DENVER -- A man was shot and killed near the Denver Art Museum as dueling protests were winding down nearby Saturday afternoon. A suspect is in custody, police said. A second person was initially arrested, but police later determined that second person was not affiliated with the shooting.
The Denver Police Department said Saturday evening that the suspect in the shooting was a private security guard. He was identified Sunday as Matthew Dolloff, 30. He is being held for investigation of first-degree murder. Denver news outlet 9News said it had hired the private security guard through Pinkerton to accompany staff at the protest. 9News said it's been using security for months while covering the protests.
The victim was identified Monday by the Denver Office of the Medical Examiner as 49-year-old Lee Keltner. An autopsy was completed and the cause of death was from a gunshot wound. The manner of death is homicide, according to the report.
Denver7 has previously used Pinkerton for security and has learned that Dolloff was present at the U.S. Senate debate hosted by Denver7 on Friday. Denver7 specifically asked that the guards not be armed, and Pinkerton agreed. No gun was visible.
Denver police on Tuesday released the affidavit for Dolloff's arrest.
Suspect was not licensed in Denver
Denver7 has confirmed with the City of Denver that Dolloff does not have a license to operate as a security guard, or to carry a gun on the job, in the city, which is a legal requirement in Denver. A security guard operating without a license could be fined up to $999 and face up to a year in jail.
Elbert County authorities confirmed Monday that Dolloff was issued a concealed handgun permit in June 2018. He was cleared through CBI at that time. Elbert County Sheriff Tim Norton said he has suspended Dolloff's permit until the issues are resolved in Denver.
Pinkerton issued a statement Monday morning about the incident and said that Dolloff was working for a contracting vendor.
“We take loss of life in any situation very seriously and our hearts go out to those impacted by this situation. As it relates to the incident in Denver on October 10, the gent in question is not a Pinkerton employee but rather a contractor agent from a long standing industry vendor,” he company said.
“Security professionals often serve as guides to protect media crews during potentially dangerous situations or hostile environments. We are fully cooperating with law enforcement authorities in their investigation.”
The Denver City Attorney’s Office said in a statement Monday afternoon that the suspect in Saturday’s shooting, as well as potentially Pinkerton, 9News and others, could face “possible repercussions” because the suspect lacked a proper license.
“Licensed security guard employers that hire unlicensed security guards could face disciplinary actions against their licenses ranging from a fine, to suspension, to revocation. Businesses could also face criminal charges for permitting or directing an unlicensed person to perform security services. Regarding Matthew Dolloff, there could be civil or criminal actions taken, or both, against Mr. Dolloff, Pinkerton, @9NEWS, and/or any other entity that hired and deployed Dolloff in an unlicensed security guard capacity.”
9News management issued a new statement Monday afternoon saying it does not contract with individuals for security.
“9NEWS continues to cooperate fully with law enforcement and is deeply saddened by this loss of life,” the statement said.
“For the past few months, it has been the practice of 9NEWS to contract private security, through an outside firm, to accompany our personnel covering protests. Pinkerton, the private security firm, is responsible for ensuring its guards or those it contracts with are appropriately licensed. 9News does not contract directly with individual security personnel.”
Could self-defense laws apply?
Keltner is seen in photographs using pepper spray as he is being shot. But legal experts said that alone is not enough to justify self-defense in a murder trial.
"If the shooter believes that the victim was getting ready to pull a gun on him, that is a reasonable belief that he was in imminent fear of serious bodily injury or death, then he would be justified in using deadly force," said David Lane of Killmer, Lane & Newman, LLP. "Getting pepper-sprayed is not serious bodily injury. You are not allowed to kill someone because they pepper spray you or mace you."
Police said a verbal altercation between Keltner and Dolloff occurred just before shots rang out. Police said they recovered two guns and a can of Mace from the scene. Keltner participated in what was billed as a “Patriot Rally” earlier in the day.
When asked if the law allows someone to use a gun if they're attacked with Mace, or pepper spray, Denver Police Division Chief of Investigations Joe Montoya said, "I think it's all in the articulation. That's for the district attorney to evaluate. What you deem that threat to be, how you articulate that, and then it's up to the DA to determine if it fits the criteria for charging or not."
Montoya said they will release more information as soon as they can.
"Our primary focus is to de-escalate. We can't have any further violence in conjunction with what happened today. We just do not want that to happen," he said.
Dolloff family attorney, Doug Richards, told our partners at The Denver Post in an interview Monday that Dolloff feared for his safety and acted in self-defense.
“He was not there on behalf of any organization or to advance any political agenda. You can see in the images that he put his body in between the protester and the reporter. Matt was doing everything he was supposed to do and everything he was trained to do,” Richards told The Denver Post.
Suspect was ‘not a protest participant'
Following the shooting, there were unconfirmed rumors that the suspect had an affiliation with Antifa, which police have rebutted.
“Further investigation has determined the suspect is a private security guard with no affiliation with Antifa. Additional information will be released as it becomes available," the police department tweeted.
Two groups -- one right-wing and one left-wing -- were protesting nearby at Civic Center Park, but police said the suspected shooter "was acting in a professional capacity as an armed security guard for a local media outlet and not a protest participant. Investigators are unaware of whether the suspect is personally affiliated with any political organization."
Protest participants react to shooting
Members from both rallies were leaving the park after having just wrapped up peaceful demonstrations when the shooting occurred in the courtyard at the museum. Witnesses told Denver7's Lance Hernandez that the victim was apparently shot at point-blank range.
Several Denver police officers in riot gear were already on scene at the time of the shooting. Police were attempting to give the two groups that were demonstrating space to prevent the separate crowds from interfering with each other.
"The rally was supposed to be about understanding what was happening with police brutality in the United States of America, and now it resulted in this, and this is not okay," said Michael Anthony Lopez. "This is unfortunate. This was a peaceful rally. We thought it was going to end okay."
"When something like this happens, you're going to be shocked," Richard Johnson said. "I'm wondering what possible explanation there is."
A Denver7 news crew was interviewing pro-police rally attendee, Laurel Imer, who is a candidate for House District 24, when a single shot rang out.
Imer said she wanted to attend the rally to show her support for free speech rights. She said she was among several people injured during the last pro-police rally on July 19.
"I was attacked and pushed down the stairs of the amphitheater. I got a massive hematoma on my right leg, which I'm still recovering from three months later," she said.
Imer's son, Weston, told Denver7 he saw the cloud of mace shortly after hearing a gunshot. He said he initially thought it was a cloud of blood.
Mayor calls shooting ‘a tragedy’
Mayor Michael Hancock called the shooting “a tragedy” in a Monday morning news conference and said the city was “still taking a look at” the suspect in the case and his lack of licenses and endorsements in the city.
“We do plan to pursue fully the scope of our legal power,” Hancock said.
He urged people not to come out and be part of any large gatherings because of the increasing COVID-19 rates in the city but said if people to gather to demonstrate to “do it with an eye to keeping yourself and others safe.”