Florida

Omar Mateen mystery: Why was Orlando shooter fired by prison?

Fort Pierce residents talk about Omar Mateen living among them

Residents in Fort Pierce talk about Omar Mateen living among them and how they do not want his infamous legacy, the killing of 49 people in an Orlando night club, to define their city.
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Residents in Fort Pierce talk about Omar Mateen living among them and how they do not want his infamous legacy, the killing of 49 people in an Orlando night club, to define their city.

The reason for Omar Mateen’s dismissal in 2007 from the Florida Department of Corrections remains a mystery — even to agency officials, who said Thursday they could not find an explanation for why he was fired midway through his training.

The reason is potentially significant because if it involved serious misconduct and documented in FDC’s files, it might have hindered Mateen’s future prospects of obtaining work as an armed security guard.

The Orlando killer was 18 when he was hired as a probationary officer, or TEA, in October 2006. He was “involuntarily administratively dismissed’’ in April, six months after he was hired, records released by the agency on Thursday show.

In February, two months before he was terminated, a performance evaluation concluded that he was meeting all expectations and “with more training will become a good corrections officer.’’ The evaluation was unsigned.

Records noted that the firing, which was approved by Powell Skipper, warden at Martin Correctional Institution, was not related to misconduct. Skipper, now retired, told the Miami Herald, he didn’t remember Mateen.

“I didn’t know the guy. I don’t remember why he was dismissed. This was an event that occurred 10 years ago.... I did not realize he worked at the facility until I saw it on the news,’’ Skipper said.

Public records released by the department also revealed that Mateen had been arrested in 2005 on battery charges. On his FDC application, he said he had been involved in a fight at Martin County High School when he was 14, that he was charged by the Martin County Sheriff’s Office and that adjudication was withheld so he was never criminally convicted.

If he was there for the full six months, and they let him go, it was likely something serious.

Ron McAndrew, prison consultant and former warden

His FDC paperwork showed that the agency waived that infraction after he submitted an explanation of what happened. It does not appear from his file that the agency researched details about the incident, since the arrest report and other related documents are not part of the file.

“This was an experience of me growing up and I learned a big lesson,’’ Mateen wrote.

Steven J. Brown, an officer with the Port St. Lucie Police Department, appeared to be his primary employment reference, along with neighbors and family friends, all of whom were contacted within the past few days by the FBI.

Brown, in a recommendation letter written to the prison agency, said he knew Mateen for three years, having had contact with him at a nearby gym where Mateen worked.

In summing up his opinion of Mateen, Brown wrote in his letter:

“I would sleep soundly at night knowing that a person like Omar is protecting us [from] the element which resides behind your concrete and steal [sic] walls.’’ He called Mateen’s character “beyond reproach.’’

Agency officials say they do not know why Mateen was released, even though they researched it, including reviewing internal emails in an effort to learn more.

“His employment was conditional that he complete certain criteria. Which one he failed, we cannot say,’’ said Alberto Moscoso, spokesman for the department.

Administrative dismissals cover a long list of infractions, ranging from failing a drug test to tardiness. It could also mean that Mateen simply wasn’t corrections officer material, said Matt Puckett, executive director of the Florida Police Benevolent Association — which represented the state’s corrections officers in 2006.

While trainee officers in the academy can become union members, Mateen did not join, Puckett said.

“When you’re in the academy, you’re in probationary status, and they can dismiss you for really almost anything. There’s very little recourse,’’ Puckett said.

Ron McAndrew, a prison consultant who worked as a warden for the Department of Corrections, said that if the FDC let him go after sponsoring his training, there had to be a good reason.

“If he was there for the full six months, and they let him go, it was likely something serious,’’ said McAndrew a national expert who has testified in more than 250 federal and state cases.

It’s not unusual for a TEA to be dismissed without being told why, since he or she is a probationary officer, Moscoso said. All temporary employees have a one-year probation.

A spokesman for Indian River State College said Mateen entered the college’s corrections academy in 2006 after earning an associate’s degree in criminal justice technology. The Department of Corrections hired him and sponsored his training, college spokesman Robert Lane said.

“When his employment with the department ended in April 2007, he was released from the Corrections Academy. There were no disciplinary issues or actions,’’ Lane said in a statement.

A copy of his transcript indicates that Mateen earned mostly B’s in his courses and graduated with a 2.6 grade point average.

“If he really did something bad and they let him go instead of charging him, it would have meant the DOC failed to bring forth that info that would have prevented him from becoming an armed guard,’’ McAndrew said.

Even if it was an administrative or policy violation, had the agency made note of it, another law enforcement agency or security firm would have been privy to it and could have made a different call on whether to hire Mateen, he said.

State records show Mateen passed a psychological exam to earn his firearms license, and performed well in training, sometimes at the same Port St. Lucie gun range where he purchased the weapons used in Sunday’s Orlando nightclub massacre.

State officials said he was issued his “D” security guard license on Oct. 5, 2007, and his “G” license, or statewide firearms license issued to security guards, on Oct. 8, 2008. He would have undergone a background check conducted by FDLE.

As a U.S. citizen and resident of the state of Florida, however, only a criminal conviction would have prevented him from legally purchasing an assault weapon — or any gun — in the state of Florida.

Although it has been reported that Mateen held a concealed weapons permit in the state of Florida, the state does not release the names of anyone who has permits to carry weapons.

Miami Herald staff writer Nicholas Nehamas contributed to this story.

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