In the 1980’s, there were a good deal of notorious violent crimes in Miami. Most of them, not coincidentally, were somehow linked to the cocaine trade that based itself here during that time. But of all the murders, robberies, massacres and assaults that took place during Dade County’s most violent period, the most influential and notorious of them all did not involve high-profile drug cartels. It didn’t even involve small time pushers arguing over a street corner. It involved two middle-aged white men from Pinecrest and 8 FBI agents. What began as another sunny spring morning in Miami ended as, what was at the time, the bloodiest day in the history of the FBI.
WE TRAINED ‘EM, NOW WE GOTTA STOP ‘EM
Michael Platt and William Matix met while stationed at Ft. Campbell, Kentucky in the early 1970’s. Both were considered exemplary soldiers, Platt serving as an airborne ranger and Matix as a military policeman. After being honorably discharged, both men returned to civilian life in different parts of the country, but remained in close contact. Strangely, both men also had wives who died violent deaths in the early 1980’s, Matix’s wife being murdered during a laboratory robbery in Ohio in December 1983, and Platt’s committing suicide a year later. While the incidents are unrelated and seemingly coincidental, it may offer an insight into what caused these two to go on a violent robbery spree from October 1985 until the fateful afternoon in April of the following year.
The FBI’s Miami field office had closed in on the suspects thanks to their own investigations and the testimony of a man who had followed the pair after a previous robbery. Supervisory Special Agent Gordon McNeill sent his team of 14 agents out to patrol a stretch of South Dixie Highway in what is now known as Pinecrest. For those unfamiliar with Miami-Dade County and its various municipalities, Pinecrest is an affluent suburban area that is mostly home to families and a few essential businesses. It is not, nor was it at the time, an area people associated with violent crime like, say, Little Havana or Opa Locka. So it made the fact that two if its residents, seemingly mild-mannered guys who kept to themselves, were notorious robbers even more alarming.
At about 9 AM on April 11, 1986, Special Agents Ben Grogan and Jerry Dove noticed Platt and Matix in a black Chevrolet Monte Carlo on South Dixie Highway. They moved in behind them and alerted the rest of the team that they were following the suspects. Sensing that they were being followed, the robbers turned off US-1 and onto SW 122nd Street and then again onto SW 82nd Ave, behind the Dixie Belle shopping center. As the rest of the agents closed in on the suspects, McNeill passed the Monte Carlo and saw Platt loading his Ruger Mini-14. It was at this point the FBI knew it was in for a fight.
NINE MINUTES OF HELL
Special Agent Richard Manauzzi, who was riding alone in his vehicle, forced Platt and Matix into a large tree in a parking lot off SW 82nd Ave. Immediately after crashing, Platt fired 13 rounds at the agents from his Mini-14, hitting McNeill in his shooting hand and Special Agent Edmundo Mireles in the forearm. After firing a 12-gauge shotgun into the grill of the nearby vehicle operated by Grogan and Dove, Matix then began to lean out of the Monte Carlo, presumably to try and overtake one of the FBI vehicles for a quick escape. He was immediately shot in the forearm by Grogan, widely known as the best shot in the Miami field office. While back inside the car Matix was hit again, this time in the head and collarbone, by McNeill. The head shot, while accurate and often deadly, only managed to knock the robber unconscious.
Platt continued to shoot at the Agents as he got out of the Monte Carlo and began to advance on Grogan and Dove’s vehicle. During this charge he was shot four times leaving the vehicle, mostly in the legs and torso, and then another five times as he attempted to commandeer the FBI automobile. Platt was undeterred by the flurry of bullets hitting him as he made his assault, and upon arrival at Dove and Grogan’s car shot them both, killing each instantly. He also shot several other agents in the process, providing cover as Matix somehow regained consciousness after being shot in the head and crawled over to the FBI vehicle, undetected. The two suspects crawled into the front of Grogan and Dove’s car and continued to receive gunshot wounds, and return fire, for another two minutes.
Agent Mireles, despite having been shot in the forearm of his shooting hand, shot Platt in the feet as he began to exit the FBI car again, presumably to fire more shots. While the wounds were not fatal, they did force Platt back into vehicle. Mireles then dropped his Remington 870 shotgun and advanced on what was Grogan and Doves car with a .357 magnum revolver, firing into the vehicle five times. Despite having both been shot in the head, chest and extremities, the wounds that finally stopped Platt and Matix were rounds that lodged in their spines during this final attack. Their bodies slumped, relaxed, and Mirales turned off the ignition effectively ending the bloodiest shootout in FBI history a mere nine minutes after the suspects had been spotted on US-1. But to those involved, it must have seemed an eternity.
Paramedics arrived on the scene and saw no signs of life in either Dove or Grogan. They turned their attention to the two unconscious suspects, Matix who was already dead and Platt who they attempted to resuscitate with no success. Five other officers were injured, McNeill and Mireles among the more serious, but there were no other fatalities. During the four minute gunfight FBI agents got off somewhere between 75-80 shots and Platt unleashed in the neighborhood of 25-30. Matix got off only the one shotgun round and some experts have surmised that had he been as aggressive as his partner the two may have gotten away.
LIKE A REAL-LIFE TONY MONTANA
Its carnage aside, the FBI Miami Firefight became a keystone event in the history of the bureau. How could trained marksmen such as the agents hit their targets so accurately and yet fail to stop them? It was originally assumed that the agents had shot poorly and therefore allowed Platt and Matix to advance on them so effectively. But autopsy reports showed that the suspects were hit 18 times by FBI bullets, incurring multiple injuries to “kill zones” like the head and chest. In his book on the incident, Dr. W. French Anderson attests much of Platt and Matix’s success, as it were, to the innate ability of the human body to function in survival situations. Much like the officers who ultimately did them in, the suspects withstood presumably fatal gunshot wounds and continued to fight, sensing it was their only chance to survive.
This aside, the FBI took a different approach and took a long look at the weapons with which they were arming their agents as well as the ammunition used. Reports following the incident showed that agents had fired perfect shots (confirmed by autopsies) and the guns had functioned properly. Had the bullets done their jobs Platt would have lasted about 30 seconds after his first chest wound, presumably saving the lives of the two slain Agents. Law enforcement organizations around the world looked at the Miami Firefight and did similar assessments of their munitions. It became the impetus for a new focus on handguns and the bullets used by law enforcement. Stopping power and the power of penetration became the two most important factors in a weapon, which makes sense since stopping is really what the guns are used for.
A LASTING LEGACY NOBODY REMEMBERS
Because of its devastation and its impact, the Miami shootout is arguably the most analyzed and studied firefight in FBI history. It was chronicled several times on television, most notably in the 1988 made for TV movie “In the Line of Fire.” The event is also mentioned in the 1996 novel Unintended Consequences, though the events in that account are highly fictionalized. Along with unfortunate lessons learned, the attack also served to demonstrate the resilience of the human body and the unreliability of simple weaponry for stopping a criminal.
It is odd, then that the lone reminder most Miamians have of the incident is a stretch of SW 82nd Ave between 120th and 124th streets named Agent Jerry Dove Avenue and Agent Benjamin Grogan Avenue. In a city full of so many new arrivals and transplants, one would think more people would know about such an influential event in the history of law enforcement. But many who grew up in the area still have no idea of the significance of Suniland in the annals of the FBI. But then again, who would have thought Pinecrest would be the home of the most notorious shootout Miami has ever seen? Certainly not the neighbors of them men involved, and certainly not anyone who is living there now.