Pinkerton can once again provide security services in Denver after a judge undid a permanent revocation of the international company’s city license following the shooting of a protester by a subcontracted guard.

Denver District Court Judge David Goldberg on Tuesday reversed the Denver Department of Excise and Licensing’s permanent revocation of the company’s license, citing two tiny words in city ordinance.

The department on June 7, 2021, revoked Pinkerton’s license to operate a security business in Denver because of the firm’s connection to the fatal 2020 shooting of Lee Keltner.

Denver television station 9News hired Pinkerton to provide a security guard for its journalists covering dueling political rallies in Civic Center on Oct. 10, 2020. Pinkerton then contracted that work to a second company, Isborn Security Services, which gave the work to a contractor named Matthew Dolloff.

Dolloff shot and killed Keltner at the rally after Keltner slapped Dolloff in the face and pulled out bear spray.

Prosecutors later dropped all criminal charges against Dolloff but revocations of the licenses the two companies needed to legally operate in Denver stuck. Dolloff did not have the required license to work as a security guard in Denver and the Denver Department of Excise and Licensing found that both Isborn should have verified he had a license and that Pinkerton was liable for its subcontractors’ acts and failures

The relevant Denver municipal code governing the Department of Excise and Licensing states: “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.”

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The judge ruled that the law did not apply to Pinkerton because of the words “or her.” Under the municipal code’s definitions, only the words “he” or “person” can be used to refer to both a person or a company. The addition of “or her” conveys that the law only applies to an actual person — not a company, Goldberg found.

“If the City Council intended to include corporate entities within the scope of D.R.M.C. § 32-30(b), it could have simply used “his” instead of “his or her” or substituted “Person” in place of a gendered term,” Goldberg wrote.

Goldberg called the revocation an “abuse of discretion” by the Department of Excise and Licensing.

“The policy issue and resulting impact on the community must be addressed by the City Council, not the courts,” he wrote.

The Department of Excise and Licensing and the City Attorney’s Office are reviewing Goldberg’s order and deciding next steps, said Eric Escudero, spokesman for excise and licensing.

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