‘I feared for my life’: Bartender wishes KCK police did more before mass shooting

Kansas City, Kansas, police spent about six minutes at the Tequila KC bar Saturday night when the owner called about an unruly customer who had gotten into a fight, a witness said.

The officers didn’t find the troublemaker at the bar, and they left.

Two hours later, the customer returned with an accomplice and allegedly carried out a mass shooting that left four dead and five wounded, according to police.

Jose Valdez, one of the bartenders Saturday night, said police didn’t take disturbance seriously. He feared for his life, suspecting something terrible would happen. Then it did.

Speaking to The Star on Tuesday, Valdez said the police visit early in the evening was typical. But, in this case, he felt more should have been done to protect those inside the bar.

However, disturbance calls at bars where suspects threaten to return are common, said Capt. Tim Hernandez, a spokesman for the Kansas City, Missouri, Police Department across the state line from where the shooting happened.

He said he couldn’t speak to how Kansas City, Kansas, operates. But in Kansas City, it’s a case-by-case judgment call as to how officers should respond.

The shooting

It all began about 11 p.m. Saturday when one of the alleged shooters, Hugo Villanueva-Morales, came into the bar acting belligerent and demanded a beer, Valdez said. This wasn’t the first time Villanueva-Morales had done this, Valdez said.

As he had in the past, the bartender refused to serve him.

“He told me to give him a f---ing beer right now,” Valdez said.

Villanueva-Morales then picked up cups and bottles and threw them at him, Valdez said. Then he tried to come behind the bar. Customers stopped him and took him outside, according to witnesses.

As he was leaving, Valdez said, Villanueva-Morales told him he would be back.

Outside, Villanueva-Morales got into a fight, Valdez said.

Valdez called police and waited. The bar’s owner, he said, had already called police minutes before.

By the time police arrived, Valdez said, the fight had ended and Villanueva-Morales had left. The owner spoke to police and Valdez gave an officer a thumbs up to say he was fine.

After about six minutes, the officers left, Valdez said. He said the disturbance was treated like any other bar fight.

When Villanueva-Morales and Javier Alatorre, 29, entered the bar later, they opened fire with handguns, according to police. Each now face four counts of first-degree murder.

Alatorre is in custody. Villanueva-Morales remained at large as of Tuesday evening.

The slain victims were identified as Everardo Meza, 29, Alfredo Calderon Jr, 29, Francisco Garcia Anaya, 34, and Martin Rodriguez-Gonzalez, 58.

The Star was unable to reach the bar’s owner for comment.

Judgement call

At a news conference Monday, Kansas City, Kansas, interim police chief Michael York confirmed that police had visited the bar earlier in the night. But he didn’t provide any details about how police assessed the risk posed by Villanueva-Morales.

“I don’t believe we had any information that he was going to come back and do what he did,” York said.

The Kansas City, Kansas, Police Department on Tuesday declined to provide further details about their response to the disturbance call, citing the ongoing investigation.

Valdez, however, said he believed things were going to get worse. Villanueva-Morales promised to return, he said.

“I feared for my life,” Valdez said. “He had the chance to shoot me right then and there.”

The bar usually has an armed security guard at the door, Valdez said. But that person didn’t show up Saturday night.

Valdez believed an officer should have stayed at the door while the bar was still open.

Or, he said, the bar should have closed down.

“I thought we should just close and get everybody out of here” he said.

The other bartender that night didn’t think much of the incident, Valdez said, and told him they should hold to their normal 1 a.m. last call, Valdez said.

“At one o’clock, he walked in the door,” Valdez said.

Toni Maciel, who knew seven of the nine people shot during the rampage, said she believed it would have helped if officers remained in the bar’s parking lot after the fight.

Hernandez, the Kansas City police spokesman, said people often threaten to come back to a bar after they have been kicked out.

Officers depend on cooperation from witnesses and workers to determine the credibility of a threat. Officers consider level of aggressiveness, the threats made and actions while the person was in the bar, Hernandez said.

“Unless we have solid credible evidence that the party is going to return, we cannot force the individual to close the establishment,” Hernandez said.

If they feel a threat is credible but can’t close the bar, Hernandez said, officers can attempt to provide extra patrol in an area or conduct a residence check for the suspect.

Villanueva-Morales had previously been arrested in an incident that began in similar fashion.

In August, after another man was thrown out of a bar in the 2800 block of Southwest Boulevard for unruly behavior, he returned to the bar with Villanueva-Morale, who allegedly acted aggressively, according to court documents.

A Jackson County deputy told Villanueva-Morales to leave. He then allegedly made a fist and moved into a striking position before getting into an altercation with the deputy, authorities said.

At the end of the fight, Villanueva-Morales allegedly spit blood into the deputy’s face.

He was arrested and charged with third-degree assault and released on bond the next day.

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Katie Bernard covers Kansas crime, cops and courts for the Kansas City Star. She joined the Star in May of 2019. Katie studied journalism and political science at the University of Kansas.
Luke Nozicka covers local crime and federal courts for The Kansas City Star. Before joining The Star, he covered breaking news and courts for The Des Moines Register.