrew's murder.
Tausan himself, who was nicknamed Mr. 187 after the California penal code for murder, also had a sordid history.
In 1999, he went on trial for murder in the savage beating of customer Kevin Sullivan at the Pink Poodle, a San Jose strip club in 1997. Tausan claimed Sullivan was harassing a dancer and insulting the Hells Angels when he stepped in. Sullivan then allegedly swung at Tausan, at which point both the Angels sergeant-at-arms and the club manager began to beat him.
Both Tausan and the club's manager were acquitted, with the jury agreeing at the trial that they acted in self-defense.
Following the 1999 trial, Mercury News reports that the police attempted a series of raids on the Hells Angels group, in an attempt to uncover evidence that the motorcycle gang was a criminal ring. The raids failed to uncover satisfactory evidence, and cost local governments $1.8 million in legal settlements when the Hells Angels filed a civil-rights lawsuit.
You Never Do Anything at a Funeral.
Tausan recently told the San Jose Mercury News that he had received death threats following Pettigrew's violent slaying at the casino. Despite this, the throngs of police officers at the funeral was enough to make the funeral's attendees feel that nothing would happen.
Besides, the gangs' own codes were enough, many felt, to keep Tausan safe.
I've known Hells Angels, witness Valerie Hoffman said, and all the other groups for years and years. And there is a code of ethics.
You never do anything at a funeral, she told NBC News. I mean, that is just completely abominable.
In response to why the heavy police presence did not stop the shooting, San Jose police have remained guarded. We can't be next to every individual, Spokesman Jose Garcia told reporters. There were 4,000 people there.
He did say that the shooter may have fled. Some witnesses reported the suspect was attacked after the shooting, and then used the chaotic aftermath at the funeral to escape.
Police had been at the area largely as a precaution, to patrol and help with traffic congestion. We had no credible information, Garcia said, suggesting there would be violence.
Garcia has said that although Vagos may have been involved, it was too early to say whether the Hells Angels shootout was related to gang rivalries. In October, ten Vagos members were arrested on suspicion of drug trafficking and a spree of violent altercations in response to law enforcement raids along the Inland Empire, including numerous run-ins with the Hells Angels.
No one has been arrested for the slaying, and police say they have no suspects.