High Times With a Hells Angel
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Because beyond bad-guy fictions there are sometimes good-guy truths.
By Eugene S. Robinson
“Look at that guy. He looks like fucking Simon Le Bon. And what? He’s a Hells Angel too? I guess they give those vests out to just about anybody these days, haha …”
I was standing next to a fake palm tree at the San Jose, California club where I was a bouncer. The piquantly named Paradise Beach. The year was 1990, I was 28, and I was talking to the club manager, K, a 300-pound Pacific Islander.
“SSSSSSsssshhhhh …” This sibilant admonition to keep my mouth shut cut from K like a movie laser. So sudden and forceful it yanked my head around, and I saw actual and real terror on the face of one of the toughest men I have ever met. “Let me introduce you to him.” I was a bodybuilding, karate and muay thai-taking tough guy, but I followed, mouth shut.
“Steve? This is our new guy, Mr. Clean.” I was so called back then because I shaved my head.
Tausan, all neatly coiffed 6’2” of this former marine, turned to face me, smiled and shook my hand. There was nothing explicitly friendly about any of the gestures or, if there was, it was all undone by what his eyes did: a quiet and shockingly thorough appraisal of me, my possibilities and my utility. Like being looked at by a tiger.
Duly noted: Never spar with Steve.
Simple chatter followed, during which he learned I was holding a federal firearms license, making me legally licensed to buy and sell firearms. To anyone who was not a felon, crazy or a reseller. K led me back to my station and on the way there said, “Now that’s a much healthier way to meet Steve Tausan.”
And after not knowing the man at all, I started to see him everywhere: Gold’s gym, the club, shopping. And I saw him change from someone with a certain celebrity sheen to someone a whole measure more heavy. Starting with the weight and muscle he put on in the gym, to the stories that started to flow my way when, after seeing us chatting, people figured I was inner circle, part of some brotherhood of bouncers.
The stories were backed up by newspaper accounts: In August 1997 at a strip club called the Pink Poodle, where Tausan sometimes was a bouncer, carpenter Kevin Sullivan got chippy with him, and the subsequent fight led to the guy’s very quick demise. A demise that led to a trial and Tausan’s eventual acquittal on grounds of self-defense.
Just because boxing hadn’t seen any viable white American heavyweights for a while didn’t mean that Tausan wasn’t one. He boxed competitively, but was only ranked where it counted: on the streets.
“Yeah, I was sparring with Steve,” said contractor and common friend, John Bannister. “He’s really good. Hits very, very hard. My vision is still kind of blurred from the last few rounds we did — back in February.”
And there it was: John and Steve were friends. Six months later John’s vision was still blurry from the head shots he took from Steve.
Duly noted: Never spar with Steve.
“You think you could get me a bulletproof vest?”
Tausan asked while we stood by the heavy end of a rack that held 120-pound dumbbells at San Jose Gold’s. He hadn’t yet become the head of the San Jose Hells Angels, but he was on the fast track. I had to assume that he wasn’t asking me because he couldn’t get one anywhere else, but by way of taking my temperature. Under federal law, laid out in 18 U.S.C.A. Section 931, it was illegal for anyone convicted of a violent felony to own or possess a bulletproof vest.
So, a dilemma: Ask if he had ever been convicted of a felony and mark myself as a Boy Scout, or don’t ask and expose myself to whatever legal ramifications could flow my way.
“Let me see what I can do.”
But before I could? All hell broke loose. In January of 1998 seven San Jose police officers and one Santa Clara County Sheriff’s deputy raided Hells Angels’ homes, rousted out Tausan’s family and shot three guard dogs while seizing evidence. Evidence that came to naught: Tausan was acquitted the following year, and in 2006 the Hells Angels won a civil suit over the violation of their 4th amendment rights to the tune of $990,000.
The packed funeral watched Tausan die.
Nicknamed Mr. 187, Tausan got the top spot at the San Jose Hells Angels before moving over to serve as rules enforcer. He opened up a bail bonds business and got on with the business of being a Hells Angel.
I saw less and less of Tausan, but heard of him through common friends: he was engaged to a nice girl named Nikki and seemed more at peace with himself than many had ever seen him.
Then September 2011 happened. In a casino in Sparks, Nevada, the Hells Angels and the Vagos Motorcycle Club had a running gun battle inside the casino and onto the roads and highways leading back to the Bay Area. Jeff “Jethro” Pettigrew, president of the San Jose chapter and friend of Tausan’s, was killed. At Pettigrew’s funeral, Tausan punched Steven Ruiz for not being in Sparks when it all went down, and Ruiz shot Tausan.
The packed funeral — including some of Tausan’s kids — watched Tausan die. When police investigated, everyone there hadn’t seen anything. No one talked until Ruiz turned himself in. And in March of this year he pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter and was sentenced to three years and eight months in prison.
“Club info is a dangerous thing to talk about,” said friend Chris Kross about the 1-percent motorcycle club credo of silence and violence. “But he spent all his time with his biz, club, Nikki. To me, he was a good friend. I loved that man.”
But it’s possible to be a good friend, fiancé and father without being a good man. Thinking about my moments with Tausan, it was clear that while he was capable of being all of those things Kross mentioned, he managed to do so while not being a particularly good man in any conventional way. This is an acknowledgment that, when all is said and done, I probably prefer a bad man who does some good — like Tausan — to a good man who does some bad — like every corrupt politician. In the latter case it’s disappointing, in the former, pleasantly surprising.
“You ever have any problems, you let me know,” Tausan once said to me.
I did, but I never did. “And bring me that vest.”
Though there are dozens who are probably happy that I didn’t, I can’t help but wish that I had.