On Feb. 26, 2013, Sgt. Loran ‘Butch’ Baker and Detective Elizabeth Butler lost their lives in the line of duty. One year later, in the midst of heightened awareness around local crime and safety, the Santa Cruz community continues the collective healing process
Wednesday Feb. 26 marks the one-year anniversary of the fatal shootings of Sgt. Loran "Butch" Baker and Detective Elizabeth Butler. Members of the wider Santa Cruz County community will likely be reflecting on the lives of the Santa Cruz police officers, the loss of which, coupled with an immense sadness for their deaths and heightened concern for public safety, have kindled a profound sense of emotional solidarity locally.
Baker, a 28-year member of the force, praised by SCPD Chief Kevin Vogel as the department’s most capable investigator, and Butler, a specialist in sexual assault cases, were well known and well liked throughout Santa Cruz. They stood out individually for a number or reasons, both professionally and personally. At the times of Baker’s death—known as the “end of watch” in the police world—he was 51 years old and preparing for his retirement. He was known as a prankster and for wearing shorts while on patrol no matter the weather. Butler had been with the SCPD for about a decade when she was killed. She was 38 and is survived by her partner Peter Wu and their two small children, ages 6 and 3.
Not only were the officers admired for the way they conducted difficult jobs with such degrees of compassion and good humor, they also had tight ties to the community outside the framework of their roles as police officers.
“They were known by people as community members; from Little League, from the grocery store; preschool; and as friends,” says Santa Cruz City councilmember Hilary Bryant, who served as mayor at the time of the shooting.
Those connections made the widespread hurt run that much deeper for the community at large, says Kelly Sanchez, owner of Kelly’s French Bakery, where Butler was a regular.
“All of that just came so close—that it could be your neighbor, or any one of us that something bad can happen to,” Sanchez says. “They are just like us. Just doing a job. So human.”
At 3:15 p.m. on Tuesday, Feb. 26, 2013, Baker and Butler were standing on the back porch of a house on the 800 block of Branciforte Avenue speaking through the glass panel of the door with their suspect, Jeremy Goulet. Goulet, a 35-year-old ex-military policeman, had lost his job at a local coffee shop a couple of days earlier after a female co-worker made sexual assault allegations against him. For approximately 10 minutes Goulet resisted the officers’ requests that he come outside and speak with them, so they told him they would have to arrest him. Goulet left his position on the other side of the door and reappeared moments later with a gun—a .45-caliber Sig Sauer. He quickly fired five rounds, killing both officers within seconds.
Goulet then stole the officers' body armor and weapons, got into their unmarked police car and drove several blocks away from the crime scene. With police forces moving in on the area, Goulet drove around the block and attempted to conceal the car up a driveway on Doyle Street. After being identified by a neighbor and having his description matched by police, police and sheriff's deputies cornered him against a garage. Goulet came out into the open with guns blazing but was shot down by three Santa Cruz police officers and one sheriff’s deputy before he could harm anyone else.
City staff plans to organize a one-year anniversary memorial event for the community to honor the lives of the officers on the date of their deaths, according to Assistant to the City Manager Scott Collins. On Tuesday, Feb. 25, the public is invited to come together at City Hall (809 Center St., Santa Cruz) to honor and remember the lives of the officers and pay their respects. The time is tentatively set for 6 to 7 p.m. At the police department, a fountain, stone wall and garden—currently under construction and nearing completion—will be dedicated to commemorate Baker and Butler the following day, Wednesday, Feb. 26.
In the days and weeks following the tragedy, the Santa Cruz County Sheriff's Office and California Highway Patrol took over the SCPD's local watch for about a week so that the department could take the time to grieve and regroup, while the community itself began an outpouring of support for their police officers. Those demonstrations of unity with the SCPD and compassion for the fallen officers—whose deaths, in many ways, have reminded people how much risk police take while on duty every day—have continued, illustrating perhaps one of the most apparent ways that Santa Cruz has been influenced by the incident.
Butler had been a mainstay at Kelly's French Bakery on the Westside, where she regularly enjoyed fresh Morning Buns. Sanchez knew Butler as well as her domestic partner, Peter Wu, who used to practice pottery in a shared studio with Kelly's husband, Mark Sanchez.
During the memorial service for Baker and Butler, held at the HP Pavilion in San Jose last March, Vogel, while sharing stories about the officers, told the audience how much Butler had loved Kelly's French Bakery's Morning Buns, which got Sanchez to thinking how she could do her part to support the police.
“We decided then that in honor of both of them, we should bring Morning Buns to the police station,” she says. “We wanted to give back to the community so every Wednesday we bring 100 morning buns and we’re going to continue doing it.”
She says that the gesture is a way for them to recognize the danger officers are potentially walking into every day.
“It's just to let them know that we’re thinking about that,” Sanchez says. “They’re so appreciative [for the Morning Buns] and now they really look forward to it, so it feels good.”
Sanchez believes that the tragedy has marked a distinctly new kind of relationship between the police department and much of the community, describing the general perception before last February as being somewhat more adversarial.
“Personally, I feel that we didn’t have a lot of respect for our police officers as a whole,” she says. “I think we took them for granted. And when [the shooting] happened, I think it really brought forth that these people were protecting us and working for us. Putting themselves in dangerous situations every day to make our community a better place. And I think people really know that still—to me it is so fresh.”
During the procession of police and fire department vehicles that made their way through town on the way to the memorial in San Jose on March 7 of last year, Sanchez and her husband joined hundreds of others on the streets and looked on. They stood on a bridge near the Boardwalk and were moved by the proud but solemn parade.
“It was so touching to see all the people who came out,” Sanchez says. “I think the community would like that opportunity again.”
In the days following the shooting, SCPD Deputy Chief Steve Clark told Good Times that the community response was astounding.
“People [were] waving; giving us thumbs up; thank yous; the community support is absolutely humbling,” he said. “It has sustained us through this time.”
A year later, the trauma attached to the incident continues to engulf the police department. At press time, the SCPD had stated that it would refrain from participating in any interviews on the subject of the one-year anniversary. That decision may give some insight into how much the loss of Baker and Butler is still very much an open wound.
“One thing that really comes to mind for me,” says Councilmember Don Lane, “is I think that the magnitude of the tragedy is large enough that even a year later is a little too soon.”
He says it is also probably too soon to say with any certainty how the shooting has changed Santa Cruz.
“There’s no question that the change has been substantial,” Lane says. “It has been such a long period of grief and recovery, and of just trying to get back on our feet as a community—so much so that the long-term impact is not totally clear.”
Perhaps one thing that is pretty clear though, and will hopefully last a long time, is this kind of recognition of what risk officers take and the sacrifice they provide to do that job, Lane adds. “It’s not something that was unknown before, but it was kind of an abstract concept. This [tragedy] makes it crystal clear.”
As the news broke in bits and pieces through the late afternoon on that late-February day, the gravity of what had happened slowly sank in for the people listening in on the reports. Several area schools were placed on lockdown, SWAT teams descended on the area, creating a perimeter in search of Goulet, and first responders attempted to help the downed officers, though they had been killed immediately after being struck by the bullets. The following morning Bryant was required to address the public. The horror of the incident still weighs as heavily on her today as it did on Feb. 26, 2013.
“I will never be the same person again,” Bryant admits. “It has forever changed my life in ways that are pretty hard to describe. It's not only from having experienced something that we, the whole community, felt together, and how difficult those moments were right after, and just the magnitude of the tragedy, [but it is also] the weight of the responsibility I feel for what happened last year, regardless of whether it was in my control or not. It was still on my watch, and that forever weighs on me, personally.
“It’s changed my life in little ways and big ways,” she adds. “It’s very difficult to talk about and there’s absolutely nothing I can do to change it. I think part of what I struggled with all year, and I continue to struggle with, is, when you run for office, you want to make the community better. You want to leave it better than when you started. And when you have an experience like we did last year, it’s hard to look back and think about all the good things; [instead] you’re looking back and thinking of all the challenges and all the things you wish could be different.”
In the weeks leading up to the shooting of Butler and Baker, a series of disturbing and violent crimes occurred in Santa Cruz, including two shootings, one of which was fatal, an armed robbery, and a home invasion.
“A series of really awful things happened, culminating in that moment [on Feb. 26], and the rest of the year was spent managing that,” Bryant says. “I feel much more hopeful now about Santa Cruz, but, yet, there’s just deep sadness when I think about what transpired last year.”
Bryant also says that the incident does not feel like it was just a year ago.
“It’s really hard for me to wrap my head around the fact that it’s been a year,” she says. “It doesn’t feel like I’ve had a year to heal because I don’t feel any better when I think about it, and I think a lot of people maybe have that sense.”
Looking forward, Bryant says, the Santa Cruz City Council and members of the community will have to continue driving forward very tough and complicated dialogue about public safety and the challenges facing Santa Cruz.
“There are a lot of different perspectives on that,” she says, “but I don’t think there’s anyone that’s able to say that we don’t still have major challenges.”
Recommendations for improving public safety were submitted to the city council last month by the Public Safety Citizen Task Force—a group of community members who began meeting after concerns about garbage and used syringes accumulating near homeless encampments reached all-time highs—are currently being reviewed by county and city officials and will likely prompt new safety discussions and measures in the coming months.
Officers Baker and Butler were the first two SCPD officers to be killed in the department's approximate 150-year history. Stoney Brook, a retired detective sergeant for the Sheriff's Office and former criminal inspector for the district attorney’s office, was friends with both of them.
“For me it was a very personal thing, for a variety of reasons,” Brook says. “One is, of course, you know them, and it has an impact on the psyche of the community. But, for me, it was a little more personal because, having been a detective and done a lot of investigations, I realize that there are thousands of times that I’ve done exactly what they did—walk up to a house and knock on a door. You sort of have that flashback. I think, as an officer, you’re thinking, ‘There but for the grace of God go I.’ Because that could be me next time.”
Brook was also friends with the only other local sheriff’s deputy to be killed during the last half century while on duty back in 1983. Before ’83, the last officers to lose their lives were Undersheriff Richard Rountree and Deputy Sheriff Howard Trafton in 1925. They were attempting to arrest a man in Aptos who was interfering with highway construction crews.
Brook says he cannot drive past the place in Felton where Deputy Michael Gray was shot and killed while trying to question a transient without feeling a fresh wave of loss.
“I’m still hanging onto that,” Brook says.
He says that in law enforcement work, these kind of events stay with officers for a long time, whether they want it to or not.
“The old-time detectives, they’ll tell you that when they drive through town, they can point out every place they’ve responded to a homicide; had a critical incident; the place where they had their first fight,” he says. “All of that is [part of the job].”
After an officer-involved fatal shooting, Brook says it is almost always a very difficult subject to put under the proverbial microscope, which may be another reason the shooting is difficult for the SCPD to discuss.
“I’ve investigated a number of officer-involved shootings and there’s sort of a blockage that occurs,” Brook says. “It’s not unique to Santa Cruz.”
He believes that whenever a tragedy of this nature takes place, whether it is an officer who does the shooting or is victim of the shooting, there is a tendency to not want to publicly, and sometimes even internally, dissect what officers did right or what they did wrong.
“It’s the nature of the thing,” Brook says. “It’s delicate. Nobody wants to say ‘coulda woulda shoulda’. You can do it analytically, as an investigation, but no matter what, it’s very personal.”
In the case of Baker and Butler, he believes that they conducted themselves as professionally as was possible, and that most of all, he admires them for the way they did their job—with compassion. But when asked how a fatal shooting incident may affect an officer or change a police department, especially one that has never suffered one before, Brook says there is no clear answer.
“If you talk to 10 cops you’ll get 15 different opinions,” he says. “It has to have changed the SCPD. And it will affect each individual uniquely. The officers that were there a year ago and went through this will feel it one way, a rookie with two or three years on the job might feel it in a different way. [But] I’m going to bet that until the day they die, that [incident] will be in their psyches for everyone of the officers that was working there.”
Brook also says that, in a small intimate city like Santa Cruz, compared to a place like Los Angeles, Chicago or New York City, losing a police officer to acts of violence contributes to a greater sense of vulnerability.
“I think what happens is, people are going, 'Geez, if they can kill the cops, that makes me more vulnerable,'” he says. “So I think some people held this up as a kind of tipping point, or the last straw [for Santa Cruz's status as a safe community].”
Bryant says that, while losing an officer in any city, no matter the size, is a tragedy, when it happens in such a tight-knit place like Santa Cruz, where losing officers to shootings is extremely rare, it brings the weight of the loss down harder on everyone.
“It makes this something that really happened to all of us, not just the police,” she says. “[And] I think it has fundamentally changed the way the community interacts with the police department.”
Cultivating Safe Communities
Mary Lou Goeke, the executive director at the United Way of Santa Cruz County, says that one year later, the loss of the officers seems to have given the community the sense that, when it comes to public safety, “we can do better.”
She believes that creating safer communities begins with working more closely with children to instill positive interests and attitudes and providing more opportunities.
“We know that violence is a learned behavior, and we know that peaceful resolution of conflicts and channeling anger is also a learned behavior,” she says. “To the extent that we start working with families and their children when they’re born, providing positive adult mentors, attention throughout school, and a variety of opportunities” well-rounded, non-violent, productive members of society will be more common.
“You have to build the foundation across the whole of society,” she adds.
That does not, however, mean that “outliers” such as Goulet will turn up in society and cause serious harm, Goeke says; someone who didn’t get reached at some critical time in their youth, or suffered from another kind of severe mental disorder. But, she says, the bigger picture is, to the best of the community’s ability, focusing on youth to cultivate a society that relies on peaceful conflict resolution and channeling anger in healthy ways.
In December of last year, the Criminal Justice Council, the United Way and Applied Survey Research (ASR) organized a community forum entitled “Turning the Curve on Youth Violence: Moving from Data to Action.”
The Youth Violence Prevention Task Force, a team of specialists including staff from United Way and ASR, addressed the conference of about 160 people, which hosted local judges, law enforcement, elected officials, youth counselors, parents and city workers. The task force contributed their input on how to create a strategic plan for reducing and preventing youth violence in Santa Cruz County.
“I do believe that the tragic shooting deaths of our officers, in some ways, have brought community members together to say, ‘If we want to live in a safe community, we need to make sure that our schools, our police departments, our cities, our communities, are all working together on plans that prevent young people from being victims of violence or creating violence themselves,” Goeke says. “There’s a really deep and broad coalition of people coming together to reduce juvenile violence, and I think the shooting of the officers really was one of the things that caused the community to come together in a different way.”
In the weeks and months following the shooting, Hospice of Santa Cruz County extended its grief counseling services to the city's staff as well as to the rest of the community. Without giving specific numbers, Mike Milward, chief executive officer at Hospice, says they provided support for a very large number of people.
“This event created an outpouring of community grief and solidarity the likes of which we rarely see,” says Milward, who has been with the local Hospice organization for two years. Previously he was the chaplain at Hospice of Amador and Calaveras counties.
Milward refers to this collective state of mourning as an example of “corporate grief,” not meaning “corporation” in the traditional sense, but rather a person's corporate identity as a member of a larger community.
“In this community, after the shooting, there was a real palpable sense of corporate grief,” he says.
And with that corporate grief came an incredible degree of unification, he says.
“Everybody looked to see how they could be of help,” Milward tells Good Times. “Everybody stepped up, and one of the most important things we do is sit with someone who is in grief and we listen, and there were people throughout this county who were very good at that without ever having any training.”
Entrenched in all the sadness of the community's sense of loss for the two officers, the lingering horror of what happened, and this “corporate grief,” Milward says there is something exceptionally human and beautiful in the reaction of a community to a tragedy.
“I don’t think it’s a bad thing—grief is an essential part of the human experience,” he says. “There’s this incredible silver lining—the very best of people shows up. When you love someone, there’s this agreement that either you’ll grieve them or they’ll grieve us, and it’s just part of what it means to be a human being. I don’t think it’s something to run from, but it’s never easy.”
In the case of the officers being killed so unexpectedly, Milward believes it has reminded the community how fragile life is. In that way, he says, there is an almost heightened sense of reality following these kinds of tragedies.
“Tomorrow’s not promised to any of us, and that realization makes life suddenly seem very real,” he says. “I think we come together a year later to remember what that feels like. To be together in the mystery of all of that.”
One year later, Milward says he feels the community's ongoing grief will have more to do with honoring the memory of the fallen officers rather than the initial goodbyes and grasps for closure that occurred at the first memorial.
“I think there’s a real need for the community not to forget, and at the same time we’re aware that life inextricably moves on—but not forgetting is important,” he says.
He also notes on how inconsistent people's ways of grieving can be, but that the process ultimately helps them more fully recognize the humanity in themselves and in others.
“People do go through all kinds of phases of grief,” Milward says. “I don’t think they’re linear or compartmentalized stages. I think it’s pretty jumbled. But I think there’s lots of stuff that happens in that process that’s part of how we understand a tragic event and our personal relationships, because, well, we are pretty complex Homo sapiens.”
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