A TV Station Hired Security For Its Reporters. Then, Trouble Came.

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On Saturday, Oct. 10, a protester was shot and killed by an individual suspected to be an individual who worked for a private security company. Why was he at the scene in front of the Denver Art Museum?


The man was believed to have been hired by Pinkerton to keep a field journalist employed by a TEGNA-owned local TV station safe.

Now, with an individual dead and video footage of the incident distributed across social media, some are wondering if TEGNA faces a legal challenge — or if it is an innocent party in an incident that went horribly wrong.


RBR+TVBR OBSERVATION: {full text below}
TEGNA could have a hefty legal bill defending itself from any claims of negligence in the coming years. It provides a key learning lesson for media companies and local management to review all contracts — and insurance policies — in the event of a mishap.

The latest details regarding the tragedy were shared by KUSA-9 in Denver morning anchor Gary Shapiro as he kicked off the 4:30am Mountain Time broadcast.

The relationship to the security company that was contracted by KUSA, a TEGNA-owned NBC station, was discussed; the man was hired to accompany one of the station’s news crews covering the protest on Saturday.

Kevin Vaughn, from the 9 Wants to Know investigative unit, looked into the background of Matthew Dolloff. “He’s at the center of a shooting at the end of dueling protests,” Vaughn says.

He is presently in jail, held for investigation of First Degree Murder, and is being kept in jail without bail. Dolloff’s next court date has not yet been set.

With protesters from both sides of the political divide taking spots at the art museum, facing the south side of Civic Center Park, KUSA-9 contracted with Pinkerton to supply agents to provide security to its employees — a growing concern following threats to field journalists seen in recent months in Los Angeles, Miami and in Louisville, Ky.

With initial reports noting that Dolloff worked for Pinkerton, KUSA’s early Monday report provided a crucial update: That wasn’t true. Rather, he was a “contractor agent.”

In a statement provided to KUSA-9, the company said, “We are in the process of still gathering information to better understand the incident that occurred in Denver on October 10 involving a contractor agent,” with “contractor agent” appearing in bold in an apparent attempt to distance itself from the actions of Dolloff.

The security company continued, “The agent in question is not a Pinkerton employee. Pinkerton is fully cooperating with law enforcement authorities in their investigation of this matter.”

According to Denver Police Department, it was clear that Dolloff was working as a security guard at the two protests. But, through his reporting, Vaughn found that the City of Denver has no record of Dolloff being licensed to work as a private security officer in the municipality. Pinkerton is required to abide by this law. But, Vaughn noted in his report, it was unclear as of this morning who employs Dolloff.

With no license to serve as a private officer in Denver, Dolloff could see fines and jail time, Vaughn reported. But, could the victim’s facilities also file a lawsuit against KUSA-9 and/or its parent, TEGNA?

That’s possible, but the absence of important facts make it difficult for some legal experts RBR+TVBR contacted for comment to speak on the matter. As a judge sealed court documents in the case, what led to the shooting remains a mystery to the public.

Nevertheless, there are some facts about Dolloff that KUSA-9 shared. It found his personal Facebook profile, and even showed a photo of a visit to Disneyland to viewers — along with a picture of his honey stand at a gun expo. More telling, Vaughn’s report suggests, are “left-leaning political posts from years past” on his Facebook page available for public view. These pictures include one of him at an Occupy Denver event held in 2011.

COVERING NEWS, WHEN YOU’RE THE NEWS

“9News is used to covering many different types of stories, but usually we’re not directly involved in them.”

Those were the words of KUSA-9 morning co-anchor Natasha Verma, who explained to viewers this morning that WFAA-8 in Dallas senior reporter Jason Whitely had been brought in to cover initial stages of the shooting. WFAA is TEGNA-owned.

Whitely shared with views how Brian Lomo of TMX.news saw the shooting and captured it with his own video, as he was streaming the protests live.

He said he heard a loud argument between the art museum and Denver’s library. Lomo noted that he saw what looked like a punch, followed by the release of a gas. Then, there was a shot.

A veteran photographer from the Denver Post captured the entire incident up close.

The video shows the “patriot member” provoking Dolloff, and is the individual who appears to be the antagonist in the incident.

A LEGAL CHALLENGE AHEAD?

What has KUSA-9 said in regard to the matter?

In a prepared statement, the TEGNA property noted, “9News is deeply saddened by this loss of life. We have and will continue to cooperate fully with law enforcement.”

Could family members of the protestor killed by Dolloff come after TEGNA?

While one Washington, D.C. communications attorney said there were too many variables and unknown facts to properly assuage the situation, Fletcher Heald & Hildreth Partner Francisco Montero believes TEGNA would not likely be held accountable for Dolloff’s actions.

“This event was tragic,” Montero wrote to RBR+TVBR via e-mail on Monday. “If the shooting occurred as a result of independent unsupervised action by the Pinkerton employee, then I believe TEGNA would have a solid defense against any claims levied against them.”

But, Montero added, it could turn on what instructions the employee or Pinkerton were given by TEGNA.

“The contract between TEGNA and Pinkerton, while not necessarily determining liability, could provide TEGNA with a vehicle to seek indemnification from Pinkerton for any monetary damages imposed or costs suffered,” he said. “But, none of that will necessarily lessen the public relations impact of this tragic event.”

That’s perhaps the biggest blow for TEGNA and KUSA-9, as it brings in a WFAA-8 reporter while contracts, policies and insurance get a magnified review by the station’s legal counsel. With a likely trial against Dolloff and the potential for lawsuits, the next three to five years could see KUSA-9’s name tarnished as a constant reminder of its indirect involvement in the death of a protestor.


RBR+TVBR OBSERVATION:
Shortly after Fletcher Heald & Hildreth Partner Francisco Montero offered his comments to RBR+TVBR, it became known that any indemnification of TEGNA by Pinkerton is now likely lost, considering the nature of contracted security guard Matthew Dolloff’s status with Pinkerton and just who he worked for. However this matter concludes, TEGNA has a potential legal bill in the hundreds of thousands of dollars ahead. It sends a strong message to corporations and station managers to review any contract struck with a security detail hired to protect their field journalists at a most volatile time for local news media and for our nation. What are the explicit instructions a security guard is given by the station? What sort of insurance policies are in place in the event of a mishap?

Criminal charges against TEGNA and/or KUSA are unlikely. But, civil charges could arise given the fact that the contractor security guard was not licensed to act in his capacity in the city of Denver. That’s on Pinkerton — and perhaps attorneys will go after KUSA and/or TEGNA.

Was TEGNA 50% at fault? Was it 10% at fault?

Jurors and plaintiff’s attorneys will want to put blame on someone. TEGNA, and KUSA-9, aren’t out of the woods.

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