By Colleen Slevin and Lindsay Whitehurst, The Associated Press
An armed security guard for a television station who is suspected of fatally shooting a man following an altercation after opposing protests was acting in self-defense when he opened fire, a lawyer representing his family said Monday.
Matthew Dolloff, 30, was being held in jail for investigation of first-degree murder following Saturday afternoon’s shooting near Civic Center Park as protesters filed out of the park following the demonstrations — a “Patriot Muster” and a “BLM-Antifa Soup Drive” counterprotest.
Doug Richards, who said he is representing Dolloff’s family, said the man who was shot reached into his shirt which made Dolloff fear for his safety, leading him to shoot. He said images of the scene from The Denver Post, which first reported his comments, show that Dolloff put his body between the man and the reporter from KUSA-TV, also known as 9News, he was working to protect.
“He was doing what he was supposed to be doing there,” Richards said.
Police have said two guns and a Mace can were found at the crime scene but declined on Monday to release any more details about what happened, including who the guns belonged to, because they do not want to harm the ongoing investigation, department spokesperson Jay Casillas said. The document laying out the reasons for Dolloff’s arrest remains sealed.
The man who died in the shooting was identified Monday as Lee Keltner, a 49-year-old U.S. Navy veteran who operated a hat-making business in the Denver area.
Denver officials say Dolloff did not have a license to work as a security guard in the city and were investigating how he was allowed to work anyway.
Under rules adopted by Denver in 2018, both security companies and the guards they employ must have city licenses. Guards must undergo 16 hours of training and an FBI background check to get a license and complete eight hours more training to renew their license each year, said Eric Escudero, a spokesman for the city’s Excise and Licenses Department. Guards that carry firearms must also be screened by police, he said.
Companies that employ guards without licenses can have their licenses suspended or revoked and face fines. Individual guards who do not have licenses can be punished with a $999 fine and up to one year in jail.
“Licensed security guard employers that hire unlicensed security guards could face disciplinary actions against their licenses ranging from a fine, to suspension, to revocation,” said Ryan Luby, a spokesman for Denver’s City Attorney’s Office. “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.”
Dolloff did have a permit to carry a concealed weapon in Colorado issued by his local sheriff’s office but it was suspended Monday because of the allegations against him. Elbert County Sheriff Tim Norton said he will decide whether Dolloff will get the five-year permit back based on what happens in the criminal case.
According to state business records, Dolloff was listed as the registered agent for a farm that raises animals including turkeys, sheep and goats in Elizabeth, a town outside the Denver metro area. No one answered the phone at the farm on Monday and a message left for another person listed in business filings was not returned.
KUSA-TV said Sunday that it has been hiring private security to accompany its staff at protests for a number of months. It said Dolloff had been hired through the Pinkerton security company. However, in a statement, Pinkerton said Dolloff was a contract agent, not a Pinkerton employee. The company did not reveal the name of the contract company Dolloff worked for.
“Pinkerton is fully cooperating with law enforcement authorities in their investigation of this matter,” it said.
9News, in a statement issued Monday, said it “continues to cooperated fully with law enforcement and is deeply saddened by this loss of life.”
The station added: “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.”
Network news crews have taken security for years, especially overseas, said Dan Shelley, executive director of the Radio-Television-Digital News Association. In recent years, it’s become more common for television news crews amid increasingly corrosive political and ideological rhetoric, he said.
“It’s very unfortunate because journalists, while they’re not around to make friends, they are around to serve their communities by seeking and reporting the truth,” he said.
In some markets, like the San Francisco Bay Area, it’s become fairly routine, said Al Tompkins with the Poynter Institute for Media Studies. A private security guard there was shot and wounded when a crew on assignment was robbed of their camera outside a library in February 2019.
Typically, security guards are unobtrusive and step in simply to defuse situations, he said.
“The fact of the matter is, the intensity of doing the job of journalism keeps you from being as aware as you need to be in order to stay safe,” Tompkins said. “They’re going in there with one main goal, and that is to avoid problems.”
Associated Press writer Lindsay Whitehurst reported from Salt Lake City.
Colorado Sun reporter Jesse Paul contributed to this report.