G4S is a mammoth among security agencies. With more than 600,000 workers, it’s one of the world’s largest private employers. By the company’s own estimate, it runs security for 90 percent of the United States’ nuclear power plants.
It also employed Omar Mateen, the Orlando mass-killer who professed allegiance to ISIS, and cleared him for duty in two background checks — including one in 2013, after a messy breakup with an ex-wife who now says he assaulted her, and around when the FBI grew concerned about his connections to a suicide bomber.
The private security and prison company that employed Mateen has a history of controversy surrounding their hiring and business practices in Florida and elsewhere. After former coworkers have come forward to say they warned the company of Mateen’s instability, many observers are left wondering how much the company knew and if it ignored red flags.
G4S calls itself the “world’s leading security solutions group.” The London-based company contracts often with the U.S. government — it currently operates 32 taxpayer-funded juvenile prisons in the U.S. through G4S Youth Services, and has transported and housed immigrant detainees on behalf of the Department of Homeland Security. G4S has also coordinated security for more than 90 percent of nuclear sites in the U.S, as well as airports, hospitals, and seaports.
The company said in a statement it was “deeply shocked by the tragic events” in Orlando. But this is by no means the first time G4S has come under fire for its hiring decisions.
- Two years ago, a G4S employee who had passed the company’s background checks was charged with sexually assaulting two juvenile inmates, ages 15 and 17, at its corporate-run Palmetto Youth Academy in Florida. ABC News reported that at the time he was hired, the employee was on probation for “felony habitual driving without a license and contempt of court.” He is still in custody, awaiting trial.
- In a separate incident, a G4S employee was fired for allegedly engaging in sex acts with a boy under her care at a different youth facility in Florida. Before starting work with G4S, she’d been fired from the Florida Department of Corrections for having an inappropriate relationship with an inmate there, according to ABC News. G4S says the information of her prior termination did not come to light in the company’s screening process. Authorities ultimately declined to press charges against her, citing a lack of evidence.
- Sadly, the Orlando shooting is not the first time an unstable G4S guard has killed people. In 2009, Danny Fitzsimons, a security guard working for a company owned by G4S called ArmorGroup, murdered two ex-servicemen after a “good natured rivalry” escalated quickly into violence in Iraq. Fitzsimons had a criminal record and ongoing proceedings against him when he started the job, according to the BBC. Coroner Joanne Kearsley said Fitzsimons, who is currently serving a 20-year prison term in Baghdad, was “not properly vetted” before he was given the job and that the human resources department didn’t check to ensure he had proper paperwork before he started.
A spokesman for G4S at the time said Fitzsimons’ actions had come as “a profound shock.”
“Industry standards for the recruitment of private security operators in high-threat environments have advanced significantly in the years following this tragic incident. G4S has played a key role in promoting those changes,” he told the BBC.
The company has also come under scrutiny for alleged bad behavior and business practices, particularly in Britain, where a government report last May alleged that staff at a juvenile detention facility “were on drugs while on duty, colluded with detainees and behaved ‘extremely inappropriately’ with young people.” G4S’s British workers have also been accused of profiting unduly off of detainees’ labor and, most recently, of tying up British emergency phone lines in order to goose their own dispatchers’ average response times. It also faced widespread public outrage for its costly bungling of a plum contract to provide security at the 2012 London Olympics, overcharging officials and underestimating how many guards it needed.
Since joining G4S in 2007, Mateen had worked a series of details as an armed guard — including at the St. Lucie County courthouse and at a nearby retirement community — but the company says background checks conducted in 2007 and 2013 revealed “no adverse findings.”
Michael Laycock, a former G4S guard who worked with Mateen at the courthouse, told Fusion that the Orlando shooter was “definitely a very aggressive person” whose anger would escalate quickly. Laycock said when he met Mateen, the latter wasn’t a devout Muslim, but became increasingly religious over the time they worked together.
Mateen engaged in self-stereotyping at times — referring to Afghans and Middle Easterners as mediocre fighters on the battlefield, but adding that they were “sneaky, and that seems to take a certain amount of cunning and a certain amount of intelligence,” Laycock said.
“He seemed to take pride in the fact not necessarily that he was a fighter, but as someone who could do a surprise attack.”
One of their coworkers, suspecting Mateen might commit a terrorist act after comments he had made, reported him to the FBI, Laycock told Fusion.
“Our supervisor at the site had said as much at one point, that he might do something like this,” Laycock told Fusion. “I could see it, I could definitely see it, and because of that, that was right before one of the times he was questioned by the FBI.” (Fusion was still attempting to contact that supervisor at press time.)
The FBI says they investigated Mateen in 2013 and 2014 over comments he had made to work colleagues, but had insufficient evidence to pursue charges. Through all of that, Mateen apparently remained a G4S employee in good standing.
Mateen was not fired after the incident, but instead was relocated to a different G4S post. When Mateen suspected that his supervisor at the courthouse reported him to the FBI, he tried to fight him, Laycock told Fusion. (The company did not comment when asked about Mateen’s reassignment.)
“He became very aggressive toward the supervisor because he thought the supervisor was the one that tipped them off,” said Laycock. “He wasn’t [the person who tipped them off], but it was that way in Omar’s mind.”
Months after the incident at the courthouse, another former G4S co-worker Daniel Gilroy says he reported Mateen to his superiors, but that his complaints were ignored.
“I quit because everything he said was toxic,” Gilroy told Florida Today, “and the company wouldn’t do anything. This guy was unhinged and unstable. He talked of killing people.”
Gilroy says Mateen often made “homophobic and racial comments,” adding that he reported Mateen on multiple occasions, and that Mateen “began stalking him” by texting him 20 or 30 times a day and leaving “13 to 15 phone messages a day.”
“When I say that he was unstable or unhinged, I mean this is a man who would lose his temper for no reason. He would kick walls, slap desks. I’ve seen him throw the chair across the room one time,” Gilroy told ABC News.
Despite moving Mateen away from the courthouse, G4S told Fusion that it “has no record of any complaint by Mr. Gilroy about Mr. Mateen” and that Gilroy had told the company, on the record, that his coworkers “were good men and women that put in an honest day’s work” after he left the job.
Still, Gilroy says the shooting in Orlando wasn’t a shock to him.
“I always knew he had something in him like that,” Gilroy told ABC News. “And if I had to pick one person that would be capable of that, it would be him.”
G4S did not respond on Monday to questions about their background check process or Mateen’s security assignments. “G4S is deeply shocked by the tragic events in Orlando this weekend and the thoughts of everyone at G4S are with the victims and their families,” the company said in a press release on its website, adding that Mateen was “not on duty at the time of the incident.”
The firm’s stock plunged more than 5 percent Monday on news of its connection to the Orlando killer.
Additional reporting by the Fusion Investigative Team.