Prison guard charged in deadly San Miguel fight had a history of bar scuffles

Prison guard Travis Woolf listens to witness testimony in court on Nov. 14, 2014.
Prison guard Travis Woolf listens to witness testimony in court on Nov. 14, 2014. ldickinson@thetribunenews.com

A prison guard accused of taking part in a deadly San Miguel bar fight last year was involved in four previous documented bar fights and was banned for life at one establishment because of numerous altercations, according to a court motion.

Although the prosecution filed the motion to show Travis Woolf has a propensity for fighting, 17 supporters have submitted letters to the court attesting to Woolf’s character.

Woolf, 37, and Sergio Aranda, 36, were both charged with voluntary manslaughter after Alvaro Medrano died outside the Elkhorn bar on Sept. 7, 2014.

According to testimony during their preliminary hearing, Woolf, Aranda and another friend, all guards at Salinas Valley State Prison, were at the bar watching football that night when a dispute over jukebox music arose between them and Medrano, 54, who was at the bar with his son-in-law.

While the tension seemed to be over after Woolf and Aranda bought beers for Medrano, Medrano left the bar and returned with a posse of men. Before exiting the bar again, Medrano looked at the guards and warned, “We’ll be waiting for you,” according to court records and testimony.

Aranda told investigators there were 10 men in the posse, but the prosecution contends there were five.

When the guards exited the bar, a fight ensued. The District Attorney’s Office alleges that Woolf punched out Medrano, and Aranda kicked him in the head as he lay unconscious. Surveillance video of the incident was played in court during a preliminary hearing last November.

Medrano, who was 5-foot-6 and 185 pounds, died of blunt-force trauma.

Both Woolf and Aranda are still employed by the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, department spokesman Bill Sessa said, although they have been on paid administrative leave since the incident.

The defendants have pleaded not guilty, saying they acted in self-defense when Medrano and his group confronted them. But in a motion filed Oct. 20, Deputy District Attorney Craig Van Rooyen seeks to introduce evidence showing Woolf had a history of bar confrontations.

Woolf’s attorney, Ilan Funke-Bilu, could not be reached for comment.

Woolf’s name was included in the list of former patrons who had received a lifetime ban from the Kilt, due to the fact that Woolf was involved in numerous physical altercations with other patrons.

Sheriff’s deputy Joshua Krieger

The motion includes police reports from three incidents and a statement from a former Paso Robles bar employee, now a sheriff’s deputy, regarding a fourth. The deputy, Joshua Krieger, wrote that he was a security contractor working at the Kilt Bar and Pub (now Pappy McGregor’s) in Paso Robles from 2006 to 2011 when an incident with Woolf occurred.

“Woolf’s name was included in the list of former patrons who had received a lifetime ban from the Kilt, due to the fact that Woolf was involved in numerous physical altercations with other patrons,” he wrote.

Still, Woolf was able to enter the Kilt one night, Krieger wrote, and became involved in a fight. Krieger wrote that he saw another security staff member holding Woolf as Woolf held an African-American bar patron by the collar. Woolf allegedly shouted, “N-----s shouldn’t be allowed in here!” Woolf eventually head-butted a security member, whose nose began to bleed, before leaving.

Krieger did not remember the date of the incident, and no charges were filed. But, Krieger wrote, Woolf had a reputation for fighting.

“I remember hearing Woolf’s name referenced numerous times, in particular, as one of a select few prior patrons who had been involved in multiple incidents and were under no circumstances allowed on the premises,” Krieger wrote.

In November 2010, sheriff’s deputies responded to a different fight at the Elkhorn. In that case, a man said he accidentally bumped into Woolf, prompting Woolf to throw him against a wall. Woolf said the man was yelling at other patrons when Woolf asked him to leave. When the man took a fighting stance, Woolf told a deputy, Woolf threw him to the ground. The man later responded by throwing billiard balls at Woolf.

No action was taken at the request of the parties.

He is not the monster people are trying to make him out to be.

Stacey Scott, Woolf’s sister-in-law

In 2008, according to the sheriff’s report, Woolf was involved in an incident with former high school friends at The Ranch in San Miguel. During an argument, according to the report, one of the old friends threatened to kill Woolf’s family. While driving home, Woolf said, the ex-friends tailgated him and flashed their headlights. Rather than lead them to his family, Woolf said he drove to one of the former friends’ homes, where a fight ensued. Both of the former friends said Woolf punched them, but none of the parties wished to pursue charges.

In 2003, according to the motion, Woolf was cited for battery after an incident at Mother’s Tavern in San Luis Obispo. Woolf was also arrested in 2012 on suspicion of being drunk in public at the Mid-State Fair. Woolf, who had been falling down, was asked to leave by security but refused, according to a sheriff’s report.

Although the prosecution will attempt to portray the 6-foot-1, 230-pound Woolf as a frequent fighter, friends and relatives say he’s a loving family man. A former high school football and basketball player, he worked as a prison guard for 14 years, often putting in 50 to 60 hours a week, they wrote.

He doted on his 10-year-old daughter, they added, taking her to school and sporting events and helping her with homework.

One former high school classmate wrote of his “laughter and generosity.”

“He is extremely dedicated in supporting anyone that needs help,” wrote Laryl Helberg, a brother-in-law.

When his father-in-law was battling cancer, Woolf would travel to Stanford and provide emotional support, according to his mother-in-law, Kelly Scott. When the father-in-law lost the battle, Woolf helped his mother-in-law move into his home.

“After my husband passed way, Travis was there for me both physically and emotionally,” Scott wrote.

Woolf also allowed a sister-in-law to move in after she lost her job and home.

“Travis is a hardworking husband and father, not a murderer,” wrote the sister-in-law, Stacey Scott. “He is not the monster people are trying to make him out to be.”