Staying close to Obama in an elevator one day costs private security guard his job
ATLANTA: Kenneth Tate, a construction worker and
corrections officer, working as a $42,000-a-year private security guard at the
Centre for Disease Control and Prevention was assigned to accompany President
Obama, who was visiting the agency’s headquarters here for a briefing on the
Tate’s bosses had also entrusted him with staying
close to such an important dignitary. It was that, as an African-American born
in Chicago, he was going to meet the nation’s first black president, a man he
deeply admired. But by the time Obama’s visit was over, Tate was on the way to
losing his job.
As Obama’s motorcade was preparing to leave the CDC,
Tate tried to take a picture on his cellphone as a memento. Angry Secret
Service agents told him that he had gotten too close to the Beast, as the
presidential Limousine is known. When the agents relayed to Tate’s bosses what
had happened, they reacted angrily.
“This was unjust and has been a nightmare,” Tate, 47,
said in an interview last week. “I’ve tried to rationalise it. It won’t go
But it took several weeks before the full consequences
of the incident became clear. An investigation conducted shortly after Obama’s
visit revealed that Tate was carrying a CDC-issued firearm, a violation of
Secret Service protocols — and a security lapse that the agency’s director at
the time, Julia Pierson, never mentioned to the White House.
Then, on the same day that Pierson testified at a
contentious hearing on Capitol Hill about how a fence jumper with a knife had
gained entry to the White House, The Washington Examiner revealed that Obama
had been on an elevator with a CDC security guard who was carrying a gun in
violation of Secret Service protocols.
The story added to a growing debate over whether the
Secret Service was failing in its most basic duties. Some news media organisations,
as well as Representative Jason Chaffetz, Republican of Utah, said —
erroneously — that the security guard had been convicted of felonies. Tate had
been arrested several times, including on charges of robbery and assault, but
The next day, Pierson resigned. But in Tate’s view, he
is the real victim.
“From the reports, I was some stranger that entered
the elevator,” he said in an interview here at the office of his lawyer,
Christopher Chestnut. “I mean, I was appointed.”
The Secret Service and the CDC have not released a
chronology of what occurred that day, making it difficult to assess the
accuracy of Tate’s account. A Secret Service official, who was given a summary
of Tate’s account, said it was largely consistent with what an agency
investigation had found. He said the inspector general’s office of the
Department of Homeland Security was investigating the incident.
But William R Banks, the president of Professional
Security Corporation, the private security firm that was Tate’s employer, said
in an email that Tate’s description of the day’s events “are not correct,”
though he declined to say what was inaccurate. He confirmed that Tate “did not
have any felony or misdemeanour convictions.” The CDC declined to comment.
According to Tate, the day Obama travelled to the CDC
started the way every workday did, with being issued a .40-caliber Smith &
Wesson handgun and two magazine clips. Tate said he had holstered the weapon on
his belt under his suit jacket.
His supervisors then told him that he was going to
operate the service elevator Obama was going to use. Everything appeared to be
going right for Tate. The previous day he had taken off for his birthday and
won $800 playing his birthday digits in the lottery.
Around 2:25 pm, the presidential motorcade arrived at
the back entrance of the CDC. On the elevator ride, Tate said, the president
struck up a conversation.
“He acknowledged me, said, ‘How you are doing?’ He
said, ‘What’s your name?’ I told him my name, and he extended his hand, shook
my hand, and I said it’s a pleasure to meet him. And I proceeded to escort him
“I was just proud,” Tate said. “That was a big
accomplishment to me.” He said one of the Secret Service agents had told him
that it was remarkable that Obama had talked to him, considering it had taken
the president two years to acknowledge the agent.
Tate has done nothing wrong besides being in the wrong
place at the wrong time. Someone making $42,000 a year should not be expected
to. He did what he was told to do. He did not do anything he was told not to
The Secret Service needs a shape up real quick. Top
down. Make it clear what their job requires. No exceptions. Agents involved in
Also on the elevator, Tate said, was “one of the
little ladies who is always speaking on the news.” The president’s national
security adviser, Susan E. Rice, was with him that day.
After Obama’s meetings, Tate took him back down to
where the limousine was waiting. After the president got in, Tate tried to take
a picture. He said he had thought nothing of it because he had taken photos of
other dignitaries before — including one with Michael R. Bloomberg, the former
mayor of New York.
When a Secret Service agent officer waved at him to
get back, Tate said, he headed into the building. An agent he passed on his way
inside said someone was probably going to lose his job because no one was
allowed so close to the limousine. Tate said he had no idea why the agents were
so concerned since he did not believe he had disobeyed any of their
A few minutes later, he said, his bosses angrily
pulled him aside. Secret Service agents then took him into a conference room to
“I was upset. I’m nervous because I’m like, I don’t
understand what’s going on,” he said. Tate said the images he had taken on his
smart phone were of the limousine and the agents around it — similar to ones
that news crews often take. He said the Secret Service had ordered him to
delete them; he complied. After the Secret Service interview was completed,
Tate’s bosses took away his CDC badge. The next week he was given his letter of
Tate said the CDC and the contractor still had not
provided him with an explanation about why he was fired. Making matters worse,
his 27-year-old son — who had worked at the CDC as a contractor for seven years
— was unexpectedly dismissed two weeks after the incident for “downsizing”
reasons, Tate said.
Now unemployed, he looks back with sadness on the day
he met the president. “It was something to tell my mom — if I meet him
everything will be complete,” he said. “I didn’t know it was going to be my