ATLANTA — It was the elevator ride that changed Kenneth Tate’s life.
“It’s been a nightmare,” he said.
Tate, 49, was working as a private security guard at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention when President Barack Obama visited the agency’s headquarters for an Ebola briefing seven weeks ago. His supervisors assigned him to escort the president for part of the journey — but what happened next ended up costing Tate his job.
According to Tate, the day began like any other. He was issued a .40-caliber handgun — holstered on his belt and under his suit jacket — two magazines of ammunition and a radio.
He said his supervisors told him that morning that he was going to operate the service elevator Obama was going to use.
I worked hard for everything that I have — coming from the bottom up, and to just be knocked down? It’s not right.
Just before 2:30 p.m., Tate said the presidential motorcade arrived. On the elevator ride, he said, the president started a brief conversation.
“He asked me what my name was I told him my name was Kenneth Tate and it was a pleasure to meet him,” Tate recalled.
Tate had grown up in Chicago — the president’s hometown — and he admired the nation’s first black president.
“I was proud to be there,” Tate said. “It was a big accomplishment.”
As the president’s motorcade was about to leave the CDC, Tate said he tried to take a picture on his cell phone. He said angry Secret Service agents told him to back off and that he had gotten too close. Minutes later, Tate said his bosses pulled him aside. Secret Service agents started questioning him.
“I was shocked,” Tate said. “I was trying to find what the issue was. The (security) detail was completed.”
He didn’t think he was too close to the motorcade — and he didn’t even get a good picture. But within days, he was fired from his $42,000-a-year job.
Tate’s attorney, Christopher Chestnut, said he was planning legal action against his client's former employer.
“Our position is Mr. Tate should not have been fired,” Chestnut said. “He did nothing wrong ... People take pictures of the president all the time. He’s the president. There was no reason for Mr. Tate to suspect that taking a picture of the motorcade would be against any protocol when he hadn’t been briefed on any protocol.”
William R. Banks, the president of Professional Security Corporation, the private security firm that was Mr. Tate’s employer, did not respond to requests for comment from NBC News, but told the New York Times that Tate’s description of the day’s events is "not correct,” though he declined to tell the newspaper what was inaccurate.
The Secret Service referred all questions to the Department of Homeland Security Office of Inspector General, which declined to comment.
A government official with direct knowledge of the situation tells NBC News that the CDC asked for Tate to be reassigned following the incident, but it was the security company that terminated him.
The official called the incident a "serious breach” and said the CDC asked that Tate be reassigned because of three reasons: He didn't follow instructions; He didn't follow his post order; and during the questioning about taking the photo, it took three attempts to get him to admit that he had taken the picture.
The official said Tate had passed all necessary background checks.
When the story first broke, politicians and the media erroneously reported that Tate was a convicted felon. The ex-security guard now says that while he had been arrested for assault years ago — the charges were dismissed and no convictions appear on his record.
“I worked hard for everything that I have — coming from the bottom up, and to just be knocked down?” Tate said. “It’s not right.”