Friday, April 9, 2010

FBI shootout - April 11, 1986

The Miami News, April 11, 1986


UPDATED on July 31, 2014: The Miami FBI Shootout - The Lost Tapes


Saturday, April 12, 1986
by MARC FISHER and JAMES A. FUSSELL Herald Staff Writers

Two FBI agents and two bank robbery suspects were killed and five more FBI men were wounded Friday morning when a wild shoot-out -- the most devastating in FBI history -- erupted on a residential street in Kendall.

More than 100 shots from automatic weapons, shotguns and pistols tore across the suburban Miami street just south of the Suniland Shopping Plaza. The shooting, which started at about 9:35 a.m., lasted more than five minutes.

Agents in front of a white house at 12201 SW 82nd Ave. tried to protect themselves with big white bulletproof bibs -- to no avail. When it was over, only one of eight FBI agents emerged unscathed.

Both robbers -- who were driving a car they had stolen from a man they had robbed and shot at a West Dade rock pit last month -- were sprawled in the street, dead.

So were the two agents who had chased the suspects up South Dixie Highway, behind the Dixie Belle shopping center and onto the narrow street of large, single-story homes.

The two slain agents were identified as Benjamin Grogan, 53, an FBI man for nearly 20 years, and Gerald Dove, 30, an agent since 1982.

Five more FBI agents who had responded almost immediately to a call for help were shot, three of them seriously injured. Agents John Hanlon, 48, who suffered a gunshot wound to his thigh, and Gordon McNeil, 43, shot in the chest, were at Baptist Hospital, where both were listed in serious condition.

At South Miami Hospital, agent Edmundo Mireles, 33, was in critical but stable condition with a bullet wound to his left forearm.

Two other agents -- Richard Manauzzi, 43, and Gilbert Orrantia, 27 -- were treated at Baptist for surface wounds and were released, the FBI said.

"This went down so fast it was unbelievable," said witness Billie Holloway, who lives down the block from the crime scene. "We heard a few shots and then a little quiet. We went outside and heard the car crash. Then the shots just opened up.

"Living in Miami, you know, Miami Vice, I figured it was another drug bust," Holloway said. "It's Miami. You just try to stay alive."

The FBI men were the 28th and 29th agents to be killed in the line of duty. The last time two FBI agents were killed in a single incident was in 1979.

In Washington, FBI Director William Webster called Friday the darkest day in the agency's history. Never before had so many agents been killed or wounded in one incident.

"Miami has had a very difficult time -- a lot of different problems," Webster said. But, he added, "I would certainly not characterize it as a place to stay away from."

Along 82nd Avenue, there were bullet holes everywhere, in the sides of cars, in the concrete wall behind the shopping center.

Thought it was war

"Phil Donahue had just come on when it happened," said May Stemas, who lives nearby. "I thought it was a war."

Using fingerprints, Metro detectives identified the robbers as William Matix, 34, and Michael Lee Platt , 32, both of South Dade. The men were suspects in two robberies of the Barnett Bank branch at 13593 South Dixie Highway earlier this year.

Property records show that Matix and Platt each owned a three-bedroom, two-bathroom $100,000 home. Matix's has a patio, central air-conditioning and a six-foot-deep pool.

Police said Matix and Platt were members of the Rock Pit Gang, a small, ruthless group of criminals whose robberies have terrorized armored car drivers, bank customers and target shooters in Dade since at least October 1985.

Neither Matix nor Platt had ever been arrested either in Dade County or anywhere in the nation, police said late Friday night.

FBI Director Webster, asked whether the robbers are members of Aryan Nation, the neo-Nazi group responsible for robberies and shootings in Western states, said, "We don't have enough information to make a definitive statement . . . but we are looking at this aspect very, very closely."

Not on rolls

A spokeswoman for the Aryan Church of Jesus Christ Christian in Hayden Lake, Idaho -- sometimes referred to as the Aryan Nation -- said neither Matix nor Platt are listed on the group's membership rolls.

On Jan. 10, Matix and Platt are believed to have shot a Brink's guard, Ernesto Maranje, at the Barnett branch. Left for dead, Maranje is recovering from the wounds. Both times they hit Barnett, the robbers escaped in a gold Monte Carlo.

Friday night, Metro police were searching for another stolen vehicle, a white 1984 Ford 150 pickup, license tag 538CUW. The pickup, like the Monte Carlo driven by the slain robbers, was stolen by members of the Rock Pit Gang.

According to police and witnesses, this is what happened:

FBI agents -- part of a joint FBI -Metro police investigation of bank and armored car robberies -- staked out several South Dade banks Friday morning, expecting members of the Rock Pit Gang to rob one. The gang liked to hit banks on Fridays, said Joseph Corless, special agent in charge of the Miami FBI office.

Agents Grogan and Dove saw a dark Chevrolet Monte Carlo pass by the bank they were watching several times.

Suspicious, they fell in behind the car and followed. One of the agents realized that the Monte Carlo was stolen from the victim of the March 12 robbery at a rock pit at SW 16th Street and 157th Avenue.

They checked records and confirmed that the Monte Carlo belonged to the rock pit victim, Jose Collazo. The FBI had its men.

The agents chased the Monte Carlo north on South Dixie Highway between SW 132nd and 134th streets.

"The agents called for help, for assistance and sometime after they felt they had sufficient backup they attempted to make the arrest," Corless said.

After radioing for help, the two agents chased the suspects' car north, zigzagging on side streets, then heading north onto SW 82nd Avenue. Several witnesses said they heard volleys of gunfire as the cars zoomed up the street.

As the Monte Carlo reached SW 122nd Street, the suspects saw another FBI vehicle, a gray car, coming at them from the north. Surrounded, the men panicked and slammed into a black olive tree in front of the house at 12201 SW 82nd Ave.

As the car stopped, the suspects jumped out and opened fire with .223-caliber automatic weapons.

The two FBI agents who had originally spotted the pair had pulled their cream-colored Buick in behind the Monte Carlo. They died getting out of their cars.

Witness Pam Johnson said she saw a man dressed in olive fatigues, apparently one of the suspects, run across a lawn holding a weapon "like a submachine gun. Then he just started firing. The other guys behind the car started shooting at him, and then it was a gun battle."

Johnson, who was working at a gallery across the street
from the shoot-out, said she saw two FBI cars crash, ending up in a V-formation behind the robbers' car. When she saw one of the robbers coming toward her with an automatic weapon, Johnson ducked behind her turquoise 1973 BMW.

"I've never seen gunfire before," she said. "I've never seen men die. At first I didn't believe it. I've been so television-conditioned that I didn't know what danger I was in. And then it hit me. I thought, My God, I'm ducking behind my car for my life.

"My husband came 15 or 20 minutes after it happened, and he said, 'That's it. It's time to get out of Miami.' "

FBI agents across the street from the robbers tried to hide behind cars and white bulletproof shields. At least two FBI agents held their fire to let motorists pass by; the suspects showed no such courtesy.

"I heard an automobile crash, then I heard light gunfire," said Bob Stebbins, who lives three doors from the shoot-out and was working on the tulips in his garden when he heard the crash. "I saw somebody sitting behind a car with a gun. I didn't know what the hell was going on. I saw the guy (an agent) get hit, in the street. He was like a beached whale. He rolled back and started flopping back and forth. God, it was awful."

Stebbins saw another agent shot: "He just went down like a jackknife -- boom. He was still alive and he kept popping up and firing, going down again, popping up and firing.

"It looked like a visit to Tamiami Gun Shop," Stebbins said. "When you look at what these robbers had in the way of guns, I feel that our law enforcement officers are at a tremendous disadvantage. Geez, they could have taken Fort Knox with what they had."

Rescue units began arriving at 9:42. An air rescue helicopter arrived at 9:51 and took two of the seriously injured agents to Baptist Hospital.

Throughout the shoot-out, girls at the Momentum School of Dance, separated from the bloody scene only by two concrete walls, kept going through their ballet steps, smiling into the mirrors along the wall.

Outside, witnesses yelled to customers driving out of the Farm Store three doors away from the shoot-out.

"Don't drive through there, they're all shooting," one woman shouted. But shoppers ignored her.

"These idiots just kept driving," Holloway said.

For nearly four hours after the shoot-out, the bodies, two 12-gauge pump shotguns and two pistols lay scattered in the street, near pools of blood and cars riddled with bullet holes. The agents were covered with yellow plastic sheets. The robbers lay exposed to the hot sun, their clothes drenched in darkened blood.

A 9-year-old boy, Jamie Harper, slipped back and forth through the police line, then sat down with a magic marker and a piece of paper to draw a picture of the scene.

"It gives me cold chills," he said. "I was crying. Not for myself, but for the men who were hurt and dead in the street."

Parents brought little children up a ramp of a parking garage to see the crime scene, where more than 100 federal agents, Metro police, state troopers and other investigators milled about.

At 12:55 p.m., the two slain agents were picked up in separate black hearses. The bodies of the suspects were loaded into a blue van.

Metro police brought in the Centac unit, a special squad that investigates organized crime and homicide cases, to interview the unhurt FBI agents for nearly two hours.

"These guys were good guys, these guys were my friends," said Assistant U.S. Attorney Gregory Kehoe, who left a trial to go to the scene of the shoot-out.

Witnesses said a frustrated officer vented his feelings on the corpse of a robber.

"One of the detectives, a guy in a striped shirt, started kicking the fat guy in the head, kicked him three or four times just out of frustration, and another officer pulled him away," said witness Michael Budwig.

Another witness, Sonny Nomes, said she saw a police officer approach one of the dead robbers and start "kicking him in the side, enough to break his ribs. He kicked him again and again. He wouldn't stop."

Nomes' son, Jamie Harper, said "They just kicked him and left him there. It seemed like they didn't care about the bad guys."

"I wouldn't even dignify that with a comment," said FBI spokesman Paul Miller.

Police also arrested Miami Herald photographer Albert Coya and New York Times reporter Joseph Treaster. Coya was charged with trespass after warning and with obstructing a police officer. Police said Treaster slipped past the police line, stepped on a handgun and kicked shell casings around.

Doctors at Baptist and South Miami hospitals were encouraged by the conditions of the injured agents late Friday.

Dr. Gerald Young, trauma surgeon at Baptist, said, "Fortunately, they were brought here in a timely fashion. Neither one has life-threatening injuries."

Agent Hanlon was in "good spirits," Young said. "He has been medicated for pain, but he has seen his wife and he seems quite happy." Hanlon and McNeil also suffered hand injuries.

"The next 24 to 48 hours are crucial," Young said. "No bullets have been removed."

McNeil's daughter, an eighth-grader, said, "My daddy was really worried. He really cares about his agents. He wanted them to be all right."

Herald staff writers Andres Viglucci, Brian Duffy, Fabiola Santiago, Jeff Leen, Al Messerschmidt, Susan Sachs and Phil Kuntz contributed to this report.

Friday, August 1, 1986
by ANDRES VIGLUCCI Herald Staff Writer

FBI agents and two suspected bank robbers exchanged at least 131 shots during the April 11 shootout on a residential South Dade street that left two agents and the two gunmen dead, autopsy reports released Thursday show.

Forty of the bullets were fired by Michael Lee Platt, a former U.S. Army Ranger, who carried a rapid-fire, .223-caliber Ruger Mini-14 assault rifle.

In fact, the investigation of the shootout shows that Platt did virtually all the shooting on the robbers' side. His partner, William R. Matix, was armed with a shotgun loaded with birdshot. He fired only once, hitting the front of an FBI car, investigators said.

Four of Platt's shots killed agents Gerald Dove and Benjamin Grogan at near point-blank range as they crouched behind an FBI sedan after a chase through the streets behind the Suniland Shopping Center on South Dixie Highway. They were both shot in the back.

Another bullet hit Dove's 9mm service pistol, destroying it.

Five other FBI agents were wounded during the shootout , the bloodiest toll in the bureau's history. The Dade County Medical Examiner's office released the four autopsy reports Thursday after a request by The Miami Herald.

The reports generally confirm accounts given by investigators in the days following the shootout .

Platt was shot 12 times, the reports said. Matix was shot six times. Tests showed no evidence of drugs or alcohol in their blood.

According to the reports, Dove, 30, died of multiple gunshot wounds. Shot once in the back by Platt, he collapsed on the sidewalk. He was then shot twice in the head. One bullet grazed his forehead, and the second entered his brain above the right eyebrow.

Grogan, 53, was shot once. The bullet perforated both lungs and cut his aorta, the main artery carrying blood from the heart. His left leg was grazed by another bullet.

Initial accounts by investigators said Matix had fired the Mini-14. But using bloodstains to trace the pair's movements, they have determined that Platt used the assault rifle.

Platt also carried two .357 revolvers, which he fired three times each, apparently without hitting any of the agents directly, investigators said.

Platt and Matix were finally stopped when wounded agent Edmundo Mireles shot them with his .38 Special as they tried to get away in Grogan's car.

Mireles hit Matix, 34, in the face and neck. One bullet entered under his right eye and struck his spine. He was also hit in the face, jaw and right forearm.

Platt, 32, was hit in the chest, the right arm and leg and both feet. One bullet lodged in his spine.

Platt was wearing grey cut-off shorts, a grey pullover, a blue-beige nylon jacket, sneakers, an empty shoulder holster and black gloves.

Matix wore a blue sweater, a red bandanna tied around his neck with a wide rubber band, an empty shoulder holster, a grey- blue shirt, blue jeans and Nike running shoes.

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