Florida

Why Orlando shooter was kicked out of corrections officer training

In the two weeks before Omar Mateen was kicked out of a corrections officer training class in 2007, he was written up for repeatedly falling asleep during class, being absent without permission and, “most disturbing” for his officials, he threatened to bring a gun to school.

“While the class was given a 15-minute break, Omar Mateen approached me laughing saying that if he was to bring a gun to school would I tell anybody,’’ wrote J. Thompson, a recruit who, along with Mateen, was in training to become a corrections officer at Martin Correctional Institution. “I looked at him and walked away.”

The incident was the final straw for authorities at the Criminal Justice Training Institute at Indian River Community College, which was conducting the training, according to Department of Corrections documents obtained by the Miami Herald through a public records request.

Between April 17 and April 23, 2007, Mateen had frequently been reported sleeping in class — and at the shooting range — by instructors and classmates. On April 23, he reportedly arrived late, fell asleep in class, then left during a break without informing the instructor.

I observed Cadet Mateen fall asleep for about five minutes hearing snoring at which time Mateen awakened and went to stand at the rear of the class for awhile.

R. Foss, another recruit in training

When Mateen returned the next day, the 20-year-old recruit was asked to explain what happened. “I left class without any permission due to the fact I had a high severe fever,’’ he wrote in a memo to Officer Kevin Lapham, head of the program. “The fever was about 103. I was scared that I might of doozed (sic) off in the classroom. My mother called me to come home and rest.”

On the day Mateen left class without notice, it was clear officials were suspicious. They asked other recruits and instructors to write up what they observed about Mateen and collected memos from five of his classmates and one instructor reporting Mateen’s questionable behavior. Included in the statements was the comment to Thompson on April 14, 2007, about bringing a gun to class.

“I am recommending probationary dismissal on recruit Omar Mateen,” wrote Powell Skipper, warden at Martin Correctional Institution to Bob Riffle, the head of the training institution, on April 25, 2007. He cited Mateen’s absence and odd behavior and the “most disturbing” incident documented by classmate Thompson.

“In light of recent tragic events at Virginia Tech officer Mateen’s inquiry about bringing a weapon to class is at best extremely disturbing,’’ Skipper wrote.

The comments about bringing a gun to class were made two days before Seung-Hui Cho fatally shot 32 people at Virginia Tech on April 16, 2007, but were not recorded until April 23, 2007.

Mateen was hired in 2006 by the Department of Corrections program that trains recruits to become corrections officers, but was dismissed before he finished his training.

Other recruits and instructors documented their observations about Mateen on that day.

“At about 1230 hours I observed Cadet Mateen fall asleep for about five minutes hearing snoring at which time Mateen awakened and went to stand at the rear of the class for awhile,’’ wrote R. Foss, another recruit in training.

“Omar Mateen left campus during break and did not return. He did not let the instructor know he was leaving,’’ wrote Jo Beth Laycock, the selection center coordinator at the community college.

Mateen was officially dismissed on April 27 and “did not complete his academic program and was not certified as a correctional officer,’’ the Department of Corrections said in a statement.

Mateen had been hired by the Department of Corrections program that sponsors and trains recruits to become corrections officers. His employment with the state began Oct. 27, 2006, corrections officials said. A spokesman for Indian River State College said Mateen entered the academy after earning an associate’s degree in criminal justice technology.

During the six months Mateen was employed by the Department of Corrections, he remained on probationary status and could be fired for cause at any time, said Walt McNeil, who served as Corrections secretary from 2008 through 2009.

“Corrections officers are not police officers and in the absence of having certification they are not allowed to bring a weapon to class,’’ he said. “Guns are restricted to the range. That [threat] would have been enough on its face to let him go.”

Six months after being dismissed from the program on Oct. 5, 2007, Mateen passed a psychological exam and was issued his “D” security guard license, state records show.

A year after that, Mateen earned a “G” license, the statewide firearms license issued to security guards, on Oct. 8, 2008. He would have undergone a background check conducted by FDLE.

Mary Ellen Klas: meklas@miamiherald.com and @MaryEllenKlas

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