Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Pulse survivors and families sue shooter's widow and employer

Posted By on Wed, Mar 22, 2017 at 3:38 PM

click to enlarge PHOTO BY MONIVETTE CORDEIRO
  • Photo by Monivette Cordeiro
Victims' families and survivors of the shooting at the gay nightclub Pulse are suing the gunman's jailed widow and employer, saying they did nothing to stop the massacre where 49 people were killed even though they knew Omar Mateen intended to commit violent acts.

The lawsuit, filed in a South Florida federal court, demands damages on claims of negligence, wrongful death and civil conspiracy. More than 50 survivors and victims' family members from the June 12 tragedy are being represented by several firms including Romanucci & Blandin, from Chicago; Law Offices of Conrad Benedetto, from Philadelphia; and the Gregory Law Firm, from Jacksonville.

"This attack was easily preventable because it was predictable," says Antonio Romanucci, one of the lawyers on the case, at a press conference. "Mateen spoke openly to his employer, his co-employees, his units of assignment as to his hatred of our country and his allegiance to al-Qaeda. … They had the best chance to do something about it."

The complaint says Mateen's employer, the international security company G4S, hired him and applied for a license for Mateen to carry concealed weapons despite knowing he had been dismissed as a recruit from the Florida Department of Corrections.

In 2013, Mateen was working for G4S as an armed guard at the St. Lucie County courthouse. The lawsuit alleges he repeatedly associated himself with terrorists in front of his coworkers and threatened colleagues, including one instance where Mateen told a deputy sheriff he would instruct al-Qaeda kill the deputy's family. The incidents prompted Mateen's dismissal from the courthouse, and he was interviewed twice by the FBI after he was reported to federal authorities. Mateen later told federal officials he made those statements in response to being bullied and taunted by his courthouse colleagues for being Muslim.

"Upon information and belief, G4S knew Mateen was being investigated by federal law enforcement authorities, including the FBI, prior to the Pulse attack," the suit says. "After learning of the incidents described above, G4S
declined to administer to Mateen any new psychological evaluation or
assessment to determine whether he was fit for duty, required behavioral intervention, required additional training, or should simply be dismissed."

G4S transferred him to a another position in the company but allowed him to keep his weapons license, the lawsuit claims. After his transfer, another co-worker said Mateen was "unhinged and unstable," constantly angry and prone to homophobic and racist rants where he talked about killing people.

The complaint also names Noor Salman, Mateen's widow, as a defendant. Salman is currently in jail awaiting trial on federal charges she aiding and abetting her husband and obstructing justice. The lawsuit alleges Salman helped Mateen scout out Pulse for an attack and purchase firearms and ammunition.

"Noor watched," Romanucci says. "She listened and did nothing while Mateen planned, plotted and began to visit Pulse in order to carry out his plan."
click to enlarge Ilka Marie Reyes - PHOTO BY MONIVETTE CORDEIRO
  • Photo by Monivette Cordeiro
  • Ilka Marie Reyes
For Wigberto Cintron-Capo, life has not been the same for him and his family since the death of his brother, Luis Omar Ocasio-Capo.

"Without Luis in our life, we are constantly missing his smile, the outpouring of happiness he shared with others, his talents as an actor and as a dancer, and so much more," Cintron-Capo says. "While the memories I will forever hold of my brother put a smile on my face, I stand here in disbelief – disbelief that this man was able to make such [threatening] comments and was easily ignored."

Ilka Marie Reyes remembers going to the bar at Pulse for a water bottle when she started hearing the shots, one after another after another. It was only after she was pushed to the ground that she noticed part of her pinky was missing. Her smallest finger had been ripped apart by a bullet. As she lay quiet on the floor, Reyes saw a shadow next to her, and then eight more bullets ruptured through her back.

"After nearly a month in the hospital, I returned home unable to walk or care for myself," she says. "I am extremely blessed to be here today, but the pain I feel, physical and emotional, will never go away. This will always be part of me. I feel angry when I think about the very clear warning signs Omar Mateen gave."

click to enlarge Juan Jose Cufiño Rodriguez - PHOTO BY MONIVETTE CORDEIRO
  • Photo by Monivette Cordeiro
  • Juan Jose Cufiño Rodriguez
Juan Jose Cufiño Rodriguez, another survivor, says in Spanish that he was celebrating a birthday with his friends at Pulse before his planned return to Colombia. Instead, he woke up from a self-induced coma to learn he would never walk again and that four of his friends were dead.

"The horror of that night at Pulse will never escape me," Cufiño Rodriguez says through a translator. "I was screaming at the shooter, asking him, 'Why are you doing this?' I soon realized that his cowardly actions were intentional."

Cufiño Rodriguez, who is currently in a wheelchair, says he feels desperation at knowing Mateen could have been stopped before his actions ruined so many lives.

"We all deserve to know why Omar Mateen's threats were met with silence," he says. "I want to make sure what happened at Pulse never happens again."

Romanucci says all other legally responsible parties will be pursued and called for further legislation to stop similar massacres to Pulse. When asked whether the plaintiffs planned to sue the owners of the nightclub, a spokesperson for the lawyers said it was "unclear" if others will be added to the complaint in the future.

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