November 16, 2023
Affiliate Disclosure: This page contains affiliate links. We earn from qualifying purchases.
“FBI Miami Firefight: Five Minutes that Changed the Bureau” is a new book written by retired FBI Special Agent Edmundo Mireles and his wife Elizabeth (also a former FBI Special Agent) about the bloodiest gunfight in the history of the FBI (EdMireles.com). Mireles isn’t a full-time writer, but what makes this book unique isn’t his writing ability but rather who he is, and the fact that he’s never told his part of the story before, in so much detail. For those of you vague on the FBI Miami shootout because it was before your time or you’ve never been involved or interested in law enforcement, this gunfight could be argued to be the most influential gunfight in the history of American law enforcement. The gunfight itself lasted five minutes, which for a shooting situation is forever.
Read Part 2 of The FBI Miami Firefight
Eight FBI agents went up against two well-armed serial bank robbers (Platt and Matix) in an impromptu felony car stop in a Miami-Dade neighborhood. There was so much shooting for so long that the residents of the neighborhood thought they were filming an episode of Miami Vice. Not kidding. When everything was over, approximately 150 rounds of pistol, rifle, and shotgun ammunition had been fired. Two FBI agents were dead, and five more were wounded, three critically, including Ed Mireles. Both suspects were dead, although they nearly escaped the scene in an FBI vehicle. Ed Mireles is considered the hero of the day, and while he’s done numerous presentations over the years this is the first time he’s ever written publicly on the incident. After being critically wounded and losing the use of his left arm he engaged the suspects with both a pump-action shotgun and his revolver, finally ending the fight with near-contact distance shots to the suspects.
Ed Mireles was selected by the International Association of Chiefs of Police as the 1986 National Police Officer of the Year. The U.S. Department of Justice presented Mireles with the Attorney General’s Award for Exceptional Heroism. Mireles was awarded the first FBI Medal of Valor for Heroism. This is one of the most minutely examined gunfights in the history of modern American law enforcement. This incident has been covered by television documentaries on A&E, The Discovery Channel, and Court TV, but perhaps the best-known version of it was the 1988 TV move In the Line of Duty: The FBI Murders. The production seemed to do a very good job detailing the events leading up to the actual gunfight and portraying the personalities of Platt and Matix, and I recommend it if you can find it. The movie features far more well-known actors than the usual TV movie, including Michael Gross (Family Ties, Tremors) as Matix, David Soul (Starsky and Hutch) as Platt, Ronny Cox (Beverly Hills Cop, Total Recall) as FBI Special Agent Ben Grogan, and veteran actor Bruce Greenwood as Agent Jerry Dove. Ed Mireles doesn’t much care for this movie as they jumbled or omitted several details of the shootout, such as making his arm injury look like a scratch—but to be honest, network censors wouldn’t allow an accurate recreation of his gory injury.
This incident has not grown in status over time; right away everyone knew how huge it was. President Ronald Reagan called to talk to Elizabeth Mireles while her husband was still in surgery. It was front-page news all over the country…but the FBI Miami shootout ended up being far more than just an historical incident. Because of what happened during those five minutes, the FBI reevaluated everything they were using from tactics to equipment, and made all sorts of changes, and where the FBI goes American law enforcement tends to follow. Firearms News is going to cover this incident in two articles — this first article will detail the gunfight itself including the weapons used by both sides, and the second article will chronicle the far-reaching influence this incident had on law enforcement, the firearms
industry, and ammunition manufacturers.
The Wild West
While the entertainment industry tends to exaggerate a few things (Scarface, Miami Vice), Miami in the mid-80s truly was the Wild West. In 1985 FBI Special Agent Edmundo Mireles was assigned to the C-1 Miami Bank Robbery Squad of the Miami Field Office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. At the time, there were sixteen men on the squad, which covered a large area — from Ft. Pierce in the north to Key West, and from Miami to Naples. At that time in that area there was, on average, one bank or armored truck robbery per day…with sometimes as many as five in one day. At the time Mireles joined the C-1 squad they were working three “organized gangs” of robbers, one of whom was a two-man team later identified as Michael Lee Platt and William Russell Matix, both Army veterans who met while they were working as MPs in Fort Campbell, Kentucky.
Between October 1985 and April 1986, the FBI believes Platt and Matix participated in fifteen bank and armored truck robberies and three murders — two armored car guards and a young man whose car they stole. They showed absolutely no hesitation in going to gun, firing shots repeatedly during robberies at armored trucks and inside banks, and were known to carry long guns including a “military style” .223 rifle and 12-gauge shotgun. They also used smoke grenades, ski masks, regularly used stolen cars, and were believed to wear body armor. After seven months of this the C-1 squad believed they knew which (stolen) car Platt and Matix were using, and as they seemed to target banks in the same area of Miami, and were believed to be running short on cash from previous robberies, the FBI agents set up a loose rolling surveillance in the area on April 11, 1986. All told there were fourteen FBI agents in eleven vehicles working the surveillance. The agents were in casual clothes and in unmarked vehicles, and armed with 26 firearms — handguns, shotguns, one HK MP-5 sub-machinegun, and one Colt M-16. They also had soft body armor, although only two of the agents were wearing their armor.
While some people will point out mistakes made by the agents (most of the agents were not wearing body armor and the armor they were wearing wouldn’t stop rifle rounds, not having more long guns, etc.), upon reviewing the facts of this case it is clear that just about everything that could go wrong did, and only some of those things were preventable. Over the course of the morning several agents were diverted from their surveillance duties for various reasons — talking to a bank manager/witness, call of nature, etc. And the rest of them were spread over a rather wide area. As a result, when FBI Special Agent Ben Grogan spotted the stolen black Monte Carlo they’d been looking for, containing two males later identified as Platt and Matix, only eight agents in five vehicles were able to respond to the scene before the gunfight was over. The agents to whom were assigned the HK MP-5 and Colt M-16 didn’t make it to the scene until the gunfight was over.
With five agents in three FBI vehicles behind the suspect vehicle, FBI Special Agent Gordon McNeill observed one of the suspects loading a long gun in the front seat. Three other agents in two more cars were just seconds away. The FBI agents attempted to do a felony stop in a less densely populated area, before the suspects drove into downtown Miami. Matix was driving the stolen Monte Carlo and began ramming the FBI vehicles in an attempt to get away. He was armed with a folding-stocked 12-gauge S&W 3000 pump 12-gauge shotgun loaded with #6 birdshot. Platt, in the passenger seat, was armed with a Ruger Mini-14 .223 and several loaded 30-round magazines. The suspects were also armed with six-inch .357 revolvers, one a S&W 586, the other a Dan Wesson.
Platt tried aiming his rifle at the agents, who in response began ramming the Monte with their cars. Before any shots were fired the suspect vehicle crashed to a stop against a tree, pinned between a parked car and an FBI vehicle on the left, with three more FBI vehicles skidding to stops behind and to the left of the suspects’ Monte Carlo. The vehicle containing Mireles and Jake Hanlon spun out and hit a concrete wall across the street from the suspect vehicle. During the attempted felony stop FBI Special Agents Richard Manauzzi and Jake Hanlon pulled their revolvers out of their holsters and either set them on their laps or wedged them under their thighs for easy access. However, because of the ramming (it was estimated there were 12–15 vehicle impacts) and subsequent crashes both agents lost track of their revolvers. Hanlon had a back-up 5-shot revolver on his ankle which he later used.
Manauzzi, parked right next to the suspects, couldn’t find his revolver. The vehicles to either side of them prevented the suspects from fully opening their doors. Matix opened his door as far as possible (eight inches) stuck his shotgun out the open door and fired at Special Agent Manauzzi, wounding him with the first shot of the gunfight. Manauzzi thought his gun had flown out of his car after the crash but it was really under the seat, and when he couldn’t find it in the street, and was hit again with shotgun pellets, he retreated to cover behind a concrete wall where he stayed for the duration of the gunfight. Agent Gordon McNeill pulled up behind and to the left of Manauzzi’s FBI vehicle. As Manauzzi bailed out and went looking for his gun McNeill ran up and began firing his S&W .357 revolver at the suspects over the hood of Manauzzi’s car (all the FBI .357 revolvers were loaded with .38 Special +P ammunition), staying as low as possible. The windows on the Monte Carlo were deeply tinted, and not only did that tint film prevent him from seeing exactly where the suspects were inside, it held the glass together as the bullets punched through and the spider-webbing made it even harder to see inside the car.
FBI Agents Ben Grogan and Jerry Dove stopped their vehicle directly behind the suspects’ Monte Carlo, the stop so abrupt Ben’s eyeglasses flew off his face. He exited the car without them and both agents began firing at the rear of the suspect vehicle from behind their open car doors. Both agents were armed with S&W Model 459 9mm semi-auto pistols. Mireles’ partner, Jake Hanlon, ran to back up Ben and Jerry. Mireles ran to back up Gordon McNeill, carrying a Remington 870 12-gauge pump shotgun which he’d loaded with five rounds of 00-buck. He also had a S&W 586 .357 revolver on his hip. Mireles couldn’t see the suspects in the center of the jumble of cars but he could hear the pistol fire as well as a much louder sound.
As Mireles was running toward Gordon McNeill, shotgun in his hands, he realized he was about to sweep McNeill, and raised the shotgun up to port arms as he reached the rear of McNeill’s car…and then thought he ran into the back of the car, as he found himself on his back, staring up at the sky. The truth was Platt had begun firing the Mini-14, and hit Mireles twice — once in his left forearm, and once in the left side of his head. Mireles left forearm was pulverized, and in fact his hand was only hanging by a flap of skin, but if his arm hadn’t been in front of his chest the .223 bullet would have probably entered his heart, almost surely killing him. The second bullet grazed the left side of his head and eventually when he sat up, dazed, he saw blood spurting from his temporal artery.
As Ben and Jerry were firing at the suspects from the rear, FBI Agents Gilbert Orrantia and Ron Risner arrived in the area and parked about forty-five yards from the suspect vehicle, at its ten o’clock. The agents stopped their vehicle just in time to see Mireles stagger and fall to the ground. They immediately took cover behind their vehicle and began firing at the suspects, Orrantia with a 6-shot revolver and Risner with a 15-shot S&W 459 9mm. Matix fired his shotgun out the open door of the Monte Carlo, hitting the radiator of Ben and Jerry’s vehicle. Even without his glasses Ben Grogan managed to accurately return fire and hit Matix in the wrist. The bullet severed Matix’s ulnar artery and nerve. Platt was firing his Mini-14 out the open driver’s door, above Matix’s head. Imagine the noise. He fired at Manauzzi, then at Mireles, hitting him, then he began firing at Gordon McNeill. Gordon McNeill had been shooting his revolver over the hood of Manauzzi’s car at the suspects inside the vehicle. He fired four shots, then one of Platt’s .223 rounds hit him in his right hand, shattering it. As witnessed my Mireles, McNeill’s hands jerked back, then he brought them down, looked at his gun and hands, then switched the revolver to his left hand, steadied it on the hood of Manauzzi’s car, and fired the remaining two shots in the cylinder. He then retreated to the rear of his car to reload.
Those last two shots hit Matix through the tinted car window. The first bullet struck Matix’s right cheekbone and traveled towards the right frontal lobe but did not penetrate the brain. The second round hit the right side of his neck and severed Matix’s subclavian artery, vein, and nerves. This incapacitated Matix’s right arm and probably temporarily incapacitated Matix. Platt continued to fire in all directions. Orrantia and Risner continued shooting at him from across the street, and Ben and Jerry from behind the cover of their vehicle, behind the Monte Carlo. Platt decided to get out of the Monte Carlo. As he couldn’t open the passenger door, Platt with Mini-14 in hand, crawled out of the passenger side window, exposing the right side of his body to Agent Jerry Dove, about fifteen yards away. Jerry fired his S&W 459 and hit Platt three times. His first shot is the most important, and the most well-known. The 115-grain 9mm Winchester Silvertip round hit Platt in the lower part of his right bicep. It traveled up into his arm, severing the brachial artery and nerve, then exited the arm and hit the right side of Platt’s chest where it penetrated his right lung. The bullet punched into Platt’s right lung and stopped an inch or two short of his heart.
Platt reacted with a jerk and rolled over as he fell out of the Monte Carlo’s window. Jerry Dove shot Platt once in the back of the upper right thigh and once in the left foot, then he was out of sight. He took cover between two parked vehicles belonging to local residents, a black Oldsmobile and a gold Pontiac Trans Am. Untreated, the gunshot wound to Platt’s brachial artery was fatal, and would have eventually killed him due to blood loss, but he kept on fighting. From their position across the street, approximately fifty yards away, Agents Orrantia and Risner kept firing at Platt, and hit him in the right arm and chest. The bullets did not penetrate very deeply and Platt didn’t react to the hits due to the adrenaline in his system. Risner was a good shot and knew he’d hit Platt, so he yelled to his partner, “They’re wearing body armor, they’re wearing body armor!”
One of Orrantia’s shots hit Platt in the right forearm and severed his radial bone and corresponding muscles which allowed his thumb and index finger to function — yet he kept on shooting. At this point he ran his Mini-14 dry and started to reload. Orrantia and Risner kept shooting at him, and Platt pulled his revolver and fired three shots as suppressive fire before completing the reload of his rifle. At this point he’d been shot six times, his partner Matix shot three times. At some point Matix also bailed out of the passenger side of the Monte Carlo and was hunkered down behind the right front tire, but of all the FBI agents only Orrantia ever saw him exit the vehicle. Platt fired at Orrantia and Risner across the street, peppering their car with rifle shots and Orrantia with bullet fragments. Orrantia was shooting a revolver, and he ducked down to do a second reload. When he came back up Platt had moved and was out of sight. Risner, armed with the semi-auto S&W 459, had done a reload and during the gunfight fired about 25 rounds. During the incident Orrantia and Risner had to cease firing across the street several times as oblivious idiots drove through the middle of the gunfight.
From Bad To Worse
As a dazed Ed Mireles dragged himself behind Manauzzi’s car and gradually realized he’d been shot, that his left arm below the elbow was nothing but a mass of meat and that the thing he was seeing in his peripheral vision was spurts of blood from his severed temporal artery, Gordon McNeill was behind his own car trying to reload his revolver after having been shot in the hand with a .223 round. McNeill managed to get four rounds into the cylinder and figured that was good enough to get back into the fight. However, he couldn’t get the cylinder to close, because it was clogged with so much blood and muscle tissue and bone fragments. As this was going on Platt moved to the rear of the black Oldsmobile and began engaging Ben and Jerry and Jake Hanlon with his Mini-14. Jerry went down, wounded, with one hit from the rifle. His revolver out of the fight, Gordon McNeill attempted to retrieve his shotgun from the back of his car. Platt noticed him and started firing at McNeill, hitting him in the neck. The bullet went down his neck, ricocheted off his vertebrae, and peppered his right lung with fragments. McNeill fell to the ground.
Turning back to Ben and Jake Hanlon, Platt saw Hanlon was reloading his revolver and began firing. He shot Hanlon in the right hand, then staggered around the vehicle and shot at Hanlon multiple times, missing some but also hitting him several times in the thighs with ricochets off the ground. Hanlon ended up with two direct gunshot wounds and four wounds from ricochets. Ben Grogan, who lost his eyeglasses at the beginning of the fight, was nearby, and was heard to say, “Where is everybody?” Platt shot him in the back, killing him, then walked toward Jerry Dove. Jerry Dove was focused on his S&W 459 because the semi-auto pistol had taken a rifle bullet hit to the slide, totally disabling it, although the wounded Dove was still trying to get his pistol back in the fight. Platt walked up behind him and shot him twice in the head with the Mini-14, killing him. Mireles was hearing ringing in his ears and darkness in his vision from blood loss, but he dragged himself with his one good arm to the rear of Gordon McNeill’s car. He could see McNeill on the ground underneath the car, and saw Platt’s feet as Platt moved up close, apparently intending to finish off the wounded McNeill.
Mireles doesn’t remember taking the shot, but the evidence shows he fired the shotgun one-handed underneath the car at Platt’s feet. Platt was about fifteen yards away, and two 00-buck pellets hit each of Platt’s feet. Platt stumbled but kept moving. By the time Mireles was able to sit up he saw that Platt and Matix were now sitting in Ben and Jerry’s FBI vehicle, apparently trying to get it started. If they got the car started the only way they could leave the scene was to back up, and if they did that they’d drive over Ben, Jerry, and Jake. When he realized this Mireles brought the shotgun up one-handed, rested the forend on the bumper of McNeill’s car, and aimed it at Platt, who was in the driver’s seat of the FBI car. He then began firing the shotgun one handed, pulling it back after each shot and working the pump with his right hand, the stock wedged between his thighs. Mireles fired four rounds of 00-buck at both Platt and Matix sitting in the vehicle, 36 pellets in total. He saw Platt recoil and thought he had hit him, but Platt was only jerking back from flying glass. Matix had sunk behind the dashboard of the car. Not one pellet struck either man, the car hood and door and windshield either soaked up or deflected every projectile.
Mireles thought he’d hit both men and put them out of the fight. His hearing destroyed, vision going in and out, he waved his good arm at Orrantia and Risner across the street and said, “It’s okay, come on over, it’s okay!” They yelled back, “Stay down, stay down!” Platt exited the vehicle and walked over to Mireles. A witness clearly saw Platt walk up to within ten feet of Mireles and fire at him four times with a pistol, then walked back and got into the car. Mireles was so out of it he never saw Platt get out of the vehicle, and never heard or saw him shoot at him. Platt was so badly injured he missed all four of his shots, at a seated target, ten feet away. Thinking that he was going to die from his injuries, Mireles lost all fear and instead decided to make sure that Platt and Matix were going to die too. He stood up, drawing his revolver, his vision almost totally black but for a small circle of light in the middle. Mireles staggered forward and started firing. His first shot missed but he kept walking closer and firing, hitting Platt and Matix in the head and chest with all of his remaining five rounds. Even with a fresh bullet hole in his forehead Platt was still moving and Mireles reached into the car to fire his last shot into Platt’s chest at contact distance. Several Metro PD officers rolled up to the scene at the end of the gunfight, but none of them fired shots. Some of the officers almost shot Mireles, as when they arrived they didn’t see his badge, they just saw a bloody Hispanic male with “a big f@$king gun in his hand” shooting at two men inside an obvious unmarked FBI vehicle. And then it was over.
There are a few glaring takeaways upon review of this incident:
- Pistols are poor fight stoppers, period, especially when compared to rifles.
- Pistols really suck in a rifle fight, at any distance.
- Every type of small arm sucks when trying to shoot through automobiles.
- Knowing how to shoot one-handed or with your support hand is a good idea —McNeill, Matix, Platt, Hanlon and Mireles were all hit in the hand or arm.
- Getting shot doesn’t necessarily put you out of the fight—the only person involved in the gunfight who wasn’t injured was Special Agent Ron Risner…who was wearing body armor.
While it grudgingly admitted that some mistakes were made by some of its agents, the FBI attributed the suspects’ success to their “military training” and the FBI agents’ poorly performing ammunition. Matix was a cook in the Army, and then an MP, with no combat experience. On the other hand, Platt was a U.S. Army Ranger who reportedly saw combat in Vietnam, and soldiers are taught that when you are caught in an ambush, you assault out of that ambush. In all honesty, Matix did very little during this gunfight. He fired a few rounds from his shotgun, which wounded FBI Special Agent Richard Manauzzi, but that was it. All of the other damage was done by Platt using his Mini-14. Platt didn’t just know how to work the rifle, he seemed to be an avid shooter—investigation showed that in the week prior to the gunfight, Platt (and/or Matix) had fired 5,000 rounds of .223 ammo in practice.
Throughout the gunfight, both before and after being wounded, Platt continued shooting and moving. He obviously had a mindset that he wasn’t going to stop until he won or escaped, and anything less than an incapacitating wound wasn’t going to stop him. Toxicology showed that neither Platt nor Matix had any drugs in their system, so Platt was running on sheer will. Convinced he was about to die Mireles lost all fear of death and decided that he was going to take the bad guys with him before he went. This appears to be exactly how Platt was thinking as well. The two bad guys sure seemed like they’ve been living the last seven months of their life as if they were stars of their own action movie and looking to go out in a blaze of glory. While their exact identities were unknown to the FBI agents and they weren’t actually identified by name until after the shooting, their actions painted a pretty clear picture that they weren’t interested in living long healthy safe lives.
The FBI agents knew this…but they also had a lot of experience arresting average bad guys, the vast majority of whom surrender when confronted with armed police officers. A forensic analysis showed that by the end of the firefight Platt had lost approximately half his blood volume mostly due to the pistol round severing his brachial artery…yet he continued to fight. As did just about everyone else. Some people are just hard to kill. While Mireles is considered the hero of the day as he’s the one who finished the fight, most of the FBI agents on scene performed admirably when the shooting started. Every one of them who had a gun when the shooting started engaged the suspects.
The FBI agents on scene have been accused of poor shooting, and their hit percentages are distressingly low…although it should be noted that they were using handguns against subjects using vehicles for cover. Even Ed Mireles, when firing four rounds of 9-pellet 12-gauge 00-buckshot at two subjects seated inside a stationary vehicle, did not get a single hit because of how well the FBI sedan soaked up the hits. As for the shooting…Orrantia and Risner scored hits with their handguns on a moving target (Platt) from a distance at or close to 50 yards…while taking incoming rifle fire. Without his eyeglasses Ben Grogan couldn’t see much, but when he fired at Matix’s muzzle flash he actually hit the man in the wrist. Jerry Dove scored a perfect, fatal hit on Platt as he squirmed out of the car window, then hit him twice more. And after being shot in his right hand with a .223 round Gordon McNeill switched his revolver to his left hand and fired two shots, both of which hit.
The FBI did its best to lay all the blame on the “bad bullets” carried by their agents, with some success. All things being equal, it is a given that a rifle will beat a handgun, but it is also obvious that the handgun bullets fired by the FBI agents underperformed. It could also be argued that the FBI agents were a bit overconfident, and that when going after suspects known to be shooters, and known to use at least one rifle, they should have been better prepared for a gunfight by wearing their body armor and having more long guns present. These bad guys had been in running gun fights with armored car guards…and kept going back. In the second part of this article we will cover the ripple effects of this gunfight — because of the fallout and subsequent investigation, there have been huge changes made to law enforcement tactics, training, and equipment specifically because of this gunfight that have trickled down to every corner of the American firearms market.
If you have any thoughts or comments on this article, we’d love to hear them. Email us at FirearmsNews@Outdoorsg.com.