SHOOTOUT IN MI­AMI

THE 15-MINUTE GUN­FIGHT THAT RE­SHAPED U.S. LAW EN­FORCE­MENT TAC­TICS

Recoil - - Contents - BY AMY BUSHATZ PHO­TOS BY FBI; MI­AMI-DADE PO­LICE DE­PART­MENT

The 15-Minute Gun­fight That Re­shaped U.S. Law En­force­ment Tac­tics

If any of the FBI field agents in Mi­ami on that pleas­ant April morn­ing sensed what was about to hap­pen, they haven’t said so pub­licly. Act­ing on a hunch, they picked this par­tic­u­lar day to stage a bank stake­out, watch­ing for a pair of uniden­ti­fied bad guys in a stolen Monte Carlo on the off chance they’d show up. They weren’t look­ing for a gun­fight, par­tic­u­larly not one of the dead­li­est days in the FBI’s his­tory. But that’s what they got.

The morn­ing in ques­tion was April 11, 1986 in a du­plex drive­way in Mi­ami, Florida. Make that a crowded drive­way: by the end, the fight in­volved two bad guys with two .357 Mag­num re­volvers, a Ruger Mini-14, and a shot­gun, plus eight good guys with five re­volvers, three pis­tols, and two shot­guns.

By 9:45 a.m. two bank rob­bers and two agents were dead, five agents had been se­ri­ously in­jured, and ev­ery­thing the FBI knew about arm­ing agents and shoot­ing in and around cars was called into ques­tion. The event sparked near-im­me­di­ate changes to how the Bu­reau arms and trains ev­ery agent from the desk guys to SWAT agents, with lo­cal po­lice forces na­tion­wide fol­low­ing their lead.

The Mi­ami Shootout, as the now no­to­ri­ous event has come to be known, demon­strated with lethal ac­cu­racy just how be­hind the weapons and tac­tics curve the FBI was in 1986.

And although the gun­fight has now been parsed, dis­sected, and ex­am­ined in law en­force­ment class­rooms for decades, one over­whelm­ing truth emerges: It never re­ally had to hap­pen to be­gin with.

THE PLAY­ERS

Army bud­dies Michael Platt and Wil­liam Matix had a lot in com­mon. Both of their wives died un­der sus­pi­cious cir­cum­stances, both seemed fairly nor­mal to their Florida friends and neigh­bors, and nei­ther had a crim­i­nal record.

It wasn’t un­til af­ter the duo had killed a man for his car, se­ri­ously in­jured a sec­ond man while steal­ing his black 1979 Chevro­let Monte Carlo, and shot up eight FBI agents that any­one even sus­pected they shared a com­mon hobby: rob­bing banks.

Af­ter knock­ing off a string of banks over sev­eral months and at­tempt­ing a few ar­mored car heists, they even­tu­ally made a mis­take. When they didn’t ac­tu­ally kill the man from whom they had stolen their Monte Carlo get­away car, he was able to de­scribe the thieves and pass the car’s li­cense plate num­ber to po­lice.

And when the pair didn’t bother to ditch the car’s orig­i­nal tags, they vir­tu­ally guar­an­teed they’d be spot­ted, even­tu­ally.

Which is ex­actly what hap­pened at 9:30 a.m. on April 11, 1986.

THE SHOOTOUT

Four­teen FBI agents were staked out at banks in a 60-block ra­dius around Mi­ami, wait­ing for the elu­sive ban­dits to hit. Other rob­beries in the string had oc­curred on Fri­day morn­ings, and since the last haul for th­ese guys had been small, only about $8,000 ac­cord­ing to those in­volved, agents guessed they’d hit again soon.

And they were right. As Matix and Platt cruised by one of the banks, Spe­cial Agents Ben­jamin Gro­gan and Jerry Dove spot­ted and fol­lowed the stolen Monte Carlo, first north, then east, then south. A se­ries of two other un­marked bu­reau Buicks joined the low-speed tail as it me­an­dered for two min­utes a few blocks each way.

Then, the ac­tion started: a brief car chase, a de­ci­sion to ram the Monte

Carlo into stop­ping, and a gun­fight with more than 140 rounds fired.

From start to fin­ish, the whole event lasted a mere five min­utes.

Matix got off as many as three shots with his shot­gun, and in­jured Spe­cial Agent Richard Manauzzi be­fore he was shot by Su­per­vi­sor Gor­don McNeil and tem­po­rar­ily side­lined. Mean­while, Platt went to town with his Ruger Mini-14 fir­ing so fast that one agent later told a TV re­porter that he thought Platt was shoot­ing a fully au­to­matic ri­fle. Platt also fired a to­tal of six shots from two .357 Mag­num re­volvers.

Spe­cial Agents (SA) John Han­lon, Ed­mundo Mire­les, Gilbert Or­ran­tia, Ron Ris­ner, McNeil, Gro­gan, and

Dove fired back with their ser­vice re­volvers, shot­guns, and pis­tols.

While they strug­gled to reload and ma­neu­ver, Platt sim­ply re­placed his mag­a­zine and con­tin­ued to fire.

De­spite mul­ti­ple in­juries, in­clud­ing a shot to the lung by Dove’s 9mm Smith & Wes­son pis­tol that would later be cred­ited with the ban­dit’s ul­ti­mate death, Platt climbed out of his car, which was pinned be­tween bu­reau Buicks and a pair of civil­ian ve­hi­cles, and con­tin­ued to fire. With his buddy knocked out, he ma­neu­vered to the side of a nearby civil­ian Cut­lass, and fired us­ing his re­volver be­fore he dropped it af­ter tak­ing a hit through the arm.

But he didn’t ac­tu­ally give up the fight. Prop­ping his Mini-14 against his un­in­jured left shoul­der, he con­tin­ued to en­gage the agents. As Gro­gan and Dove strug­gled with a mal­func­tion­ing pis­tol, Platt leaned over their car and killed them both; a shot to the chest for Gro­gan and two shots to the head for Dove. He also shot Han­lon in the groin as he lay nearby.

Still tak­ing fire, Platt and Matix, who at some point had come to, jumped in Gro­gan and Dove’s Buick, ready to flee.

That’s when Mire­les, who was se­ri­ously wounded in the left arm early on, saw his chance. “I took my arm and tossed it over on the side, and picked up my shot­gun and started fo­cus­ing on sur­vival,” Mire­les told RE­COIL.

Ad­vanc­ing on the car, he fired his pump-ac­tion shot­gun at Platt five times, in­jur­ing his feet. And as the pair at­tempted to start the Buick, Mire­les pulled his .357 re­volver and fired six rounds, killing Matix by sev­er­ing his spinal cord, and killing the al­ready fa­tally wounded Platt with a shot to the chest.

The fight was over.

FIVE-MINUTE EVENT, 30-YEAR ANAL­Y­SIS

In the im­me­di­ate af­ter­math, one fact was glar­ingly clear: the Mi­ami Shootout didn’t go well. A Bu­reau in­ves­ti­ga­tion into the fight com­pleted just over one month later lays out each step of that day, with de­tails down to ev­ery shot fired. And while it ex­plic­itly doesn’t as­sign blame — “this doc­u­ment con­tains nei­ther rec­om­men­da­tions or con­clu­sions of the FBI” — it does over and over again lay out the agents’ key prob­lem: fire­power.

First was the mat­ter of the weapons them­selves. The agents were sim­ply out­gunned. “With the ex­cep­tion of mi­nor wounds to SA Manauzzi by shot­gun pel­lets, all se­ri­ous wounds in­flicted on FBI per­son­nel were caused by Platt fir­ing a Ruger Mini14 .223-cal­iber ri­fle. It’s known Platt fired a min­i­mum of 40 rounds from his weapon,” the re­port states.

Mire­les, who has re­cently pub­lished his own book, Five Min­utes that Changed the Bu­reau, de­tail­ing the day, agrees.

“We were all armed with ev­ery­thing we were legally au­tho­rized to carry on that day … A bad guy can carry what­ever the heck he wants,” Mire­les told RE­COIL. “If ev­ery­one on the team had had semi-auto pis­tols or ri­fles, that gun­fight would’ve lasted 15 sec­onds.”

Most of the agents weren’t wear­ing body ar­mor, but even if they had been, “tests re­veal the vests is­sued to Agent per­son­nel would not stop the .223-cal­iber rounds that were fired by Michael Lee Platt,” the re­port states.

Un­less agents were part of a SWAT unit, they sim­ply weren’t au­tho­rized to carry semi­au­to­matic weapons, Mire­les said.

Agents on the scene had 12-gauge shot­guns, Smith & Wes­son Model

459 9mm pis­tols, and Smith & Wes­son Mil­i­tary and Po­lice .357 Mag­num re­volvers shoot­ing .38 Spe­cial +P. The re­volvers were lim­ited to six rounds, while the pis­tols had 14-round mag­a­zines. One agent, McNeill, was us­ing a five-shot Smith & Wes­son Model 36.

Other agents else­where on the stake­out had more fire­power, but they didn’t get there in time, with one agent miss­ing the ini­tial ra­dio call be­cause he had stopped to pee.

It was the need to reload that proved par­tic­u­larly fa­tal, an­a­lysts note. McNeill was un­able to reload his five-shot re­volver early in the fight thanks to blood and bone frag­ments in the cylin­der, and was in­stead forced to re­treat to cover. Han­lon was hit in the arm while try­ing to reload, be­fore get­ting hit a sec­ond time and tem­po­rar­ily par­a­lyzed. And Dove and Gro­gan were ex­e­cuted, re­ports say, while dis­tracted by Dove’s weapon.

“If I could change some­thing I’d change that, Mire­les said. “If I could change any­thing at all, I’d im­ple­ment the is­su­ing of as­sault ri­fles to agents the year be­fore.”

And then there were the bul­lets them­selves. Had the good guys been us­ing a heav­ier cal­iber or more ef­fec­tive car­tridges, the fight would’ve ended very early, ex­perts agree. Platt was shot in the chest be­fore any FBI agent was se­ri­ously in­jured — a bet­ter bul­let would’ve likely killed him im­me­di­ately.

“In ret­ro­spect, sure, we’d have liked to have the 9mm rounds we have to­day,” Dave Win­ters, a Mi­amiDade Po­lice sergeant as­signed to the crime scene told RE­COIL. “That 158-grain hol­low point is a good round if it hits the per­son … but it had min­i­mal pen­e­tra­tion.”

Two dead agents and a very pub­lic law en­force­ment safety fail­ure was more than enough in­spi­ra­tion for the FBI to take a hard look at ex­actly what their agents carry on the street.

Within four years — a blink of the eye by bu­reau­cracy stan­dards — the FBI was field­ing the Smith & Wes­son 1076 in a move from 9mm to 10mm rounds, and spark­ing many lo­cal po­lice forces to do the same.

That par­tic­u­lar pis­tol model, what one ex­pert called “that sh*tty Smith & Wes­son,” didn’t last long be­fore the FBI moved on, but it was the start of an on­go­ing change. It wasn’t un­til 2015, al­most 20 years later, that bal­lis­tic tech­nol­ogy had ad­vanced enough to warrant the FBI’s re­turn to the 9mm.

“The FBI was strictly buy­ing ammo based on cost, but af­ter that they started the Bal­lis­tic Re­search Fa­cil­ity, which has changed ev­ery­thing … af­fect­ing law en­force­ment bal­lis­tic forces across the na­tion,” said Wil­liam Petty, a ve­hi­cle tac­tics ex­pert with Cer­trifuge Train­ing LLC who has stud­ied the Mi­ami Shootout as part of his work. “This one shoot­ing af­fected ev­ery sub­se­quent law en­force­ment shoot­ing.”

About a year af­ter the shootout, the agents and Win­ters headed to Quan­tico, Vir­ginia, to reen­act the

fight and con­duct in­ter­views for an FBI train­ing video “Fire­fight.” Not long af­ter, the FBI’s in­terim di­rec­tor told a TV news re­porter that the agents’ ex­pe­ri­ence had made the Bu­reau think long and hard about its arm­ing choices.

“You don’t have to have ag­gres­sive fire­power brought to bear in ev­ery sit­u­a­tion, but we want to have it avail­able and read­ily avail­able for a sit­u­a­tion such as the Mi­ami in­ci­dent,” John Otto, act­ing di­rec­tor of the FBI at the time, said in a 1987 news doc­u­men­tary on the shootout.

Even as the new weapon field­ing process un­folded, the FBI also changed its rules to al­low agents to up their per­son­ally owned fire­power, with “ev­ery agent who had the fund­ing to buy an as­sault ri­fle and then qual­ify with it,” Mire­les said. By 1989, the Bu­reau had also pur­chased enough shot­guns and sub­ma­chine guns to arm one in two agents, he said.

The firearms les­sons from the shootout have been stud­ied and restud­ied and, even to­day, are still ref­er­enced when dis­cussing law en­force­ment’s use of force. But of at least equal im­por­tance is how the shootout changed the FBI train­ing scene.

CARS AND COVER

Per­haps no one is more fa­mil­iar with that im­pact than Petty. He knows he can thank it for his cur­rent po­si­tion as a con­tract in­struc­tor in ve­hi­cle-based tac­tics for both the FBI and other lo­cal po­lice de­part­ments.

The Mi­ami Shootout, he says, schooled the law en­force­ment com­mu­nity on how lit­tle they un­der­stood about shoot­ing in and around ve­hi­cles.

“There was no ve­hi­cle ma­te­rial taught by the FBI, and no ve­hi­cle ma­te­rial taught by any­one. It just wasn’t in the thought,” he said. “Be­fore that, noth­ing had ever hap­pened; it’s just a bunch of guys say­ing ‘let’s go kick crime in the face to­day.’ … They were not ever taught how to ram cars. So you have guys who are try­ing to fig­ure

some­thing out on the fly. They are im­pro­vis­ing.”

If weapons are the hard­ware of law en­force­ment, tac­tics are the soft­ware, Petty says — and you’ve got to have both. There’s a rea­son, he says, 83 per­cent of all of­fi­cers who are killed in the line of duty dur­ing self-ini­ti­ated ac­tiv­i­ties are killed in or around cars: tac­tics mat­ter.

“The hard­ware only gets you so far. Would bet­ter weapons have helped? No one is ever go­ing to dis­pute that. We have bet­ter weapons to­day, but we’re still hav­ing a cri­sis in law en­force­ment of of­fi­cers los­ing gun­fights around cars,” he said.

That’s why Petty fo­cuses on train­ing. By study­ing nat­u­ral hu­man re­ac­tion dur­ing ve­hi­cle-in­volved shoot­ings, for ex­am­ple, he helps stu­dents un­der­stand how to use cars for both cover and con­ceal­ment.

For the most, part of­fi­cers to­day are also far bet­ter off around ve­hi­cles than the ’80s-era agents, he said, thanks to im­prove­ments in over­all car safety.

“One of the com­mon mis­nomers is be­cause older cars are heavy and made out of metal they per­form bal­lis­ti­cally,” he said. “But the higher the crash safety rat­ing, the bet­ter the ve­hi­cle is go­ing to per­form.”

Yet the most im­por­tant rule for gun fight­ing around a car is in­cred­i­bly sim­ple: don’t.

To Petty, the big­gest take­away from the Mi­ami Shootout is that the in­ci­dent didn’t have to hap­pen at all. If the of­fi­cers had de­cided to tail Platt and Matix in­stead of sick­ing three Buicks on them, for ex­am­ple, a gun­fight may have been avoided.

“Is the car cover? F*ck yeah, it’s cover. It’s what you have un­til you can work to some­thing bet­ter.” he said. “Hon­estly, it never had to hap­pen. We’ve learned af­ter 34 years of cop-ing that there’s a rea­son that a lot of de­part­ments have a very strict or no pur­sue pol­icy, be­cause the juice isn’t worth the squeeze.”

If noth­ing else, more than 30 years of dis­sect­ing the Mi­ami Shootout has shown an end­less ap­petite for what­ifs over that day.

But anal­y­sis and ex­am­i­na­tion aside, in the end Mire­les be­lieves it ul­ti­mately came down to one key com­po­nent that no im­proved train­ing or weapons could’ve changed: luck.

“There’s a say­ing in the Bible, Ec­cle­si­astes 9:11,” he said. “The race is not al­ways to the swift, nor the bat­tle to the strong, nor bread to man of skill, blah blah blah, time and chance hap­pen to them all.”

Agent Ed­mundo Mire­les’ red jacket and shot­gun as well as blood from the agents and perps were left be­hind on the scene when the shootout was over. (FBI)

Dur­ing the crash Platt and Matix were pinned be­tween a civil­ian Oldsmo­bile Cut­lass (lef t), a tree, and FBI Agent Manauzzi’s bu­reau Buick. (FBI)

Above right: The Monte Carlo was rid­dled by shot­gun blasts as Agent Gro­gan re­turned fire at Matix, who first fired at his shot­gun at the agents. (FBI)

Above: The rear of Agent Ben Gro­gan’s Buick was left coated in Platt’s blood as he worked around it, first killing Gro­gan and Agent Jerry Dove, and then shoot­ing Agent John Han­lon. (FBI)

The po­si­tion of the ve­hi­cles and the agents at the star t of the April 11, 1986, shootout. (Cour tesy of Ed­mundo Mire­les)

The FBI’s fire­power,in blue, would’ve been much greaterhad the en­tire col­lec­tion of agents on area stake­outs that day ar­rived at the shootout. In­stead,Matix and Platt’s weapons, in or­ange, went against agents’ five re­volvers, three pis­tols, and two shot­guns. (FBI)

Right: Agent Dove’s pis­tol, cov­ered in blood and pho­tographed at the scene, was shot through the cen­ter of the slide, lock­ing the slide to the rear. (FBI)

Lef t: Wil­liam Matix and Michael Platt killed two FBI agents be­fore they were also shot and killed dur­ing one of the FBI’s most no­to­ri­ous shootouts. (Driver’s li­cense pho­tos)

Above: Agents Jerr y Dove and Ben Gro­gan were shot and killed by Platt dur­ing the shootout. (FBI)

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