Security guard in custody after fatal shooting amid dueling protests in Denver, police say

A man sprays Mace or a similar substance as another man fires a gun on Saturday in Denver.

A private security guard is in custody after a fatal shooting amid dueling demonstrations in downtown Denver, police said Saturday, in the latest deadly violence to unfold at the scene of tense protests.

Right-wing demonstrators had gathered at the city’s civic center for a “Patriot Rally,” as did left-wing activists affiliating themselves with Black Lives Matter and antifa, who said they wanted to “drown out their hate.” Police said Saturday that the suspect is not affiliated with antifa, as some claimed online; local television station 9News identified the person as a guard it hired to accompany an employee covering the events.

The Denver Post reported that the shooting victim was a participant of the “Patriot Rally” who sprayed Mace or a similar substance at another man who then opened fire with a weapon. A Denver Post photo captures a man spraying a substance at a masked person with a gun, identified by the newspaper as the shooter.

Police did not provide information on the victim after saying they were still trying to determine any connections to the protesters.

“There was a large [police] presence because we had two groups with opposing views, and we know that can always get very tense,” said Joe Montoya, division chief of investigations for the Denver Police Department, at a news conference, adding that authorities tried their best to keep the groups separate. “And there’s always potential for violence.”

Protesters were just starting to disperse from a park Saturday afternoon, police said, when officers working the events reported shots fired. The violence — under investigation as a homicide — followed a “verbal altercation,” according to Montoya.

The man who was shot was taken to a hospital and later pronounced dead, police said. Neither the alleged gunman nor the victim was identified by authorities.

Officials said a Mace canister and two firearms were recovered at the scene.

Few details were available Saturday, and authorities said they are interviewing witnesses. As some on social media accused a left-wing protester of perpetrating the violence, Montoya said he hopes to release more information about the individuals involved as soon as possible, suggesting that rumors could further inflame the situation and lead to more violence.

“We’re hopeful that that information will help kind of calm the waters a little bit,” he said. “We don’t want any erroneous information going out, any speculation, because that’s really what hurts us.”

Police initially took another person into custody who was nearby, but later determined they were not involved in the killing, Montoya said. 9News said a producer in its investigative unit was detained and then released.

The shooting took place between the Denver Art Museum and a public library, authorities said.

Tensions were high in Denver heading into Saturday’s events. An organizer of the Denver “Patriot Rally,” John Tiegen, emphasized to local news station KNUS earlier in the week that he was “not calling for violence” but added that if he was attacked, he would respond “10 times fold.”

Heated clashes between demonstrators this summer and fall have escalated at times into sometimes deadly conflict.

In Portland, Ore., a self-described anti-fascist — later killed by law enforcement officers — was accused of fatally shooting a supporter of President Trump amid dueling racial justice and pro-Trump protests. In Kenosha, Wis., a 17-year-old — who said he went out heavily armed to guard a business amid protests over the police shooting of Jacob Blake — was charged with killing two people and wounding a third.

Some protests have drawn self-proclaimed militia groups, raising fears of a confrontation.

Those caught up in the violence have sometimes had little affiliation to the political causes drawing protesters.

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