Book excerpt: FBI Miami shootout from 'Law Dogs: Great Cops In American History'
On April 11, 1986, one of the most famous shootouts in modern times took place between the FBI and two serial bank robbers
The following is excerpted from "Law Dogs: Great Cops in American History" by Lt. Dan Marcou. Click here to order.
On April 11, 1986, one of the most famous shootouts in modern times took place between the FBI and two serial bank robbers. In law enforcement, it is simply referred to as the FBI Miami Shootout.
Before delving into the shootout, it is important to have a proper perspective of law enforcement at the time. During the 1980s, many law enforcement administrators seemed to possess an almost Pollyanna-style view as they equipped their officers. This attitude existed in an era where the numbers of officers killed in the line of duty were startlingly high. You saw the traditional black and white squad cars disappear as agency administrators began using soft pastels for their squads. Even the trusty Model 870 Shotgun was being delegated to the trunk of squads because administrators thought these weapons were too aggressive looking.
Even though semi-automatic handguns had been around for 90 years, transitioning to these weapons was strongly resisted by most law enforcement agencies. Soft body armor was available, but only a few agencies were purchasing them for their officers, and virtually none required that they be worn. Criminals, on the other hand, had been ahead of law enforcement in the weapons race since Machine Gun Kelly earned his nickname. Some officers took it upon themselves to purchase their own vests and equip themselves with semi-automatic handguns. These officers had to equip and train themselves “on their own time, on their own dime.”
Department qualification courses for police officers in this era of policing often resembled a merit badge course for Boy Scouts rather than professional law enforcement training to prepare officers for gunfights. Targets were often bulls-eyes or simple black silhouettes which did little to prepare officers for facing human threats.
SWAT (Special Weapons and Tactics) teams were showing up occasionally, but officers in SWAT found resistance from within law enforcement agencies. First, officers fought for SWAT to exist. Then, they fought to get approval for equipment and training. They even fought to deploy when a SWAT response was clearly called for.
On April 11, 1986, many detectives still carried two-inch snub-nose revolvers. The heaviest firepower at an officer’s disposal was a Remington model 870 12 gauge shotgun loaded with four rounds of double ought buckshot. Such was the case for local, state, and federal law enforcement, which illustrates de-militarized law enforcement.
Platt and Matix, Militarized Criminals Michael Platt and William Matix had a different approach to preparing for gunfights than many of their potential adversaries in law enforcement. They agreed they would not allow themselves to be taken into custody alive. Both had military training and were regularly trained with their firearms. Both of their wives died under suspicious circumstances.
The two were armed with semi-automatic and automatic weapons. They filled magazine upon magazine with ammunition prepared for a sustained gunfight. These men had committed a series of robberies on banks and armored cars along the South Dixie Highway in Miami. They brandished their weapons and did not hesitate to use them. Even though Platt and Matix had no intention of being taken into custody alive, they were not suicidal. Rather, they were homicidal. They had but one rule of engagement when faced with arrest: kill or be killed.
The FBI knew a pair of heavily armed bandits had been hitting banks and armored cars along the South Dixie Highway. These men had killed before, and the FBI had charged themselves with preventing these men from killing again.
On October 5, 1985, Platt and Matix murdered Emelio Briel while he was target shooting in a rock pit. They stole his car and dumped his body. It would be months before it was found and a year before it was identified. Since Briel was unable to report his car stolen, his vehicle became a safe ride to and from their robberies.
These two killers robbed often and proved themselves to be shooters. They seemed to enjoy using their weapons, and both possessed firearm skills beyond proficiency. On March 12, 1986, Platt and Matix were training with their weapons once again in a rock pit outside Miami. They came across another hobby shooter, Jose Collazo, and feigned friendliness.
Suddenly, their real personalities emerged, and they gunned down the unsuspecting Collazo. Platt and Matix abandoned Collazo after they shot him and stole his car. Killing the car owner to steal a car had proved successful once, so the two added the move to their modus operandi. If these two were not stopped, many citizens would die guilty of nothing except owning a car.
This time, however, the pair had made a mistake. Jose Collazo was not dead. He had been seriously wounded and played dead. After Platt and Matix left the area, Collazo lifted himself up and walked three miles back to civilization and reported his near-death experience to the police. The Miami office of the FBI was certain this crime was committed by the bank-robbing duo they were pursuing.
An investigative decision was made to withhold the fact that Collazo had been shot and his car was stolen. They felt that if the killers believed the crime was undetected they would use the stolen car. Having the description of the vehicle Platt and Matix would use during their next robbery gave an invaluable edge to law enforcement.
This proved to be the key piece of information leading to the demise of this modern-day Butch and Sundance. April 11, 1986: The Plan After analyzing the patterns of the previous robberies, Special Agent Gordon McNeill was convinced the shooters would hit the South Dixie Highway area again, and they would do it on April 11, 1986.
McNeill determined the two robbery suspects had become so comfortable with their continued success that they had slipped into a pattern of behavior making them predictable. McNeill could not be absolutely positive, but he was certain enough to request moving surveillance on that date to cover the South Dixie Highway area.
The request was approved. A group of fourteen agents out of the Miami office were gathered for a briefing, and the plan was explained. There would be a loose, but coordinated, rolling surveillance of the banks along the South Dixie Highway. A description of Collazo’s Monte Carlo and its plates were given out, but it was fully expected that the car would have different plates on it.
Some of the key agents at the briefing were veteran Ben Grogan, Richard Manauzzi, Gordon McNeill, Gilbert Orrantia, John Hanlon, Gerald Dove, Ron Risner, and Edmundo Mireles Jr. The assignments were given with great seriousness, but the interaction among the group was sprinkled with the light banter of professional friends.
Law enforcement officers involved in such hit-and-miss endeavors often experience a conflict of emotions. Part of them feels that these efforts are just another exercise in futility, while another part struggles to fight off apathy because this might be the day of days. After assignments were given, all units hit the South Dixie Highway and spread out as assigned.
At 9:30 a.m. the radio crackled to life as Ben Grogan and Gerald Dove spotted the stolen 1979 Monte Carlo with two suspects inside. The suspects had not even changed the plates. Grogan and Dove began following the vehicle as they coordinated with the other agents to respond and assist them. After a short time, other units converged, and Platt and Matix realized they were being followed by law enforcement. Before McNeil and Grogan could orchestrate a controlled Felony Stop, the suspects fled.
The pursuit was short-lived because a series of rams were almost immediately initiated by the FBI. Platt and Matix’s vehicle crashed and was trapped. Manauzzi was to their left, McNeill was stopped just to the left of Manauzzi. Grogan and Dove’s squad was to the rear of the Monte Carlo. To the right, a parked civilian’s car blocked the killers’ escape.
Almost as soon as the careening vehicles had come to a stop at 12201 82nd Avenue, Pinecrest, in Miami, Florida, Platt opened fire with his Mini-14. He aimed his opening volley at Agent Manauzzi directly to his left.
Instantly seeing the threat, Manauzzi ducked as the rounds came at him. Manauzzi had removed his service revolver and placed it on the seat next to him before the crash, but the impact had caused his weapon to fly off the seat and land not only out of reach but out of sight. Manauzzi was unarmed throughout the rest of the gunfight. He was wounded, but he managed to exit his car quickly.
By this time, Gordon McNeill was out of his car engaging the bandits. He would later say, “I was the calmest I have been when I exited my vehicle. I saw everything clearly with my peripheral vision, I did some shooting, I got shot, I bore down and took two more shots. When I ran out of ammo and realized that it was still going on… then I got scared.”
Agent John Hanlon also lost his service revolver when his squad crashed into a wall. He drew his five-shot snub-nose backup revolver from his ankle holster. Hanlon gave up his position of relative cover and ran, while under fire, across the street to assist Dove and Grogan, who were both exchanging rounds with Platt and Matix. Mireles separated from his partner, Hanlon, and ran toward Gordon McNeill because he appeared wounded.
Even though McNeill was wounded, he was still heavily engaged. Mireles quickly covered the distance carrying his Remington model 870 shotgun. As he came running up to McNeill’s position, a .223 round slammed into Mireles’s forearm, severely wounding the special agent while knocking him to the pavement.
Due to the severity of the wound, Mireles was down and nearly out of the fight. He would later say in a presentation on the gunfight that he thought of death. He said, “Death was like a seductress.” The dazed Mireles would struggle to maintain a tentative hold on consciousness. Platt fired the wounding shot at Mireles. In fact, Platt did most of the damage in this gunfight with his Ruger Mini-14.
Ben Grogan stood his ground with his Smith and Wesson Model 459 9mm pistol. Matix, who was armed with a Smith and Wesson model 3000 loaded with #6 buckshot had only managed to get off one shot with this weapon, hitting Grogan’s car. As he extended the weapon out of the window of the Monte Carlo, Grogan hit him in the arm, preventing him from doing any more damage. At this moment Matix was also hit twice by McNeill, in the head and neck, effectively rendering him unconscious.
Due to the collision, Platt’s car door could not be opened, so he decided it was time to evacuate the Monte Carlo. As Platt crawled out the passenger side window, Special Agent Dove fired his Smith and Wesson 459 9mm pistol at Platt. The round went through Platt’s arm, into his chest, and collapsed his lung. Even if Platt could have had immediate surgical care, he would not have survived this wound. Sustaining a fatal wound, however, did not stop Platt from continuing the fight.
This is why officers are trained to shoot to stop, not shoot to kill. If Platt had not been hit another time during this gunfight, he still would have ultimately died. The round Dove fired technically “killed” Platt, but it did not “stop” Platt.
At the time of the crash, the Monte Carlo had come to a stop against a civilian’s parked Oldsmobile Cutlass. After climbing out of the Monte Carlo, Platt slid himself across the hood of the Olds. It was during this movement he was hit two more times by Special Agent Dove. He struck Platt in the right thigh and left ankle. Platt slid off the hood of the Cutlass, took cover by the fender, and began to fire with one of his .357 revolvers. He was armed with a Smith and Wesson model 586 as well as a Dan Wesson .357. From this location, he exposed himself and was hit by Special Agent Orrantia as well as Special Agent Risner. In spite of his multiple wounds, Platt continued shooting.
At this point during the gunfight, Agent McNeill, initially wounded in the hand, struggled to load two rounds into his Smith and Wesson model 19-3 .357 Magnum, from which he was firing 38 caliber +P rounds. Reloading was difficult to accomplish with a badly wounded hand while trying to put bullets into a revolver covered with gore from his own wounds. McNeill managed to unload the brass from the weapon, and during the pained process of reloading, McNeill decided he would be better able to continue the fight if he was armed with his shotgun.
Even though the agents knew they might be facing heavily armed criminals, McNeill and Mireles were the only two armed with shotguns. They were also the only two wearing vests. These vests were light body armor, which could only stop handgun rounds and shotgun pellets. No FBI special agent in this fight had access to a rifle. As luck would have it, the other six agents who carried the M-16 rifles and MP-5 submachine guns had not yet arrived when the gunfight began. They did not arrive at the scene in time to make a difference.
As McNeill turned to reach for his shotgun in the back of his squad, he was struck by Platt in the neck and instantly went down. McNeill would survive, but he was temporarily paralyzed. He was out of the fight. Platt was now shooting using his left shoulder and uninjured left hand. He wounded Orrantia with shrapnel. He fired at Dove and managed to hit Dove’s weapon, damaging it and creating a critical malfunction that disabled the weapon.
Then Platt aimed at Hanlon, who had been firing at Platt but had paused to reload his snub-nose revolver. Platt’s fire hit John Hanlon in the hand. Platt, even though he had been shot repeatedly, advanced on the vehicle that three agents were using for cover. Hanlon was down with his wound. Grogan and Dove were using the car for cover, and both had their attention on Dove’s inoperable weapon. None of them saw Platt’s ominous approach.
As Platt rounded the back side of the FBI vehicle, he shot Grogan in the chest, shot Hanlon in the groin, and shot Dove twice in the head. Grogan and Dove died at the scene. Hanlon would survive.
Meanwhile, Mireles willfully won his fight against unconsciousness and realized that the gunfight was as yet undecided. He concluded, badly wounded or not, he had to do something. He propped himself up and reacquired his shotgun as Platt made his way toward the driver’s side of the Grogan/Dove vehicle. Platt’s apparent plan was to make his getaway in the dead agents’ vehicle.
With one arm totally disabled, Mireles managed to aim his Remington Model 870 shotgun at the feet and ankles of the escaping gunman. He fired once and put buckshot into both of Platt’s feet. Mireles turned, propped his shotgun between his legs, and operated the pump action with one hand, ejecting the fired round and charging a fresh round into the chamber.
As severely wounded as Platt was, he still managed to get into the squad at this point. Matix had regained consciousness and worked his way unseen from the Monte Carlo into the passenger side of the Grogan/Dove vehicle. With both killers in the FBI vehicle, Mireles fired and cycled four more shots at Platt and Matix using the 870. He did not hit either with any of these rounds.
Special Agent Edmundo Mireles Jr. could have succumbed to his wounds and let them drive away. No one would have faulted him. Instead, Mireles pulled himself to his feet and drew his .357 Magnum revolver, which was loaded with 38 caliber +P ammunition. He began a labored advance on the would-be getaway vehicle and aimed his revolver. He fired as he advanced, alternately aiming first at Platt, then Matix, and then at Platt again until his weapon was empty. Five of his six rounds found their mark. Finally, it was over. Platt and Matix were dead.
Ben Grogan, a fifty-three-year-old veteran, and his thirty-year-old partner Jerry Dove, who had been planning his upcoming marriage, were both killed in the line of duty. Every one of the special agents on scene, with the exception of Special Agent Ron Risner, was hit. Platt fired 42 Mini-14 .223 rounds and three rounds from each of his .357 magnum revolvers.
People outside law enforcement wonder why modern law enforcement officers train, arm, and equip themselves as they do. This gunfight, where the officers were so outgunned, underequipped, and at a distinct tactical disadvantage from the moment the first shots were fired, set the law enforcement community on the march toward what some call militarization.
Militarization is not only equipping police officers with vehicles and equipment that stop bullets but also properly arming and training them to meet the Platt and Matix criminals of present times. Criminals in this category of hybrid killers seem to have increased both in number and viciousness.
Now they don’t just attack banks; they attack schools, churches, malls, and theatres. Their motive is no longer just to acquire money. They kill for no reason other than to pile up victims.
The surviving agents helped the future of law enforcement by completing clear and accurate reports and even traveling around the country sharing their experience so law enforcement agencies could learn firsthand from the event.
This incident clearly influenced law enforcement agencies to, once and for all, set aside the revolver and transition to the semi-automatic duty weapon nearly one hundred years after its development.
Special Agent Gordon McNeill used this occasion to address the “Monday Morning Quarterback” phenomenon which many Law Dogs have noticed throughout time. Often these quarterbacks are in a position to publicly comment on everything that transpired during an event without having experienced any of it.
Agent McNeill closed a law enforcement training tape by reading the words of Theodore Roosevelt: It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasm, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls, who neither know victory nor defeat.
What is amazing about McNeill and his compatriots’ four and one-half minutes in the arena was that, in spite of the fact that they were obviously outgunned, these agents stood their ground. These brave men drew a line with supreme determination, which Platt and Matix desperately tried, but failed, to breach. These agents never took a step backward in their battle against these malevolent killers. Through their courageous last stand, Grogan and Dove made sure Platt and Matix would not take one more life save their own. Dove did not even retreat when his weapon was hit and suffered a critical malfunction. Standing firm beside them were McNeill, Manauzzi, Risner, Hanlon, Orrantia, and last, but certainly not least, Edmundo Mireles Jr. Each agent risked his life, and two gave their lives. These brave men suffered terribly but prevailed greatly.