A Night Of Terror And Bravery At Shotgun Willie’s
by Mark Smiley and Charles Bonniwell
The evening of Saturday, October 21, 2017, started like most others at Shotgun Willie’s. Guests inside the club enjoyed the entertainment and music and it was a calm crowd. What ensued in the early morning hours of Sunday, October 22, 2017, were fights, gunfire, and acts of heroism.
Shotgun Willie’s stays opens late on Saturday nights and shortly before closing, approximately 20 young gang members dressed in red of the primarily African American gang the “Bloods” menacingly congregated in front of the club. Four gang members entered the club refused to pay the cover charge and were denied entry, while another gang member stole the tip jar from the front desk. Club employees went outside to recover the jar and they were set upon by the rest of the gang members.
What the Bloods had not anticipated was 6’3” 440-pound former high school nose guard J. “Tiny” Denard who was one of the managers on duty at Shotgun’s that night. Tiny can bench press 580 pounds and once ran a 4.7 second 40-yard dash in high school. Hearing five of his fellow employees being beaten by 20 gang members, he charged out the front door and smashed into the fray along with two former military members who work at Shotgun Willie’s. Soon gang members were being tossed into the air and slammed into the ground. Although the gang members greatly outnumbered the Shotgun employees, Tiny was the equalizer.
The intimidators were now being intimidated by an enraged Tiny. Fearing they could not match the wrath of Tiny, a gang member pulled a 9-millimeter pistol and fired five shots directly at him, three of which struck — two in his arm and one in his thigh. But nothing seemed to faze him as he chased the terrified shooter around the building. The rest of the gang members fled in their cars.
The entire incident took only about 12 minutes, approximately the same time as the legendary “Gunfight at the OK Corral” in Tombstone, Arizona. The Glendale Police quickly arrived on the scene. Only after the brawl and shooting were over did Tiny realize he had been hit with three bullets as he noticed blood oozing out of his thigh and he collapsed unto the ground.
A regular customer had taken his shirt off and applied a tourniquet. Once Tiny was safely inside the building, an employee applied a proper tourniquet that he had in his car to Tiny’s arm. With many Shotgun Willie’s employees being former members of the military, they are prepared for almost anything.
Staff members had to think quickly. Some pulled innocent bystanders into T-Bar, a bar attached to Shotgun Willie’s, to keep them safe. Other staffers didn’t let anyone else into the club. The 9-1-1 call came from Monica Robles, a front door host. “I didn’t even realize it was Tiny that was hit until I went to call 9-1-1,” said Robles. Robles is close with her co-workers. “I love the team, they’re my family, always have been and even more so now.”
“It was hard for me because I had to watch all my boys out there get hurt and I couldn’t be out there to help them because I was watching the money and it was hard for me,” said
Robles. “In the same respect, if I was out there, they would have gotten hurt worse because they would have been trying to protect me.” Tiny admits he is a protector by nature. “I’m a leader and protector. I’ve always been that.”
Tiny, who spent five days at Denver Health, is now on the road to recovery. He has tremendous support from his mom, two sisters, and eight-year-old daughter. The outpouring of support outside of his immediate family included 237 text messages and 173 missed calls. The highly respected manager has returned to Shotgun Willie’s to thank people and give them peace of mind that everything is going to be okay.
“If I wasn’t there, it could have turned into a bad situation,” said Tiny. “The guy with the gun, after watching the video, it was obvious he was looking for something. He wanted trouble. I’m grateful I was there. Nobody wants to get shot. I would rather me get hit with those three bullets, and everybody else be safe and alive and well and me just have to do a little bit of healing, than somebody else get hit or lose their life.”
Now, Shotgun Willie’s focuses on the future and instilling a sense of normalcy back to this 35-year old Glendale business. “We very seldom have any real violence at the club,” said owner Debbie Matthews. “This is unfamiliar territory so I am impressed with how the staff has pulled together. We have had former managers and other employees step in where needed to keep the club running and I am proud of each and every one of them.”
That pride runs deep with Tiny as well. “For everyone to keep their composure like that, you can’t find that,” said Tiny. “That’s my team. It was pretty cool to see how everyone came together. These aren’t just people I work with, these are people I have a relationship with. They are my second family.”
No suspects have been arrested to date and the Glendale Police are currently investigating. Any information can be shared with the Glendale Police Department by calling 303-759-1511.