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Man shot, killed during protests in Denver; suspect acting as 'armed security guard' in custody

Man shot, killed during protests in Denver; suspect acting as 'armed security guard' in custody
Posted at 3:36 PM, Oct 12, 2020
and last updated 2020-10-12 17:36:22-04

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.

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.

Could self-defense laws apply?

The victim, identified by family as 49-year-old Lee 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 the two individuals occurred just before shots rang out. Police said they recovered two guns and a can of Mace from the scene. The victim participated in what was billed as a “Patriot Rally” earlier in the day.

The victim was transported to the hospital and was later pronounced deceased.

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.

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.”

This story originally reported by Robert Garrison on TheDenverChannel.com.