SANTA CRUZ, Calif. (KRON) — Two Santa Cruz police officers who were murdered seven years ago in the line of duty are still helping solve crimes, even after their careers and lives ended far too soon, fellow officers said.
A skateboarder and popular Santa Cruz High School student, Tyler Tenorio, was killed in a street fight 11 years ago. Tenorio was stabbed by gang members 17 times as he lay helpless on the ground October 16, 2009, investigators said. This week, police and prosecutors announced that the final suspect who was still on the lam had been captured and extradited from Mexico.
It took police over a decade to identify, track down, and arrest the final suspect, Paulo Luna. Luna was found at his mother’s house in a small village in Mexico. He was booked into the Santa Cruz jail Monday on one count of second-degree murder.
Santa Cruz Police Department investigators said justice for Tenorio may not have been achieved without key evidence obtained by two fallen police officers: Sgt. Det. Loran “Butch” Baker and Det. Elizabeth Butler. Baker and Butler were murdered in the line of duty in 2013 while they were investigating a sex assault case.
As the original lead investigator, Baker poured countless hours into the Tenorio homicide case combing through evidence. To honor Baker, his handcuffs were used to bring Luna into custody. The same handcuffs were used for apprehending Ivan Tapia Ramirez, who was extradited from Mexico last year and charged with first-degree murder for Tenorio’s death.
“Sgt. Baker reaches out from beyond to still get people in custody. So his handcuffs were used,” Police Chief Andy Mills said at a press conference Tuesday.
Butler also played a critical role in achieving justice for Tenorio, SCPD cold case investigator Ron Truhitte said.
Truhitte said, “When I took over this case and I was going through volumes and volumes and volumes of stuff that they had gathered. I came across one little piece of paper with maybe three lines on it. And it was all in Spanish.”
“So I took it took Elizabeth who spoke Spanish. She (translated) it for me, made some phone calls, we did an interview. And that’s why we are here today, because of Elizabeth helping me. So that needs to be known,” Truhitte said.
The night of the homicide, 16-year-old Tenorio was in the backseat of a car full of high school students looking for a party on a Friday night when the driver of the car yelled “Westside!” out the window at a group of young men standing on a street corner near downtown.
The men were members of the Sureno Brown Pride Santa Cruz gang, they were armed, and they had more friends nearby, police said. They threw gang signs into the air as a challenge, and the driver, Angel Palacios, got out of his car to confront them, according to testimony. Tenorio and another friend followed. A brutal street fight broke out on the corner of Laurel and Chestnut streets.
When Tenorio’s friend turned to run away, Tenorio tripped. He was surrounded. Witnesses told police that at least five men were seen kicking and stabbing Tenorio as he lay on the ground. Tenorio was stabbed 17 times and died at the scene. Police said Tenorio was not in a gang. Palacios testified that he was not in a gang either, but he yelled out “Westside!” because he was in an angry mood.
Detectives had a list of five names wanted in connection to the case: Paulo Luna, Ivan Tapia Ramirez, Walter Escalante, Pasqual Reyes, and Daniel Onesto. Luna and Tapia Ramirez slipped away to Mexico and went into hiding. Escalante and Reyes pleaded no contest to manslaughter and assault. Charges against Onesto were dropped.
The District Attorney’s Office worked closely with U.S. Marshals and Mexican authorities to extradite Tapia Ramirez in 2019 and then Luna this week.
U.S. Marshal Donald O’Keefe said, “I understand the agony that victims’ (families) go through when their loved ones are murdered and their perpetrator escapes justice. Fugitive work is not a sprint. It’s a marathon. You really have to keep your nose to the grindstone and work every lead that you can, and in this case, we could not have done it without the cooperation of Mexican authorities.”
Tenorio, 16, was a skateboarder and artist with many friends at Santa Cruz High School.
According to his obituary, “He was loved by all of his friends and they will forever remember him for both his clean and pressed dress attire, and his genuineness as a true friend. His hobbies included taking photos, drawing, skateboarding, snowboarding, and lifting weights. He liked staying in shape for the ladies. Tyler was a talented artist. He created many detailed drawings and his subjects included hot rods and crazy designs. He was very excited at the work he and his father had done to restore his car, and was looking forward to driving it very soon.”
Palacios agreed to testify for the prosecution as part of an immunity deal. Palacios was one of four friends who Tenorio was hanging out with the night of the homicide. At the time, they were both students at Santa Cruz High School. Tenorio was riding in the backseat of Palacios’ car when, according to his testimony, Palacios noticed a group of teenagers standing on Laurel Street staring at him. Palacios yelled “Westside!” out the car window.
“I don’t know, it was just something I blurted out. I was mad at the time,” Palacios testified at a preliminary hearing, according to the Santa Cruz Sentinel newspaper. Palacios said neither he nor Tenorio were in a gang. After the group on the street corner threw gang signs in the air as a challenge to fight, Palacios said he got out of his car to confront them. Tenorio followed his friend. Tenorio and his friends were unarmed and outnumbered when they tried to run away. Tenorio tripped and the group surrounded him. Police said, “Five subjects had been seen kicking and stabbing the victim as he lay on the ground.”
Luna, 34, was hiding out in Mexico for more than a decade. On August 10, 2020, Santa Cruz County District Attorney investigators, along with United States Marshals, INTERPOL, and Mexican authorities, captured Luna in Mexico. Authorities found him living at his mother’s house. Luna is currently in custody in the Santa Cruz County Jail with no bail.
Ivan Tapia Ramirez
Tapia Ramirez, 32, also fled to Mexico soon after the homicide. He was extradited from Mexico in February of 2019 and is awaiting trial. A preliminary hearing is scheduled for October. Luna and Ramirez could be put on trial together as co-defendants. Tapia Ramirez is currently an inmate in the Santa Cruz County Jail with no bail.
Walter Escalante and Pasqual Reyes
Escalante and Reyes admitted to participating in the fight. They pleaded no contest in 2012 to voluntary manslaughter, assault with a deadly weapon, and participating in a criminal street gang. Escalante was sentenced to serve 11 years in prison. Reyes was given a 31-year prison sentence.
Charges were dropped.