Security guards recall fight to stop armed man in devil mask at Tampa strip club

When he first saw the man in the devil mask approaching him early Sunday morning, the man once known as the “Puerto Rican Punisher” thought it was a joke.

The nickname comes from Manny Resto’s previous career as a professional wrestler. Since then, he’s spent more than 30 years working as a security guard, currently at Tampa’s Mons Venus strip club.

When the masked man approached him, Resto, 54, said he thought it was one of his bouncer friends playing a prank on him.

Then, as the man tried to get inside, Resto saw him raise a gun.

The incident occurred when Michael Rudman, 44, arrived at the famous club, located at 2040 N Dale Mabry Hwy., in a silver pickup around 1:15 a.m. on Sunday, according to Tampa police. He got out of the truck while wearing the devil mask — a gun in one hand and a flashlight in the other. He also had the words “kill” and “darkk one” on his arms, police said in a news release.

In the midst of the conflict, Resto wasn’t able to specifically read what was on Rudman’s arms. But Resto said he “knew I was in a fight for my life.”

Resto said he immediately concentrated on getting the gun out of Rudman’s hands. He called on his days as the “Puerto Rican Punisher” and previous security guard experience to get Rudman — whom Resto repeatedly described as a big guy — on the ground.

“I decided that he was not going to enter the club and hurt anybody,” Resto said. “I wasn’t going to let this happen. I was not going to let him win.”

Danny Baham, another security guard, was inside the club when Rudman arrived. As Resto wrestled Rudman to the ground, Baham said he heard a cashier call him outside over the loudspeaker with an urgency he said he has rarely heard.

Baham said he and another security guard rushed outside, where they saw Resto trying to hold Rudman down. Resto said he was starting to get tired and needed help, jokingly adding that he turns 55 next week.

While Resto and the other two security guards tried to hold Rudman down, he kept trying to get up. Resto described it like the wrestler “The Undertaker” or Michael Myers of the “Halloween” movies.

The altercation lasted for about one minute, but Resto and Baham said it felt like hours.

“I just saw the footage for the first time before I came here,” Baham said. “I couldn’t believe that was that fast.”

The video shows Resto then picking up the gun and pointing it at Rudman, who rushed at him. A round discharged from the gun during the confrontation and hit the door.

No one inside the club was hurt, police said. One security guard sustained minor injuries.

Baham said when the gun went off, he initially thought a light bulb had burst, but he quickly realized it was the gun. He said when he watched the video and saw himself holding Rudman down, he thought he made a good paperweight.

Tampa interim police Chief Lee Bercaw said at the news conference he believes Resto and Baham prevented a mass shooting. Bercaw said the incident made him think about the 2016 mass shooting at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando.

Officers found “additional ammunition, knives and firearm accessories” in Rudman’s truck, police said in the news release. At the news conference, Bercaw said there were nine knives in the truck. They also found two fully loaded magazines in his pocket, the news release states.

Police said Rudman’s motives remain unclear, but they learned that he had visited Mons Venus the prior night.

Rudman was taken into custody on charges of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, aggravated battery with a deadly weapon, battery and purchasing, possessing or receiving a firearm while under a risk protection order.

Bercaw said he was being held without bail.

At the news conference Tuesday, Bercaw said Rudman did not have a criminal history in Hillsborough County, but he does in Pinellas, where he lives. That includes multiple cases of stalking, according to Pinellas County court records. An injunction against Rudman was dismissed a couple of weeks before the incident at Mons Venus.

Rudman had previously been served with a risk protection order by the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office last year. Risk protection orders are issued by a judge after a law enforcement agency requests that a person’s guns be removed if they are a danger to themselves or others.

According to court documents, a Pinellas County judge extended the risk protection order, in part, because the court found, among other factors, Rudman “engaged in a threat of violence against themselves or others,” “has violated a previous or existing risk protection order,” and “has stalked another person.”

Tampa police would not comment on where Rudman got the gun from while under a risk protection order, citing an active investigation. Bercaw said it is possible additional charges could follow if it is determined that others were involved.

”There is no question that the security guards who disarmed this suspect saved dozens of lives through their heroic acts, and I am thankful that our officers were able to take this individual into custody before he had the chance to carry out whatever he had planned,” Bercaw said in the news release. “We will continue to actively and thoroughly investigate this case to get a better understanding of what led up to this thwarted incident.”

A search warrant was filed in a Pinellas County court for Rudman’s Largo home and electronic devices, which authorities planned to search for anything he had written that would indicate he planned a mass shooting, according to court documents.

Bercaw called the men heroes. Resto just called himself a problem solver.

“I feel like we just did what we should have done,” Baham said.

Times staff writer Chris Tisch contributed to this report.