The Man Who Was Fired for Taking a Photograph of the President

Kenneth Tate, the CDC guard who lost his job after snapping a picture of Obama's motorcade, was labeled a criminal after officials discovered he had ridden an elevator with the commander in chief while armed. Now, Tate is telling his story.

Updated 6:36 p.m.

Around this time last month, Americans were treated to a rare sojourn into the land of bipartisan outrage after a series of security lapses forced the resignation of Secret Service Director Julia Pierson. First, there were the revelations that, in 2011, it had taken the Secret Service several days to discover that a man had fired seven bullets into the White House and that a knife-wielding intruder had scaled the White House fence and made it far into the building before being subdued by an off-duty agent.

Hours after Pierson's testimony and hours before her resignation, word spread that a guard with an unauthorized gun had joined President Obama on an elevator at the Center for Disease Control in September. Here's how Representative Jason Chaffetz framed the incident:

“You have a convicted felon within arm’s reach of the president, and they never did a background check. Words aren’t strong enough for the outrage I feel for the safety of the president and his family.”

Reports added that the man had drawn suspicion after taking photos and video of the president and his motorcade, and that when he was fired on the spot he had shocked Secret Service agents by handing over a gun that he was not supposed to be carrying near the president.

Over the weekend, we learned more about that man. In an interview with The New York Times, Kenneth Tate revealed several things about the brief chain of events that ultimately cost him his job.

First, and most importantly, all talk of Tate being a felon wasn't true. While his arrest record was noted in some reports, he was never convicted. Also contrary to most accounts, Tate had been assigned to tour the president around the CDC facility.

"From the reports, I was some stranger that entered the elevator," he said. "I mean, I was appointed."

While there are still some discrepancies about the chronology of the events, Tate's interview reveals a man—a black Chicago native who deeply admires President Obama, to boot—who minutes after meeting the president, shaking his hand, and briefly exchanging pleasantries, was fired from his job and never given a full explanation why.

I spoke with Tate's lawyer, Christopher Chestnut, who said that Tate's dismissal was a "baseless termination" that he would "continue to investigate and demand answers."

"This cost him everything in his life," Chestnut said, adding that the circumstances of the firing as well as the erroneous labeling of Tate as a felon had branded him with a "scarlet letter."

Of the .40-caliber handgun that Tate carried into the elevator with the president, Chestnut said that the Professional Security Corporation, Tate's employer, "had given him the gun just as they do every morning." While he stopped short of saying whether Tate would pursue a lawsuit against his former employer, Chestnut promised to follow "whatever legal recourse is necessary for justice."

The Times interview inspired a chorus to speak out in support of Tate on Twitter, calling for his job to be restored and also casting blame on those who incorrectly labeled him a felon.

Tate claims he never disobeyed Secret Service directives by getting too close to the presidential motorcade. Two weeks later, during the height of the furor, Tate's son, also a contractor at the CDC, was reportedly laid off in a "downsizing."