Police arrest Denver man accused of shooting Aurora Waffle House worker following mask dispute

Signage at the entrance to the Waffle House on Mississippi Avenue display the mask requirement and maximum capacity of the restaurant. A shooting that took place in the area of the restaurant was a direct result of a customer not wanting to follow these policies. Photo by Philip B. Poston/Sentinel Colorado

AURORA | A Denver man has been accused of shooting an Aurora Waffle House line cook in the stomach following a disagreement about wearing face coverings in the late-night restaurant, according to an arrest affidavit unsealed Tuesday.

As first reported by CBS4, Aurora police have arrested Kelvin Watson, 27, on suspicion of attempted, first-degree murder following a May 15 shooting in the parking lot of the Waffle House at 12880 E. Mississippi Ave.

Pictured: Kelvin Watson. Photo provided by the Aurora Police Department.

Witnesses told investigators that two, unmasked men first entered the Waffle House shortly after 12:30 a.m. May 14. All Waffle House patrons are currently required to wear face coverings when eating inside a restaurant, according to witness statements included in the recently released arrest affidavit.

Waffle House line cook Brian Gruhler, 25, then denied the men service, telling them they had to procure masks before he could take their food order. They men then left the restaurant before returning with masks in their hands — not on their faces.

Gruhler told police that one of the men proceeded to threaten him from across the counter, yelling, “You better shut the f*** up before I pull a gun and blow your brains out … I’ll come back there and shut you the f*** up. Make my food,’ according to the affidavit.

A waitress said she saw the man covering a semi-automatic pistol on the counter while he was shouting at Gruhler, though police were unable to corroborate that claim when watching surveillance footage of the incident.

The next evening, investigators allege Watson returned to the restaurant — this time wearing a white surgical mask — and again verbally berated Gruhler before striking him in the face. Gruhler then ran to the back of the restaurant, eventually exiting through a backdoor. The cook told police that Watson again accosted him, saying “You better shut the fuck up and serve me,” according to the affidavit.

Gruhler was then shot once in the chest. He ran to his nearby home and called 911, leaving a trail of blood through an adjacent Dollar Store parking lot, police later confirmed.

Investigators later found a single, .380-caliber shell casing in the area where Gruhler was shot. The Waffle House worker suffered multiple broken ribs in the shooting.

Police quickly linked Watson to the shooting after obtaining a receipt with his name on it for a transaction carried out when he was at the restaurant May 14. Investigators were also able to use vehicle records to link Watson to a BMW that was in the parking lot at the time of the shooting. The same car was determined to be associated with another shooting at a tow yard in Denver April 23.

Several Waffle House workers also identified Watson in photo lineups, including one waitress who inadvertently picked up a gold earring that fell out of the pocket of the man who berated Gruhler on May 14. She determined it matched a gold earring seen in an old mugshot of Watson.

Several Waffle House employees told investigators that Watson is a regular customer at the restaurant, a fact police later confirmed using vehicle monitoring records.

Watson has since been arrested and is currently being held on a $100,000 bond at the Arapahoe County jail. He’s scheduled to appear next in court at 9 a.m. on May 22.