When Jillian Groh checked in to the downtown Westin Hotel one cold night almost seven years ago, everything felt certain. Then things changed forever.
In the early hours of Sunday, March 4, 2007, an elevator door on the 17th floor of the Westin Denver Downtown parted with a ding. A six-foot-two, 260-pound man dressed in a black suit stepped out. A nametag pinned near his lapel identified him as Nathan Robinson, a Westin security guard. Robinson heard a noise in the otherwise quiet hallway. The noise grew louder as Robinson traced the sound to room 1715. He knocked.
More than half of the 28 rooms on this particular floor were booked, yet no one had called the front desk to file a complaint. Still, Robinson was certain he had heard muffled voices as he patrolled the 19th floor. Robinson would later say he had “heard every voice” in the room, from two floors above.
On the other side of the door was a group of women and men in their early 20s, some lounging on the floor, others sprawled upon the tightly tucked sheets and blankets covering the room’s two double beds. They hadn’t been there long, maybe 30 minutes. Hours earlier, three of the women had checked in to the Westin before leaving to hit the bars in LoDo. One of them, Jillian Groh, had recently learned she’d made the Colorado Rapids cheerleading squad, and the friends were celebrating. During the night, they met up with a few of their guy friends. They all drank until the bars closed and then made their way to the Westin.
When they heard the knock, Jill, who had a mop of curly, bleached-blond hair, answered the door. Robinson would later tell a police officer he asked her to step out of the room. He said everyone needed to quiet down, and if he had to warn them again, they would face eviction. Jill responded that they’d all watch their volume—no problem. Since she’d been a little girl, Jill’s family and friends had always told her she had a warm smile, but Jill’s demeanor when she spoke to Robinson did nothing to put the guard at ease. Instead, it was almost as if her poise angered him.
Robinson pushed past Jill into the middle of the room. He told everyone to calm down before they disturbed other guests. Robinson’s actions might have startled anyone, but Jill had studied hospitality management in college and would have known the man’s behavior was inappropriate. She asked to speak to a manager. In response, according to court documents, Robinson threatened eviction for a second time. More than one person in the room got the impression Robinson enjoyed the confrontation.
Robinson called for assistance. A second security guard, and then the manager on duty, arrived. Though their presence was meant to help diffuse the tense situation, it only escalated things. One of the girls in the room said the second guard asked to see identification, and when he saw she was from Arizona, he said, “Well, welcome to Denver.... Now get the fuck out.” The guards later said they proposed a deal: Jill and her girlfriends would stay, and everyone else would leave. But the guests said they were told “Time’s up” and “You’re out of here.”
The girls gathered their things, and everyone headed to the lobby. One of Jill’s friends unsuccessfully pleaded with hotel staff to let them all stay. “What do you want us to do? Where do you want us to go? We’re all drunk.”
The group passed a Denver Police officer in the hallway. No one spoke to the officer. Moments later, in the lobby, the group encountered a second police officer, and this time one of the guys walked up to him and asked, “Are you here for us?” Westin staff had requested an officer be dispatched to the hotel, but for a separate incident—a drunken girl who fell in the lobby. The officer said he wasn’t there for them.
Jill fumbled for her phone and called her older brother, George, in Arizona. Jill’s sister, Jennifer, works for Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide, the Westin’s parent company. (Jill’s brother also works for the company.) Jennifer had used her employee discount to book Jill’s room. When George called back a minute later, Jill cried and rambled into the phone.
We’ve all been out partying. We came back to the hotel. Everybody’s drunk. They’re kicking us out. Jen’s going to get in big trouble.
“Jillian, Jennifer’s not going to lose her job,” George said, attempting to calm his sister. “Just relax.”
I have to go, Jill said, still crying as she hung up.
The group walked out of the Westin around 3:15 a.m. One of the guys looked around for a taxi, and then turned back to Robinson, who was standing near the hotel doorway, his arms folded across his chest. “Hey man, it’s freezing out here. Can we wait in the lobby while we get a cab?”
“No,” Robinson said. “Get the fuck out of here.”
Standing near the Westin’s front entrance, Robinson watched the group walk toward the underground parking garage next to the hotel.