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| Crime |

Killer 9News Security Guard's Return to Court, Licensing Confusion

The October 2020 booking photo of Matthew Dolloff.
The October 2020 booking photo of Matthew Dolloff.
Denver District Attorney's Office
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On Guard
While Matthew Dolloff has a court date this week, two security companies could be out in Denver.
By Michael Roberts

On Friday, May 28, 31-year-old Matthew Dolloff is expected to enter a plea during an arraignment hearing in Denver District Court prompted by the fatal shooting of 49-year-old Lee Keltner during a so-called "Patriot muster" and a separate BLM soup drive at Civic Center Park on October 10, 2020.

The incident flowed from a confrontation between muster supporter Keltner and a BLM protester who was caught on video yelling "Mace me, motherfucker!" Keltner was spraying a chemical agent when Dolloff opened fire.

At the time, Dolloff, whom the Denver District Attorney's Office has charged with first-degree murder, was working as a security guard for 9News, which had hired him as an independent contractor through Pinkerton, the venerable security company. But afterward, the station learned that Dolloff wasn't licensed to perform this job in the City of Denver. 9News also maintains that it had no idea Dolloff was armed; his concealed-carry permit was issued through Elbert County, whose sheriff canceled it in the wake of the shooting.

The Dolloff incident shined a light on the process of licensing security guards in Denver, and there's a reason for the resulting confusion. The process was changed in recent years, and it's so complex that in order to unravel it, we turned to a pair of experts: Tom Downey, a former head of the Denver Department of Excise and Licenses who's now a partner with the law firm of Ireland Stapleton Pryor & Pascoe, PC; and Sean Jennings, a onetime hearings manager for Excise and Licenses who's now also at Ireland Stapleton.

"In order to hold yourself out as a security guard in Colorado, you need to be licensed," Downey notes. "But licenses in the State of Colorado are from local or state jurisdictions, and security guard licenses are from the city only. The license used to be called a merchant guard license, but they changed it in 2018."

"The security guard license is a City of Denver creation," Jennings confirms. "So if you're performing those activities in Denver, you need a license from Denver's Excise and Licenses Department — and it applies to activity that occurs within the City of Denver. It primarily comes into play at public businesses, public events, bars, restaurants, sporting events, malls, large office buildings and other places where a security service might be needed. And there are two components to it: Someone who works as a security guard needs an individual license, and the security guard companies need what's called a private security employer license."

The requirements for these licenses are posted on the City of Denver's website, and there are a lot of them.

The documents that must be supplied by a security guard applicant include an affidavit of criminal and employment history, a certificate of physical and mental fitness, a certificate of security guard training completion, an FBI background check, accompanying endorsement letters, valid state or federally issued identification, and, if appropriate, firearm certification.

Security companies must hand over a slew of documents, too — among them automobile liability insurance, general liability insurance, workers' compensation insurance, requests for vehicle and weapons endorsements, a declaration of uniform design, and a valid Denver security guard license.

"There's an application and review process that the city goes through," Jennings explains. "It's not a pro forma thing, where you beam over your payment and you get the license. The review process is substantive."

Lee Keltner on the ground, outside Denver Civic Center.EXPAND
Lee Keltner on the ground, outside Denver Civic Center.
Michael Emery Hecker

The 2018 policy change had a particular impact on firearms. "There were a lot of gray areas at places like a Broncos game, where you'd have hundreds of security guards working a game for a couple of hours," Jennings points out. "Maybe they were students who got hired, and the city needed to decide if it made sense to require them to get a firearms license for the scope of what they were doing."

"When Sean says 'gray area,' he's being nice," Downey adds. "At Excise and Licenses, there were controversies between industry folks and regulators, including me and my predecessors. For example, it was very common during the merchant guard era for a restaurant or a bar to pay a bouncer whose job was really to check IDs when people came in and to collect a cover. But are they really providing security if they never throw a punch or throw someone out?"

The new rules required licensed security guards "to disclose if they wanted to carry a firearm," Jennings notes. "That would be warranted if you were going to be a security guard at a bank or something — and there is a special review process for that."

The agency tasked with giving the approval for security guards to carry a firearm is the Denver Police Department. "It's not conducted by a clerk at Excise and Licenses who processes 150 different types of licenses, from food trucks to cannabis shops to security guards," Jennings says. "The Excise and Licenses team handles the paperwork, the administrative piece of getting the firearms license — but the ability to carry a firearm is delegated to the Denver Police Department. That review is folded into whether you get authorization to carry a firearm."

None of that happened with Dolloff, and two companies suffered negative repercussions as a result: Pinkerton and Isborn Security Services, Dolloff's actual employer. Isborn subsequently surrendered its license to operate in Denver; according to Excise and Licenses spokesperson Eric Escudero, Isborn must wait at least five years before reapplying for a license. A hearing officer recommended that Pinkerton's license be suspended for six months, and Excise and Licenses Executive Director Ashley Kilroy is currently reviewing the recommendation, Escudero says. Her final decision could come soon — though Pinkerton has a right to appeal to district court should she approve a suspension.

As for 9News, the station sought to distance itself from Dolloff's actions as soon as his connection to the outlet became public. Its statement from October 12, two days after the shooting, reads: "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."

Dolloff's arraignment is scheduled to take place virtually at 8:30 a.m. on May 28 in Denver District Court. Click to read the Matthew Dolloff arrest affidavit, the Pinkerton recommendation and the Isborn Security Services settlement agreement.

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