Terrance Donegan

Inside his Avondale home, Terrance Donegan has photos and badges recalling his days and nights as a Phoenix Police Department officer.

Jesus “El Lobo” Gomez is one bad dude.

Muscular and menacing, he rules his gang with terror, dominates his “homies”, terrorizes his neighbors, sells drugs and steals from helpless migrants to support his nefarious ways, murders without blinking.

Terrance “Terry” Donegan is a peace-loving family man.

Softspoken and Teddy bear-shaped, he retired from a long, stable career, enjoys volunteering to help others, married for 35 years and is a father and grandfather.

El Lobo is a cop killer.

Terry was a cop.

Terrance Donegan spiced up his retirement — and ticked a big item off his “before-I-die” list —  by writing “El Lobo Phoenix.”

The novel is as dirty and frightening as Donegan’s Avondale home is tidy and quiet.

Lisa Donegan, his wife of 35 years, shook her head and chuckled when asked about her husband being a writer. “I never knew he had it in him,” she said. 

It was a hot, muggy night, but most of the neighborhood residents were inside behind locked doors and closed windows, as the Westside Eleventh Avenue gang members were partying in the abandoned house at 1827 North Eleventh Avenue, which they claimed as their clubhouse or party house. The party was going strong with alcohol flowing freely, and most of the party favors were the neighborhood girls, ranging in age from 13 to 16. A recently released prison gang member has risen to the top of the gang and has given himself the gang name of “El Lobo,” the wolf. He refers to the other gang members as members of his pack, his wolves, his soldiers. Wolves live and hunt in packs … As the leader, he had soldiers, a term used by gangs to identify someone that goes out and takes care of gang business, which provided him with money, drugs and girls.

(“El Lobo,” Chapter 3)

Terry Donegan was in law enforcement for 34 years. He was a police chief for a small town in Iowa before coming to the Valley, where he was with the Phoenix Police Department for 26 years.

Although he worked his way up to supervisory roles, Donegan enjoyed “working the streets” so much that he returned to a night-shift patrol beat during his last year on the force before retiring.

“I loved it,” he said, a grin spreading over his round face. 

“I loved being in the car and responding to radio calls. Any call, you’d expect the worst and hope for the best.”

Donegan spent years working the late-shift when all the action seemed to happen. “When I worked patrol, I liked working the third shift,” he said. “Then, I got promoted and spent most of my career supervising intelligence units of organized crime.”

Spending his adult life as a cop, Donegan witnessed some of the worst society offers.

“With that type of career, you see a lot of things,” said Donegan, 65, retired a decade ago. “You always say, ‘We should write this stuff down — it makes a good story. 

“But it wasn’t until after I retired I thought it. And then writing a book became one of my bucket list items.”

Donegan said he loves to read Tom Clancy, James Patterson, John Grisham, Stieg  Larsson “and of course Steven King.”

While writing fiction is new, Donegan has decades of experience with on-the-job nonfiction.  He said he always “dotted my i’s and crossed my t’s” when he wrote police reports. Indeed, his novel’s short chapters have the feel of a cop writing up notes from his shift.

Officers leave these squads for one of three reasons — discipline, transfer out, promotion, or retirement. Officer Kincade’s squad was nicknamed ‘the Tigers,’ los Tigres in Spanish. The officers of the squad liked the name, as a tiger is known to hunt and move silently under the cover of darkness, and this squad worked the 10-hour swing shift from 6 p.m. to 4 a.m. Each of the six CAT (Community Action Team) squads have their own squad logos and are very competitive with each other during their joint training exercises.

 As a 10-officer squad, each officer was partnered up, and like a good quarterback and his wide receiver, you wanted officers that match in personality, drive and both having the same law enforcement mentality. Spending 40 hours a week in the squad car, you get to know your partner pretty damn well. In fact, many police partners feel closer and that they have more in common with their partners than their life partners. Police partners move as one person, a right side and a left side. Like a game of chess. As one piece moves, the other piece moves so that they are always in check with one another, always covering one another and always watching out for one another.

(“El Lobo,” Chapter Four)

He became a sergeant at the Phoenix PD, where his assignments included working security details for visiting dignitaries. A section of his living room wall shows him with three different presidents (Bill Clinton and both Bush’s), as well as Mikhail Gorbachev, the eighth and last leader of the Soviet Union.

Gorbachev’s countrymen once put Donegan in their sights, in perhaps the scariest time of his career.

“Me and one of my detectives were ‘greenlighted’ by the Russian Mafia,” said Donegan, using slang for a contract killing. “The Avondale Police Department was giving my family 24-hour surveillance. That was in the late ‘90s.”

On the “gang squad,” in addition to the Russians who were exporting human growth hormone, Donegan investigated organized crime from Vietnamese and white supremacist groups.

Most relevantly, Donegan tracked Phoenix gangs associated with cartels from Mexico.

Which brings us back to “El Lobo.”

Several of the addresses Donegan uses in his book seem to match up with Glendale. Though he insists he invented locations, he said his Phoenix Police work took him all over the West Valley.

“I’m not sure if any of the made-up addresses are in Glendale —but yes the gangs were not restricted by city borders,” he said.

“And we would reach out to the other agencies to bring them on board as well.  We shared our intelligence.”

Donegan is coy about the inspiration for El Lobo, who is something of a low-level “Scarface.”

“The story is fictional but as we often see in the news, gangs are often very violent and their leaders need to be the meanest and toughest to stay in control,” Donegan said.

Police intelligence continued to paint a picture of who El Lobo is and the control that he holds over the neighborhood. El Lobo tool control of one of the oldest neighborhoods in the city by force and intimidation. He came out of prison as a fierce fighting machine. At six feet and three inches, 225 pounds, he was taller and bigger than most of the other Westside Eleventh Avenue gang members. However, El Lobot obtained big-dog status the old-fashioned way. He grabbed it by force, beating rivals into submission while mixing it up with a few cops on his way to the top.

Angel Cortez told officers during one of the many meetings or interviews, “When El Lobo got out of prison, he ruined our whole neighborhood. He stole from and shot at our own neighbors and painted Westside Eleventh Avenue graffiti on the beautiful murals painted throughout the neighborhood,” Angel told them.

(“El Lobo,” Chapter 32)

Donegan joined the Phoenix Police Department in 1985. He moved to Avondale nine years later. Over the last two years, he found time away from visiting with his family and doing volunteer work to tap away on a laptop, in his living room, the outback of the house on nice days or at a nearby Starbucks. 

A modest sort, asked about what his old cop friends think of his book, Donegan chuckled and said, “They enjoy it. 

“I guess from that and other people who have read it, the feedback is it’s an easy read and keeps you motivated to read it to see what happens next.”

He said he has been contacted by a magazine and someone who wants to write a screenplay based on “El Lobo.”

“To be quite honest, that stuff is a lot more than what I anticipated when I did it. I just did it as a bucket item and wanted to write the story,” he said.

“People are saying I should do a book signing, but I don’t know.”

Now since writing the book is out of the way, he returned to the normal life of a West Valley retiree. “I’m very active with my church, St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic Church and St. Vincent de Paul. And I’m president of my HOA. I stay active.”

West Valley life has been good, he said, recalling how he moved to Avondale.

“We lived in Phoenix and I was working third-shift patrol. I got off work and my wife said,  ‘There’s a place in the West Valley doing an Easter egg hunt.’ We had three young daughters at the time. On the way back, we drove past Garden Lakes. They had a bunch of signs, homes for sale.

“Then when I made a turn, the street dead-ended at a lake, with fountains and the mountain behind it — I enjoy fishing and I fell in love with the lake. We found a house on the lake in our price range.”

Reading “El Lobo,” one can imagine that, after a night patrolling the seedy streets of Phoenix, Terrance Donegan enjoyed driving home to the west side, getting out of the urban grit and watching the sun come up over that little lake.

...As the muzzle flashed, Tom felt the bullets impacting his bulletproof vest, center mass. Unstrapping and drawing his weapon, Tom’s body and head was still recoiling backward when the second round from El Lobo’s Smith & Wesson struck him in the bottom of the jaw …

With his weapon trained on El Lobo, the officer was yelling at him to lay face down as he cleared on the radio: “Five-Bravo-Twelve, shots fired. Officer down, officer down, roll fire.”

(“El Lobo,” Chapter 62)

“El Lobo” is available at bookstores and online at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Google Play and Apple iTunes.