9 years before Orlando rampage, Mateen was expelled from prison academy after talk of bringing a gun to class

When Orlando gunman Omar Mateen applied to be a state prison guard 10 years ago, his highest recommendation came from a police officer in his hometown. (Photo illustration, Yahoo News; Photos: State of Florida, Reuters/Joe Skipper)
When Orlando gunman Omar Mateen applied to be a state prison guard 10 years ago, his highest recommendation came from a police officer in his hometown. (Photo illustration, Yahoo News; Photos: State of Florida, Reuters/Joe Skipper)

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. — Orlando gunman Omar Mateen failed as a prison guard because he was booted from the state’s training academy after talking about bringing a gun to class, according to documents discovered late Friday by the Florida Department of Corrections.

Earlier this week, prison officials said Mateen was “administratively dismissed” in 2007, but did not give specifics on why he never received his certification to continue working as a correctional officer.

A hand search of department archives, prison officials said Friday, produced another dozen pages of records.

Among them was a memo from a warden recommending that Mateen be dismissed from the program for sleeping in class, being absent without permission and, “most disturbing,” asking a fellow student whether he would report him if he were to bring a gun to class.

“In light of recent tragic events at Virginia Tech officer Mateen’s inquiry about bringing a weapon to class is at best extremely disturbing,” wrote P.H. Skipper, then warden at the Martin Correctional Institute where Mateen, a cadet, was assigned.

A memo reveals a Florida prison warden’s concern about Omar Mateen 10 years before the Orlando nightclub rampage. (Florida Department of Corrections)
A memo reveals a Florida prison warden’s concern about Omar Mateen, almost 10 years before the Orlando nightclub rampage. (Florida Department of Corrections)

His dismissal came days after the April 16, 2007, tragedy at Virginia Tech, where 32 people were killed. It was the deadliest mass shooting by a lone gunman in recorded U.S. history until last Sunday, when Mateen attacked Pulse nightclub, a popular gay bar in Orlando. Police say Mateen fatally shot 49 people and injured 53 others before he was killed in a shootout with officers.

Mateen, a longtime private security guard, aspired to work in law enforcement.

When he applied to be a state prison guard 10 years ago, his highest recommendation came from a police officer in his hometown.

“Omar’s character is beyond reproach,” Port St. Lucie Officer Steven Brown wrote in a letter to the Florida Department of Corrections. “Omar’s judgment, work ethic, sensibility, and problem solving ability are impeccable.”

The officer ended his endorsement of Mateen by saying, “I would sleep soundly at night knowing that a person like Omar is protecting us [from] the element which resides behind your concrete and [steel] walls.”

The letter — among dozens of documents released from Mateen’s short stint as a prison guard — is chilling in light of Sunday’s massacre, and adds yet another layer to the complicated portrait of the killer that is still emerging.

Some former teachers and classmates have recalled the Orlando shooter as a hothead who celebrated the 9/11 terror attacks as a high school student. But a handful of neighbors and acquaintances, like Brown, thought enough of Mateen at one time to declare that he would do well in law enforcement.

“Absolutely,” former neighbor John Updegrave wrote on a recommendation form. “Omar is very good candidate for an officer.”

Another former Port St. Lucie neighbor said Omar was “always willing to give a hand if needed.”

Brown told prison officials that he had known Mateen for three years, having met the teenager at Gold’s Gym and a nutrition store where Mateen worked.

“Omar does possess a character which would compliment [sic] the requirements of a Correctional Officer,” Brown wrote in 2006.

Mateen was a provisional guard at Martin Correctional Institution in central Florida for six months before being terminated for not finishing the academy and acquiring his state certification.

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Brown, who is still a Port St. Lucie officer, declined to comment for this story.

“He informed me that he did not wish to speak to or give any interviews on the matter,” said Master Sgt. Frank Sabol, a spokesman for the Port St. Lucie Police Department.

Authorities say Mateen, who was born in New York to Afghan parents, pledged his allegiance to radical Islamic terrorists during the Orlando rampage.

Sources briefed on the FBI’s investigation have said Mateen watched Islamic State terrorist videos — including some showing brutal beheadings — and talked to co-workers about them.

A sad paradox for a young man who, records show, signed a commitment to public safety and took an oath to uphold the U.S. Constitution when he started his prison job.

(This story has been updated since it was originally published.)

Jason Sickles is a national reporter for Yahoo News. Follow him on Twitter (@jasonsickles).


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