Pinkerton Security Guards Coming Back to Denver

Pinkerton can once again employ security guards in Denver.
Pinkerton can once again employ security guards in Denver. Getty Images
After city officials tried to run the famous Pinkerton agency out of town following a fatal shooting at a protest in October 2020, the security agency is once again allowed to operate in Denver.

On March 22, the Denver Department of Excise & Licenses issued Pinkerton Consulting and Investigations a security license that allows the company to employ security guards armed with firearms in the city. The license is valid until October 16.

"This case will hopefully serve as a significant reminder to private security guard companies in Denver about the importance of only employing licensed guards," says Eric Escudero, a spokesperson for Excise & Licenses.

The issuance of the security license comes in the aftermath of a lengthy administrative and legal battle between the City of Denver and Pinkerton that began with the shooting death of Lee Keltner in October 2020.

Keltner was protesting at a right-leaning "Patriot Muster" rally in Civic Center Park that was happening side by side with a counterprotest by leftist activists. As the event was winding down, Keltner slapped Matthew Dolloff, a security guard providing security to a 9News team, and sprayed Mace at him.

Dolloff, who turned out to have been hired by a Pinkerton subcontractor to work the event for 9News, shot and killed Keltner. Although he was charged with second-degree murder, Denver District Attorney Beth McCann dismissed the charge against Dolloff in March 2022 after her office concluded that the security guard, who didn't have a license at the time of the shooting, was acting in self-defense.

After the shooting, the Department of Excise & Licenses issued an order to show cause as to why Pinkerton should not have its security license suspended or revoked. Initially, it looked like Pinkerton would be able to keep working in the Mile High City, as the security agency and the Denver City Attorney's Office came to a settlement agreement. However, Ashley Kilroy, then-executive director of Excise & Licenses, rejected the deal — leading to a hearing in February 2021.

An administrative officer serving as the judge during that hearing concluded that Pinkerton's license should be suspended for six months for failure to comply with local laws, and found that the company was also responsible for "acts and omissions" of the subcontractor that hired Dolloff. By that point, the subcontractor, Jason Isborn, had already agreed to surrender his security license to Excise & Licenses.

In June of that year, Kilroy accepted the findings of the hearing officer, but also decided that Pinkerton should lose its security license in Denver indefinitely. After that, Pinkerton appealed Kilroy's ruling in Denver District Court; in June 2022, Judge David H. Goldberg ruled that Pinkerton could keep its security license, overruling Kilroy's decision.

The judge granted the appeal on narrow grounds, siding with Pinkerton based on its argument that a section of a Denver ordinance aimed at license suspension or revocation does not apply to the company, since the law states that "any act or omission committed by any employee, agent, or independent contractor that occurs in the course of his or her employment, agency, or contract with the licensee shall be imputed to the licensee or permittee for purposes of imposing any suspension, revocation or other sanction on the licensee or permittee."

If this ordinance section had simply stated "his," it would have implied that the category included corporations, Goldberg determined. However, since the law instead uses "his or her," it applies only to natural persons and was not applicable to Pinkerton, he ruled. Goldberg did not address the other arguments before him.

"The Court finds and concludes that the Director abused her discretion and Pinkerton’s revocation is set aside and reversed," Goldberg wrote. But by the time the judge ruled, Pinkerton no longer had a valid security license in Denver, since it had expired just a few days after the October 2020 shooting.

Given Goldberg's ruling, Pinkerton was allowed to reapply for a security license, ultimately resulting in the recent issuance of a new license. Individual security guards hired by Pinkerton to work in Denver will still need to be licensed by the City of Denver.

"The Department of Excise & Licenses complied with the judge’s order and issued the private security guard employer license after the city received the required documentation from the applicant. As part of the licensing process, all private security guards in Denver are required to complete annual training, which can help prevent violent encounters and help private security guards achieve their most important mission, which is to serve as a deterrent to crime and report all illegal activity to police," Escudero says.

Westword has reached out to Pinkerton for comment.
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Conor McCormick-Cavanagh is a former staff writer at Westword, where he covered a range of beats, including local politics, immigration and homelessness. He previously worked as a journalist in Tunisia and loves to talk New York sports; he now lives in upstate New York.

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