DENVER – A judge in Denver agreed Monday to drop the murder case against Matthew Dolloff, the unlicensed security guard who shot and killed a protester outside of dueling political rallies near Civic Center Park in October 2020.
The Denver District Attorney’s Office had said earlier this month it planned to drop the lone charge of second-degree murder Dolloff faced in the shooting death of 49-year-old Lee Keltner because it did not have evidence to prove Dolloff was guilty of the charge.
Judge Brian R. Whitney agreed Monday to dismiss the case. The district attorney’s office said in a statement that as the investigation progressed, prosecutors found they could not prove Dolloff “did not have the right to use deadly force to defend himself and others pursuant to Colorado law.”
District Attorney Beth McCann said in a statement that she does not believe violence and guns “have any place” at a peaceful protest and that guns increase the danger at the gatherings – something she said happened in this case.
“Lee Keltner’s death was a tragedy, and I understand that this decision is difficult to accept for those who loved him. My heart goes out to the friends and family of Mr. Keltner. However, without provocation, Mr. Keltner verbally threatened and physically assaulted Mr. Dolloff and was the initial aggressor before being shot,” McCann said in a statement.
“Under Colorado’s law, Matthew Dolloff had no duty to retreat and was legally justified in his actions,” she added. “While I do not agree with Mr. Dolloff’s decision to use lethal force, the fact remains he had the right to do so under our law.”
Suzan Keltner, the sister of Lee Keltner, said Keltner’s family was planning to file a civil lawsuit against Dolloff, 9News, the city and county of Denver, and Pinkerton – all of whom were involved in the decision to hire Dolloff and the incident that day.
She was upset after the court hearing that she had not been allowed to read a statement in court about her brother, and said in a news conference she believes Keltner was “assassinated” by Dolloff. She also said that McCann and the court were “responsible for … letting a murderer walk free today.”
“Lee’s life mattered,” she said. “I don’t understand how they couldn’t let me say one thing for my brother. I’m at a loss of words. He’s dead now and can’t stand up for himself,” she said.
Dolloff was working as a contractor that day for 9News, the Denver NBC affiliate owned by TEGNA at the time, through a contract with Pinkerton, which had subcontracted the work out to Isborn Security Services, who hired Dolloff.
According to an arrest affidavit, as the two rallies – a “Patriot muster” and a “BLM-Antifa Soup Drive” – were winding down that day, Keltner got into an argument with a man between the Denver Art Museum and Denver Public Library.
Dolloff got involved in the argument as the journalist he was assigned to protect filmed it. According to the affidavit and video and photos from the scene, Keltner slapped Dolloff in the face. As Keltner produced and started to discharge a can of bear spray, Dolloff pulled out a handgun and shot Keltner, who was pronounced dead at Denver Health Medical Center about half an hour later.
In the days and weeks after the shooting, the city of Denver confirmed Dolloff did not have a license to operate as a security guard or to carry a gun in Denver. Last June, the city revoked Pinkerton’s license to operate as a private security company in the wake of the shooting. Both Pinkerton and Isborn Security had been cited for violating the city’s municipal code, and Isborn reached a settlement agreement with the city to surrender its security guard employer license and not seek another for five years.
Dolloff had pleaded not guilty to the murder charge, the only count in the case, and his attorneys had claimed he acted in self-defense in the shooting.