Slain officer’s colleagues seek a lasting memorial
It was just a few days before Christmas, and Lt. Jason Cherniss of the San Francisco Police Department was off duty, spending the evening finishing up some last-minute shopping for gifts, when he heard something had happened. He called his boss, Capt. Keith Sanford of Taraval Station, to find out what was going on, and the answer was a shock: Bryan Tuvera had been shot.
Pursuit of a fugitive
Just a short time earlier the evening of Dec. 22, 2006, officers of the Taraval Neighborhood Team – a special group tasked with handling some of the thornier drug and violence issues in the police district – had spotted Marlon Ruff, a fugitive from a state prison camp, in the Sunset District near 25th Avenue and Lawton Street.
Ruff had been in and out of jail for about a decade, most recently for a 2003 incident in which he beat a Brinks courier picking up cash from a Westlake Shopping Center store in Daly City and stole $4,600. Ruff had been on parole and living with his mother in San Bruno.
Ruff was sent to a minimum-security work camp in Humboldt County, but he walked away from the camp in early 2005 and headed south. Police suspected he was involved in a series of robberies and burglaries in the Sunset and other parts of the Taraval district.
Officers pursued Ruff through backyards that night of Dec. 22, and Tuvera and other officers were nearby to keep him from escaping the area. But Ruff somehow made it back onto the street in the 1600 block of 25th Avenue, and when Tuvera gave chase Ruff kicked down the side door of a house and ran into the garage. It was 8:35 p.m.
Tuvera didn’t know it, but inside the garage was a small area where Ruff could could hide but still see anyone who came in the door. Tuvera went in, and Ruff shot him in the face.
Another officer followed Tuvera in the door and returned fire, and Ruff ran farther back into the garage, where he apparently then fatally shot himself.
Fire Department Engine 18 rushed to the scene and paramedics tended to Tuvera. He was taken to San Francisco General Hospital, where family, friends and colleagues gathered to pray and hope and wait for news.
When the news came right after midnight the next day, it was the worst kind. Tuvera – 28 years old and married to his wife and fellow officer, Salina Labutan, for just two months – was dead.
Colleagues still remember Tuvera fondly
Bryan Tuvera wasn’t what most people would think of when they imagine a police officer, said his friend and Police Academy classmate Dan Silver: “He wasn’t a big guy with a huge mustache.”
“He had a very dry wit about him,” said Silver, now a police inspector in San Francisco. “He was extremely intelligent and loved absurdity.”
Indeed, the young man in photos on the memorial website Silver created to honor Tuvera gives the impression of someone only momentarily suppressing a grin while he’s on camera.
“He was so alive it was just a shock to lose him,” said Silver.
Silver and Cherniss both also recalled Tuvera’s love of comic books.
“He was a giant superhero fan,” agreed Taraval Station’s Sgt. Judy Riggle, who worked briefly with Tuvera and has helped organize the annual march held in Tuvera’s memory.
“I read graphic novels as well, and we used to talk about graphic novels,” said Cherniss.
Tuvera had been on the force for just four years, but he had earned a reputation as someone with a knack for writing reports that made sense of complex situations, and an officer who understood the personal impact of law enforcement on people’s lives.
Cherniss, who supervised Tuvera at Taraval Station, recalled one incident in which the young officer and his partner, Officer Joe Chang, stopped an older woman for a traffic violation. The woman’s license was revoked or suspended, which meant the officers were required to have her car towed away.
But in the car were the woman’s dogs and her groceries, and she had no other way of getting home.
After some discussion about what to do, Tuvera decided he and his partner should call the woman a cab to take her home. They loaded the dogs and groceries into the taxi and paid the fare as well.
Tuvera was exactly the kind of police officer you’d hope would come to help your own family, Cherniss said.
“We’re talking about a very special person.”
“A lot of people in the Police Department, especially his class, would have gladly traded places with him,” said Silver.
A lasting memorial
A memorial march in honor of Tuvera has been held the night of Dec. 22 for the past four years, and a final fifth annual march is set for Thursday. Taraval Station’s community room is named after him. His name is engraved on memorials to fallen officers in Washington, D.C. and San Francisco’s Hall of Justice. Cybelle’s restaurant in the Inner Sunset even created a “Bryan Tuvera Bleu Burger” in his honor.
But Tuvera’s former colleagues are seeking out ways to create their own lasting memorial to honor him.
Cherniss was quick to say that he’s just one of the people who are involved in that effort, but Silver said, “Jason has done his best to keep us all involved about it.”
“We have a design – a bronze plaque with Bryan’s picture on it. We’re going to gift this to Rec and Park,” said Cherniss, who said he hopes the plaque eventually will be installed in McCoppin Square Park across 24th Avenue from Taraval Station.
The plaque will cost about $12,000 to produce, he said, and about $6,500 has been raised so far.
Ideally, Cherniss said, he’d like to see a newly installed garden in the park named after Tuvera, though he said that may involve raising half its cost, or about $100,000.
“I’ve got another 14 years in this department and I’m ready to raise that money,” Cherniss said.
- Fifth and final annual march will honor Taraval police officer killed in 2006 | The Ocean Beach Bulletin