On the 25th anniversary of one of the most studied gunfights involving law enforcement officers, the FBI honored the agents who battled it out with two determined felons during a vehicle stop gone bad in a southern Miami neighborhood.
During a ceremony today, FBI Director Robert Mueller called April 11, 1986, "a day of unthinkable violence, darkness, and loss. Yet it was also a day of courage, selflessness, and sacrifice. [It was] a day that reflected the best of the bureau, even as it exemplified the worst of what we confront."
Former Director William Webster, who led the agency at the time; Special Agent John Hanlon; and several hundred law enforcement supporters also attended Monday's event.
The incident began as a surveillance operation, as federal agents on a rolling stakeout searched for a stolen black 1979 Chevrolet Monte Carlo being driven by Michael Lee Platt and William Matix. Platt, an Army Ranger, and Matix, an Army MP of the 101st Airborne, had committed a series of violent robberies and several murders.
Around 9:30 a.m. on the bright and clear Friday morning of April 11, 1986, special agents Benjamin Grogan, 53, and Jerry Dove, 30, spotted the Monte Carlo and followed. Eventually, five cars with eight agents pursuing the suspects attempted a felony stop. Special Agent Richard Manauzzi tried to steer the Monte Carlo into a tree, after which the felons opened fire.
Platt, 32, and Matix, 24, exchanged some 140 rounds with the agents in a fierce close-quarters battle that resulted in the line-of-duty deaths of Grogan and Dove and injuries to five other agents.
The gunfight unfolded quickly. Special Agent Manauzzi was seriously wounded and immediately sought cover. Special Agent Gordon McNeill was wounded, but returned fire, striking Matix. Special Agents Gilbert Orrantia and Ronald Risner were pinned in their vehicle on the other side of the street; Orrantia was wounded. Special Agents Edmundo Mireles and Hanlon had also stopped their car on the opposite side of the street and came under fire from Platt's Ruger Mini-14, .223-caliber carbine as they approached the felons. Both were seriously wounded.
Despite wounding both criminals in the hail of bullets, agents Dove and Grogan were trapped in their car and killed when Platt fired at close range. Platt also shot and incapacitated agent Hanlon.
Severely wounded and struggling to remain conscious, Special Agent Edmundo Mireles stood up and began firing at the criminals as they entered and tried to escape in the Dove/Grogan car. He killed both men, even as they returned fire. Agent Mireles was later awarded the FBI's Medal of Valor.
In the aftermath of the gun battle, the FBI and other law enforcement agencies closely studied the tactics and ballistics of the incident. Though critically wounded, both Platt and Matix were able to continue firing at the surrounding agents, penetrating the ballistic vests worn by two agents.
In response to this tragedy, the FBI armed its agents with semi-automatic handguns to replace hard-to-reload revolvers. The FBI's adoption of 10mm ammunition to attain greater stopping power popularized the then-obscure round among law enforcement agencies. The FBI eventually adopted a subsonic load to better tame the full-powered 10mm that delivered about 38,000 pounds per square inch, firearms expert Massad Ayoob tells POLICE Magazine.
The FBI eventually replaced the 10mm with the .40-caliber S&W (a shortened-cartridge version) that is now the most common round carried by officers. FBI agents also gained greater access to body armor, and the agency improved incident response training.
A placard memorializing the agents now sits at the corner of SW 82nd Avenue and SW 122 Street in Pinecrest where the gunfight occurred.
Editor's Note: Look for more coverage of the 1986 FBI Miami shootout in the May issue of POLICE Magazine.