Thomas Todd had just returned home from a shift at Bookshop Santa Cruz. He didn’t even have time to kick off his shoes before the crack of gunfire rang out across the street.
“At first my instincts told me, ‘It must be a car backfiring,’” Todd said. “There couldn’t be guns going off in my neighborhood.”
But the noise persisted, so Todd decided to climb to his second story window and use his phone to record what was happening.
What he saw was the aftermath of the Feb. 26 firefight between Sgt. Loran “Butch” Baker, Detective Elizabeth Butler — two seasoned Santa Cruz detectives — and Jeremy Goulet, the suspect of multiple sexual assault allegations.
Goulet was a 35-year-old ex-convict who had received an other than honorable discharge from the U.S. Army on account of rape allegations, according to military reports. He prompted a domestic disturbance call to his home that afternoon, where he had been arrested the week prior for a similar disturbance. When detectives came to investigate what they thought was a routine incident, Goulet stalled behind his door for a few minutes in conversation, before exiting the house from another door and opening fire, killing both the officers.
Sheriff Phil Wowak stated in a press conference that Goulet attempted to flee the scene in the detectives’ patrol car, but was boxed in by reinforcements from the SCPD. Thomas Todd captured the firefight between Goulet and police reinforcements from his window, a heated conflict that lasted several minutes.
According to the police report, over 50 rounds were fired before the suspect was shot and killed. Goulet had been wearing the body armor from the detectives he shot when his body was recovered, Wowak said.
CBS purchased the footage that evening and Todd donated the proceeds to the police department.
A Community in Mourning
Santa Cruz was altered on Feb. 26 in a way that the public had not formerly endured. A member of the SCPD had never been killed in the line of duty during its 150-year history. The double homicide delivered a shock that only intensified
the anxiety over February’s spike in violent criminal activity.
For six hours, Thomas Todd was unable to leave his home. Several schools in the area were locked down completely and traffic slowed to a stop on N. Branciforte Avenue.
“I was on my way to the gym when I saw the procession,” said Jessica Ladson, a fourth-year biology major at UCSC. “At first I thought it was some kind of event, given the size of the demonstration, but then I saw the horror, the body bags.”
The city of Santa Cruz was dazed and reeling well into the evening before the names of the fallen detectives were released. It was revealed that together the officers had committed 38 years of service to the community.
“How did this happen?” was a common question resounding within the Louden Nelson Community Center the following evening. Thousands of individuals packed into a candlelight vigil there to pay their respects and honor the deceased while many offered up donations to the police department.
“I remember thinking, ‘I wish there was something more that I could do,’” said Audrey Moore, age 37. “As a fulltime mother of three, I couldn’t have been the only one who felt that way.”
Moore was right: Within the week, over $125,000 was raised for a scholarship fund in the name of the fallen detectives. The effort was spearheaded by PredPol, a Santa Cruz-based software company that develops crime-predicting software. PredPol teamed up with prominent local business leaders to manage donations for the victims’ families.
Stranger Than Fiction
Fifteen minutes before Butch and Butler were killed on Feb. 26, the Resource Center for Nonviolence (RCNV) commenced a public rally downtown at the Town Clock entitled “Speak Out Against Gun Violence.”
“We had been planning this event for months,” said Sandino Gomez, a representative for Santa Cruz’s RCNV chapter. “The rally was based upon Sandy Hook’s atrocity from late last year, but sometimes national issues find their way to our own backyards.”
The RCNV held the event to spread awareness and provide a platform for community members who wanted to do more about the state of gun violence in Santa Cruz. To do this, RCNV decided to bring individuals and leaders who were serious about gun control under the same banner in order to affect positive change in the community.
“Goulet had owned a licensed firearm despite his criminal record and questionable mental stability,” said Tyler Young, a local activist who was in attendance at the rally. “That’s the bigger issue we were out there to address.”
Central Coast Congressman Sam Farr released a statement following the events of Feb. 26 that highlighted the violent crime’s pertinence to national firearm discourse.
In response to general inquiry concerning just how Goulet had possessed a legal firearm, Farr wrote: “If we are truly committed to ending gun violence in our communities, we must be willing to [address] that question and seek real solutions to prevent this type of senseless shooting from occurring again.”
Farr went on to laud the bravery and resilience of the fallen detectives, whom he referred to as “heroes representing the best of Santa Cruz.”
“The murders that occurred [in tandem] with our rally were unfortunately all too relevant to the problems our nation currently faces,” said Sandino Gomez of the Watsonville Brown Berets.
City council members refused to comment on the possiblity of future legislation that may come to pass in response to the events of Feb. 26. They held an emergency closed meeting the following week to assess ramifications within the police department. According to the agenda, they plan to open the chambers again for public discourse on March 12.
“People have been looking for what to do,” Gomez said. “It’s high time our community searched seriously for an answer.”