Lee Keltner constructed repute as expert hat-maker and “very robust patriot” earlier than becoming a member of protest entrance traces


For 20 years earlier than Lee Keltner’s title grew to become nationally acknowledged because the capturing sufferer in an altercation following dueling political rallies in Denver, he was well-known regionally for his customized western hats — and never a lot for his politics.
Mates and enterprise associates mentioned he put devotion and care into his craft, constructing a repute as a talented hat-maker. They bear in mind a lightheartedness and a goofy humorousness, although it additionally was clear the U.S. Navy veteran thought-about himself a proud patriot.
“It’s a tough factor to articulate, however he was your quintessential western type of man,” recalled Steve Weil, president of Rockmount Ranch Put on on Wazee Road in downtown Denver, who for years offered Keltner the fundamental hats he’d customise. “, he lived the western life-style. He was the true deal. And his clients had been most likely the core western market, not a lot wannabes. … They put on western daily.”
However by this 12 months, Keltner, 49, was drawn to political motion. As police got here beneath fireplace this summer season throughout racial-justice demonstrations by the Black Lives Matter motion, relations have mentioned, Keltner felt a necessity to indicate his help for legislation enforcement.
He attended a number of demonstrations and counter-protests and posted about his experiences on social media, signaling a willingness to tangle with protesters on the opposite facet.
“He wasn’t a part of any group,” his son Johnathon “Jay” Keltner advised The Denver Submit on Sunday. “He was there to rally for the police division, and he’d been down there earlier than rallying for the police division.”
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As he was leaving Saturday’s “Patriot Rally,” which attracted supporters of various conservative causes to Denver’s Civic Heart — together with counter-protesters who participated in a “BLM-Antifa Soup Drive” — Keltner was engaged in heated argument with a person, to date unidentified by police, who wore a shirt displaying the slogan “Black Weapons Matter.” Keltner wore a T-shirt emblazoned with “BLM: You’re (expletive) proper Bikers lives matter.”
It was throughout that dispute that Keltner, can of pepper spray in hand, confronted a 9News tv producer who was recording it, in response to movies of the incident. The producer’s bodyguard, Matthew Dolloff, stepped in. Inside a matter of seconds, Keltner slapped Dolloff on the facet of the top, and Dolloff drew a handgun and fired it as Keltner discharged the pepper spray.
Keltner died inside minutes, after a fateful second captured on bystanders’ telephones in addition to the digicam of a Denver Submit photographer who’d been close by. Additionally witnessing the capturing was Keltner’s older son, 24-year-old C.J.
Dolloff, 30, will face a cost of second-degree homicide, the Denver District Legal professional’s Workplace mentioned, and his household’s lawyer has outlined plans to argue he acted in self-defense. In the meantime, 9News has confronted questions for its choice to rent contract safety guards to accompany its crews to protests, although the station has mentioned Dolloff wasn’t alleged to be armed.
Keltner’s relations gave transient interviews within the days after the incident. However later within the week, a number of both declined to talk with The Submit or didn’t reply to interview requests. Whereas on-line fundraisers have attracted monetary help for Keltner’s household, some have confronted harassment on social media from individuals who assault Keltner’s perceived politics or assign him fault for his actions within the incident.
“At the moment due to the evil that occurred I’m not speaking to anybody however household,” Keltner’s mom, Carol, of Jonesboro, Arkansas, wrote in response to The Submit’s interview request.
After the DA’s workplace introduced its charging choice Thursday, an legal professional issued an announcement on behalf of Keltner’s spouse, Kevin Christine Keltner, and different relations that requested privateness and compassion. It additionally mentioned the legal professional, William P. Boyle, was nonetheless searching for solutions from 9News and the 2 safety companies concerned within the hiring of Dolloff, who wasn’t licensed as a safety guard in Denver.
“The Keltners sit up for justice for Lee and the costs of second-degree homicide towards Mr. Dolloff … are step one in that path,” Boyle mentioned.
He urged that Keltner be remembered “as a father, grandfather, a husband and a Colorado artisan.”
Helen H. Richardson, The Denver PostLee Keltner shoots pepper spray as Matthew Dolloff, an unlicensed safety guard working for 9News, fires a gun in Denver, Colorado, on Oct. 10, 2020. The deadly capturing occurred after competing right- and left-wing rallies in downtown Denver.
Keltner is a longtime resident of Brighton, however his voter registration, submitted in July — and apparently his first voter registration on report in Colorado — listed a residential tackle in Idaho Springs. He was affiliated with the American Structure Social gathering, a conservative minor celebration.
He obtained his begin in hat-making when he was in his early 20s, telling The Submit for a enterprise function on Crossfire Hats in 2015 that he moved together with his pregnant spouse to Durango to study the commerce.
After he began his personal enterprise, he constructed a clientele alongside the Entrance Vary. He labored early on out of The Grizzly Rose, a country-western dance corridor north of Denver, and later contained in the Livestock Change Constructing on the Nationwide Western Advanced and out of his residence, amongst different places. He purchased primary hats and reshaped them, including thrives or particular therapies to order.
“Whenever you work behind the hat counter, it’s just about due to habit,” Keltner advised The Submit in 2015. “It will get in your blood and also you get a ardour for it. It’s an artwork, like portray, and I simply stored doing it. I’m fortunate that I’ve been in a position to make a residing out of it for 21 years now.”
Just a few years earlier, a video sequence sponsored by the American Angus Affiliation featured the Nationwide Western Inventory Present and included a phase on Keltner, who mentioned: “I really like being an artist and creating new and various things. As a result of I do all of the work myself, and I do them one after the other, it’s really particular for the shopper to get a bit of wearable artwork to indicate off their character and their fashion.”
Donald Graham says he struck up a friendship with Keltner via his enterprise about 20 years in the past, assembly him at The Grizzly Rose.
The 2 struck a deal: In alternate for customized hats, Graham, a budding photographer, would take advertising photographs for Keltner’s enterprise. Keltner wore various costumes and typically posed with considered one of his sons.
“He was a humorous man,” Graham mentioned. “He was numerous enjoyable to hang around with. As a photographer, he was one of the charismatic actors I’ve ever labored with — or fashions, I’d say. He’d gown up and goof off. … You’d see a loving father in a single (photograph), you’d see a form of a back-hills hillbilly in one other, you’d see a law-and-order man in one other.
“That’s simply what got here out — he may put himself into character so simply.”
Graham later invested in Keltner’s enterprise when he was wanting cash to top off on stock, he mentioned. However he hasn’t identified him as nicely lately, Graham mentioned, and was shocked to study of his loss of life outdoors the rally.
He was trying to find solutions within the days that adopted.
“Properly, I knew Lee fairly nicely. He was a really robust patriot,” mentioned Graham, who works as a development marketing consultant and business drone pilot, although they didn’t a lot speak politics then. “He’s a veteran, he served within the navy. He would do something to defend the Structure and defend the flag.”
“Like numerous us,” he added, “we’re fed up” — in regards to the tone and tenor of protests towards police violence this summer season, in regards to the all-or-nothing tone of nationwide politics and what Graham perceives as derision for conservatives by the left.
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Keltner’s son mentioned Sunday that his father had slowed down lately, since he suffered severe accidents in a wreck on his bike.
“He was simply attempting to get by,” Jay Keltner mentioned.
Earlier, Keltner had run into private and monetary setbacks, with three marriages ending in divorce or annulment, in response to courtroom data, and a chapter case, settled in 2012, that included unpaid medical and enterprise money owed. He married his present spouse in 2014 at Purple Rocks, in response to the Denver Clerk and Recorder’s Workplace.
Weil, the Rockmount Ranch Put on president, mentioned he hadn’t been in contact with Keltner for the final 5 years or so. He mentioned he was stunned when he discovered Keltner had been killed in Saturday’s incident.
It made him consider the poisonous brew of politics in 2020, he mentioned — with a pandemic raging, folks taking sides within the presidential election and unstable clashes within the streets. Either side is polarized, holding little or no respect for the opposing facet’s beliefs.
“What has occurred to our society that politics turns into lethal?” Weil mentioned. “What has occurred? And the way can we come again from that?”

Denver Submit employees author Elise Schmelzer contributed to this story.


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