Security guard to be charged with murder in fatal shooting at Denver protests, officials say

By Hannah Knowles,, The Washington Post

The private security guard suspected of fatally shooting a man at the scene of tense protests in Denver last weekend will be charged with second-degree murder, the local district attorney announced Thursday.

Matthew Dolloff, 30 — who did not have a license to work as a guard in Denver, authorities say — faces a mandatory prison sentence of 16 to 48 years if convicted, according to the Denver district attorney’s office. He is accused of shooting 49-year-old Lee Keltner, who went to a rally downtown to show support for law enforcement, according to Keltner’s family.

The violence played out Saturday during a clash among demonstrators: Right-wing “patriots” and left-wing counterprotesters affiliating themselves with Black Lives Matter and antifa. But most people were dispersing when a shot rang out, authorities said, and police quickly sought to tamp down rumors about those involved, saying Sunday that investigators were “unaware of whether the suspect is personally affiliated with any political organization.”

Local outlet 9News says it contracted Dolloff through the firm Pinkerton to accompany a staffer at Saturday’s protests. 9News says it told Pinkerton that the security guards protecting its employees should not be armed, adding to questions about Dolloff’s qualifications and the contract that brought him to Denver’s civic center.

An attorney for Dolloff’s family did not respond to a request for comment Thursday. The lawyer, Doug Richards, previously told 9News and other news organizations that Dolloff acted in self-defense and put himself between Keltner and the employee he was tasked with protecting.

Dolloff and an unnamed person were drawn into an “altercation” with Keltner while he argued with another person, according to an arrest affidavit. Keltner eventually turned his attention toward Dolloff and struck him in the head, the affidavit says. Dolloff shot once as Keltner deployed pepper spray, it states, citing video and photos from city cameras and multiple witnesses.

Video posted by 9News captures Keltner approaching the camera after a tense standoff with a man who at one point yells, “Mace me!”

“Get the cameras out of here,” someone can be heard saying after Keltner approaches. There is a struggle, and the video ends. It resumes shortly after the shooting.

“That guy was gonna get me,” a person says off-camera, before identifying someone as their security guard. The person adds later: “That guy just saved my … life.”

Keltner was taken to a hospital and pronounced dead, officials said. The medical examiner ruled Keltner’s death a homicide. He was a Navy veteran who owned a hat-making business, his family told the local news.

“He wasn’t a part of any group,” Keltner’s son, Johnathon Keltner, told the Denver Post. “He was there to rally for the police department and he’d been down there before rallying for the police department.”

The district attorney says it will file its case against Dolloff on Monday.

Dolloff’s qualifications to work as a guard have come into question — as has who should be held responsible for any lapses.

Local authorities say there is no record of Dolloff ever holding or applying for the security guard license required in Denver, one of three Colorado cities that mandates such a license.

The city attorney’s office has said Dolloff, Pinkerton, 9News and “any other entity that hired and deployed Dolloff in an unlicensed security guard capacity” could face civil or criminal repercussions for Dolloff’s lack of Denver credentials.

“Licensed security guard employers that hire unlicensed security guards could face disciplinary actions against their licenses ranging from a fine, to suspension, to revocation,” the Denver City Attorney’s Office said in a statement. “Businesses could also face criminal charges for permitting or directing an unlicensed person to perform security services.”

Private security guards in Denver also need special permission to carry firearms on the job or work in plainclothes and must clearly display their government-issued identification card if they do have firearms. In photos and video, Dolloff appears to have been in plainclothes at the protests and does not appear to have clear identification.

No staff accompanied by Dolloff on Saturday were “aware that he was armed,” 9News said in a statement attributed to management.

It said Thursday that it is no longer using Pinkerton for security.

Pinkerton said earlier this week in a statement that Dolloff was a “contractor agent from a long standing industry vendor,” which Pinkerton did not name. The firm did not respond Thursday to further questions.

“We take loss of life in any situation very seriously and our hearts go out to those impacted by this situation,” Pinkerton said in its statement.

Asked who would qualify as Dolloff’s employer, Denver Department of Excise and Licenses spokesman Eric Escudero said, “Who was the employer of this individual is currently a critical part of Denver’s administrative investigation into this case.”

Dolloff’s identity outside his work as a security guard has also drawn scrutiny following claims that he was affiliated with a group at Saturday’s demonstrations.

A Facebook account bearing Dolloff’s name and photos resembling him is vocally liberal, posting at times critically about the president and alleged abuses by law enforcement. One nearly decade-old photo is from an Occupy Denver demonstration, according to the caption.

But Brian Loma, a Denver resident and liberal activist who has been filming demonstrations in Colorado for months, said he does not recognize Dolloff and would know if he was a regular protester. Loma says he is a member of Occupy Denver, among other groups.

“This man was not part of a protest community that was out actively all summer on a regular and consistent basis,” Loma said.

Loma says he showed up Saturday to document as a journalist. He recalled feeling some trepidation last week as the opposing protests approached.

“I hope nobody dies,” he remembers saying.