Judge in Shotgun Willie’s death case: Jury may hear about ‘Black Suit Pack’

Defendant added to lawsuit against Shotgun Willie's in Denver area

Shotgun Willie’s is one of the Denver area’s most prominent strip clubs, with a sign along Colorado Boulevard in Glendale. (BusinessDen file photo)

A judge in the contentious legal saga over a businessman’s death at the Shotgun Willie’s strip club has decided a defendant can mention that a man involved in the fatal fight is a former hockey enforcer who wore all black at local bars as part of a group called the “Black Suit Pack.”

His attorney is worried that makes him sound like a mafioso.

John Liprando, a real estate broker with SullivanHayes, played junior hockey in the 1970s, college hockey at the University of Denver from 1979-1983, and then two years of semi-professional hockey after that. According to Fred Bibik, he was “an enforcer who would regularly get into fights on the ice.”

Bibik represents Derek Hendricks, a Shotgun Willie’s bartender who tackled a Kroger executive named Randall Wright on May 2, 2019, in the minutes after Hendricks and Liprando got into a fight with another bar patron. Wright died soon after.

The local district attorney declined to press charges. But Wright’s family sued Hendricks and the club.

Hendricks has denied using a chokehold on Wright. He and the club say a pre-existing heart condition killed the 48-year-old Wright. An eight-day trial is scheduled to begin Nov. 7.

Meanwhile, Hendricks has tried to place some of the blame on Liprando, alleging that he and other friends of Wright started the fight with Ibrahim Mazgaldzhiev, 27, that preceded Hendrick’s fatal tackle. Bibik says Liprando (6’1”, 235 pounds) and his friends are “physically imposing.”

“These men typically dressed in all black and had been known in the local bar community as the ‘Black Suit Pack,’” Bibik wrote in a complaint last year, which added Liprando as a defendant.

Since then, Bibik has been in a dispute with Ryan Nichols, Liprando’s attorney, who wanted an Arapahoe County judge to make Bibik remove mentions of Liprando’s membership in the informal group and his hockey history from the complaint against Liprando.

“Tainting the jury’s mind with the idea that Mr. Liprando is a member of a mafia-like organization with a propensity to instigate and engage in physical altercations is exactly what Mr. Hendricks is trying to do, and this is exactly what is prohibited” under state law, Nichols wrote June 27.

Judges can exclude evidence from a case when it is irrelevant to the allegations. Nichols said the Black Suit Pack and his client’s hockey playing have “nothing to do with whether he did or did not do anything on the night in question to cause or contribute to Mr. Wright’s death.”

Judge Peter Michaelson largely disagrees. In a ruling June 29, he declined to remove mentions of hockey fighting and the Black Suit Pack from the complaint against Liprando, but reserved the right to prohibit them during the trial under the state’s rules of evidence.

“The court finds the allegations, while possibly irrelevant, and or prejudicial and therefore subject to the application of the rules of evidence, are not redundant, immaterial, impertinent, or scandalous,” the judge wrote in his brief, half-page ruling.

Bibik had urged Michaelson to deny Nichols’ motion. He argues that Liprando’s size and fighting past show he was a threat to Mazgaldzhiev, and his membership in the Black Suit Pack helps explain why he, Wright and a third man argued and then fought with Mazgaldzhiev that night.

“The closeness of friendship and bonding among the members of this tight-knit group as demonstrated by their frequent and regular meetups, shared interests and uniformity of dress suggests an ‘all for one, one for all’ esprit-de-corps,” Bibik wrote in a court filing June 19.

Defendant added to lawsuit against Shotgun Willie's in Denver area

Shotgun Willie’s is one of the Denver area’s most prominent strip clubs, with a sign along Colorado Boulevard in Glendale. (BusinessDen file photo)

A judge in the contentious legal saga over a businessman’s death at the Shotgun Willie’s strip club has decided a defendant can mention that a man involved in the fatal fight is a former hockey enforcer who wore all black at local bars as part of a group called the “Black Suit Pack.”

His attorney is worried that makes him sound like a mafioso.

John Liprando, a real estate broker with SullivanHayes, played junior hockey in the 1970s, college hockey at the University of Denver from 1979-1983, and then two years of semi-professional hockey after that. According to Fred Bibik, he was “an enforcer who would regularly get into fights on the ice.”

Bibik represents Derek Hendricks, a Shotgun Willie’s bartender who tackled a Kroger executive named Randall Wright on May 2, 2019, in the minutes after Hendricks and Liprando got into a fight with another bar patron. Wright died soon after.

The local district attorney declined to press charges. But Wright’s family sued Hendricks and the club.

Hendricks has denied using a chokehold on Wright. He and the club say a pre-existing heart condition killed the 48-year-old Wright. An eight-day trial is scheduled to begin Nov. 7.

Meanwhile, Hendricks has tried to place some of the blame on Liprando, alleging that he and other friends of Wright started the fight with Ibrahim Mazgaldzhiev, 27, that preceded Hendrick’s fatal tackle. Bibik says Liprando (6’1”, 235 pounds) and his friends are “physically imposing.”

“These men typically dressed in all black and had been known in the local bar community as the ‘Black Suit Pack,’” Bibik wrote in a complaint last year, which added Liprando as a defendant.

Since then, Bibik has been in a dispute with Ryan Nichols, Liprando’s attorney, who wanted an Arapahoe County judge to make Bibik remove mentions of Liprando’s membership in the informal group and his hockey history from the complaint against Liprando.

“Tainting the jury’s mind with the idea that Mr. Liprando is a member of a mafia-like organization with a propensity to instigate and engage in physical altercations is exactly what Mr. Hendricks is trying to do, and this is exactly what is prohibited” under state law, Nichols wrote June 27.

Judges can exclude evidence from a case when it is irrelevant to the allegations. Nichols said the Black Suit Pack and his client’s hockey playing have “nothing to do with whether he did or did not do anything on the night in question to cause or contribute to Mr. Wright’s death.”

Judge Peter Michaelson largely disagrees. In a ruling June 29, he declined to remove mentions of hockey fighting and the Black Suit Pack from the complaint against Liprando, but reserved the right to prohibit them during the trial under the state’s rules of evidence.

“The court finds the allegations, while possibly irrelevant, and or prejudicial and therefore subject to the application of the rules of evidence, are not redundant, immaterial, impertinent, or scandalous,” the judge wrote in his brief, half-page ruling.

Bibik had urged Michaelson to deny Nichols’ motion. He argues that Liprando’s size and fighting past show he was a threat to Mazgaldzhiev, and his membership in the Black Suit Pack helps explain why he, Wright and a third man argued and then fought with Mazgaldzhiev that night.

“The closeness of friendship and bonding among the members of this tight-knit group as demonstrated by their frequent and regular meetups, shared interests and uniformity of dress suggests an ‘all for one, one for all’ esprit-de-corps,” Bibik wrote in a court filing June 19.

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