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Lawyer: Denver guard in fatal shooting acted in self-defense

Security guard who shot Navy veteran at protest was not licensed for Denver, officials say

Navy veteran Lee Keltner, left, was shot and killed in Denver on Saturday, Oct. 10, 2020. Michael Dolloff, right, was arrested as the suspect in the shooting. He was working as a private security guard for a local news station.

KELTNER FAMILY GOFUNDME/FACEBOOK / DENVER POLICE DEPARTMENT

By COLLEEN SLEVIN AND LINDSAY WHITEHURST | Associated Press | Published: October 13, 2020

DENVER — An armed security guard hired to protect a television news crew at a weekend protest shot and killed a protester after he reached into his shirt, causing the guard to fear for his safety, according to a lawyer representing the guard’s family.

The security guard, Matthew Dolloff, is jailed for investigation of first-degree murder following Saturday afternoon’s shooting as protesters left a park at the end of competing left- and right-wing demonstrations.

The victim was identified by authorities late Monday as Lee Keltner, 49. His son told The Denver Post that he was a U.S. Navy veteran who operated a hat-making business in the Denver area.

The Denver Post published a series of photos by a staff photographer who was at the scene that show the events leading up to the shooting. In one image, Keltner is seen slapping Dolloff in the face. Another image captures a shell casing being ejected from Dolloff's gun as he fires at Keltner who is discharging a can of pepper spray toward Dolloff. 

According to attorney Doug Richards, Dolloff, his client, placed his body between the protesters and the KUSA-TV reporter that Dolloff was working to protect.

“He was doing what he was supposed to be doing there,” Richards said, adding that the shooting was self-defense. The Denver Post first reported his comments.

Denver officials have said Dolloff did not have a license to work as a security guard in the city and were investigating how he was allowed to work.

Police have said two guns and a Mace can were found at the crime scene near the protests labeled by organizers as a “Patriot Muster” and a “BLM-Antifa Soup Drive”

Authorities on Monday declined to provide surveillance video they said they had of the confrontation, details about how the shooting unfolded or or who the guns belonged to because they did not want to compromise their ongoing investigation, said Denver police spokesperson Jay Casillas. The document specifying the reasons for Dolloff’s arrest was sealed.

KUSA-TV said Sunday that it has hired private security guards for months to accompany its journalists at protests and that Dolloff was hired through the Pinkerton security company.

Pinkerton in a statement said Dolloff was a contracted agent and not an employee and that the company “is fully cooperating with law enforcement authorities in their investigation of this matter.”

U.S. news crews have used security guards for years, especially outside the country, said Dan Shelley, executive director of the Radio-Television-Digital News Association. In recent years, the practice has become more common 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 routine for journalists to be accompanied by the guards, 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 2018.

The guards are typically unobtrusive and step in 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.”

Guards must undergo 16 hours of training and FBI background checks to get licenses and complete eight hours of additional training annually to renew the licenses, said Eric Escudero, a spokesman for the city’s Excise and Licenses Department. Guards carrying firearms must also be screened by police, he said.

Companies employing guards without licenses can have their licenses suspended or revoked and face fines. Security guards without licenses can be fined and jailed up to a year.

Dolloff had 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 he faces, said Elbert County Sheriff Tim Norton.

According to state business records, Dolloff was listed as the registered agent for a farm that raises animals including turkeys, sheep and goats in the town of Elizabeth 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.

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Associated Press writer Lindsay Whitehurst reported from Salt Lake City.