Miami Shootout Anniversary

April 20, 2011

In the history of the FBI, 36 agents have been killed in adversarial action. Two of them, their service prompted by duty, were shot to death at the feet of retired Special Agent John Hanlon.

Audio Transcript

Mollie Halpern: In the history of the FBI, 36 agents have been killed in adversarial action. Two of them, their service prompted by duty, were shot to death at the feet of retired Special Agent John Hanlon.

John Hanlon: Two men gallantly—and I mean gallantly—gave their lives for their country.

Halpern: The FBI pays tribute to the heroism of all service martyrs. We honor Special Agents Ben Grogan and Jerry Dove on the anniversary of what is one of the most violent shootouts in the Bureau’s history. The agents were gunned down 25 years ago this month.

I’m Mollie Halpern of the Bureau. In this episode of “Inside the FBI,” hear about the violent events that led up to that deadly day through the eyes of John Hanlon, the gun battle that ensued, and the lessons learned.

But first, let me introduce you to John Hanlon. Hanlon knew he wanted to be an FBI agent in the fourth grade. Throughout his career, he worked cases involving serial killers, kidnappers, and of course, the case that led to this fierce firefight. Hanlon will tell it to you straight—they are cases that can haunt even the toughest of FBI agents.

Hanlon: It preys on you. You really got to fight not letting this sort of thing sweep over you. ‘Cause it’s a pretty shocking experience to be laying in a pile while a couple of guys get shot, you know.

Halpern: Hanlon’s compassion for victims and their families is apparent within the first few moments of meeting him. His sense of humor could pry smiles from even the most stone-faced people. The 73-year-old still works out, but he walks with a limp because of the bullet in his hip and the shrapnel scattered throughout his body. Twenty-five years have passed since that tragic day Dove and Grogan died, but Hanlon remembers it in detail.

Hanlon was a special agent working in the violent crime squad in the Bureau’s Miami Field Office back in October of 1985. That’s when two men—later identified as Michael Platt and William Matix—shot a guard in an attempted robbery. Platt and Matix pulled off another robbery less than a month later. That time, they accosted the bank guard and a teller. An hour-and-a-half later, 18 blocks away, the men hit up yet another bank. During the fourth bank robbery in January of ’86, the men shot a man while he was already down.

Hanlon: They were shooting the armored car guards; they shot one guy on the ground and then shot him in the buttocks while he was on the ground.

Halpern: Platt and Matix escaped. Agents discovered the getaway car was stolen from a man who had reported his son, Emilio, missing. Emilio was later found dead in the Everglades with a bullet wound in his head.

A couple of months after the robbery, a man named Jose Callazo was target shooting in the same area where Emilio’s body was found when Platt and Matix tried to rob him, at one point asking if he was a cop. When Collazo answered no, they shot him several times—but he survived. Collazo later said the men seemed to be professionals.

Jose Collazo: Platt was pointing the gun at me and his hand didn’t even tremble.

Halpern: Platt and Matix took off with Collazo’s black 1979 Chevrolet Monte Carlo. The men’s crime spree wasn’t over—they pulled off a fifth robbery. In six months, the men had shot two men in the Everglades, killing one of them. They shot and wounded several guards and robbed banks and armored trucks. And remember—at that point, the agents didn’t know who they were.

Their violence was escalating. Hanlon remembers Grogan saying the men wouldn’t go easy. It was a chilling comment in retrospect.

Hanlon: Grogan had said, you know, when we catch these guys, there won’t be any trial. You know, I mean, they were pretty violent.

Halpern: Hanlon’s whole squad was working the case. The evidence showed a pattern of behavior had developed. Supervisory Special Agent Gordon McNeill had a hunch, and so on April 10, 1986, he put together a stakeout plan involving 14 special agents. The next day would forever change the FBI family.

On the morning of April 11, Jerry Dove, Benjamin Grogan, Richard Manauzzi, Gil Orrantia, and Ron Risner were among the agents going on the stakeout. Grogan was a 25-year veteran, a serious man and one of the Bureau’s best shots. Dove was the rookie, with just four years of service behind him. John Hanlon was consumed with another case and wasn’t going to join the men. His respect for fellow agent Ed Mireles made him change his mind.

Hanlon: He said, “Hey Jake, why don’t you come with me?” I said, “Super, okay Ed.” I liked Eddie Mireles, he’s a great guy.

Halpern: The two were in their Bureau car when they heard Grogan on the radio…

Voice of Agent Grogan: “Attention all units. We’re behind a black vehicle, two-door, Florida license NTJ891. It’s a black Monte Carlo, two males in it. NTJ891”

Voice of Agent Mireles: “We’re right behind you, if we’re going to do it, let’s do it.”

Halpern: Platt and Matix were inside the Monte Carlo, which they had stolen from shooting victim, Jose Collazo. Hanlon and Mireles joined McNeill in pursuit of the men. Five other agents followed as well.

Hanlon: We were pretty close to them, getting pretty tense, and Ed started loading the shotgun. I was driving and we went down and took a right and then another right, and we saw them up there at a stop sign.

Halpern: In an attempt to bring Platt and Matix from reaching the busy South Dixie highway, agents forced the felons off the road and into a parking lot.

Hanlon: They were about as bad as you can get. I mean, I remember when I slammed into them and they slammed into me, I looked over at the driver and he wasn’t afraid of me. Well, I wasn’t afraid of them at that point.

Halpern: When the ramming and smashing between Bureau cars and the Monte Carlo stopped, Platt and Matix started shooting.

One of their bullets penetrated McNeill’s left hand. Another bullet from Platt’s high-velocity rifle hit Ed Mireles in his left arm. Mireles said it felt like being hit with a sledge hammer. The agents fired back, but the felons didn’t use the Monte Carlo as a shield—they got out of the car. At one point, Platt looked directly at McNeil, smiled like he was enjoying himself, took aim, and then pulled the trigger. McNeill had on a bullet-proof vest, but that didn’t stop Platt’s bullet from slamming into his neck; the bullet ricocheted off his spinal column and traveled down to his chest cavity, leaving him temporarily paralyzed. 

Meantime, Hanlon and Mireles had crashed their car across the street from McNeil and the other agents.

Hanlon: Ben Grogan was across the street shooting at these guys. I didn’t want him to be by himself.

Halpern: So, Hanlon raced across 82nd Avenue to help Grogan and Dove. Mireles also crossed, so he could back up McNeill.

Hanlon: When I got across the street, I shot at the driver. They were a car-and-a-half length away from us. We were real close. There was a lot of banging and yelling and smoke—in the movies you don’t get the smell. And I remember thinking, you know, “I’m not a bad guy and these guys are trying to kill me.”

Halpern: Hanlon’s revolver was lost in the crash, but his back-up weapon—a five-shot chief special—was in his ankle holster. He fired off the five rounds.

That’s when bullets started flying in his direction. A bullet from Platt’s mini-14 struck him in the hand, severely damaging his bicep and right forearm. His blood spurted out like a geyser.

Hanlon: I thought I was bleeding to death.

Halpern: But the worst was yet to come…

Hanlon: And he came around and I tried to kick him and then scoot back and he shot me in the groin. I figured he was going to kill me, I got a little depressed about it. I was shaking real bad—it hurt. I thought about my wife and my kids and the fact that I had a lot of work that I wanted do—I don’t want to die.

Halpern:His life was spared but his friends and colleagues were not.

Hanlon: And that’s when Dove fell down. And he brushed against me. His right shoulder blade was the only thing between my head and his head, and I’m looking in his ear, his eyes were closed. And, he tried to raise his head and I heard “pow pow” and he dropped his head down—he was facing away from me and had a hole in the back of his head. And the guy was shooting and all the brass was falling on me and tinkling in the street, and then Ben said, “Oh my God,” and he fell down at my feet. I heard Grogan die. I heard the air go out of him.

Halpern: Platt then got into the Bureau car that belonged to the agents he had just shot to death. Matix also got into the car. Hanlon’s partner that day, Ed Mireles—a man he calls a hero—saw that the felons were going to try to drive away. With one arm, Ed took aim and fired rounds until his shotgun was empty. Platt got out of the car, staggered up to Ed, and fired three shots from point-blank range. All three rounds missed. Platt then got back into the Bureau car. With a will to survive, Ed walked toward the car and fired his revolver until the men were dead. The bloodbath had come to an end in less than five minutes. More than 140 rounds had been fired; two agents were shot to death, five wounded, and the suspects dead. Hanlon spent three days in intensive care and another 11 days in the hospital recovering.

Hanlon: I was so happy to survive, I couldn’t tell you.

Halpern: Twenty-five years have passed. Hanlon says each anniversary of that day has been difficult. He admits to getting grumpy and intolerant of life’s little annoyances.

Hanlon: The anniversaries, when they roll around, it’s kind of strange. It’s a very emotional thing, you could bawl at the drop of a hat, you know? And I still get chills.

Halpern: That day, forever imprinted on his brain, dominates his thoughts during this 25th anniversary. Hanlon is pensive, distracted, and has trouble sleeping.

Hanlon: I got 25 years. Why did I survive? And the reason I survived is because of the people I was with—their character, their sense of duty. I wouldn’t be here today if Grogan and Dove hadn’t done what they did.

Halpern: Hanlon certainly will always remember his friends and the devotion they had to their work.

Hanlon: They laid down their lives for people they didn’t even know. That’s pretty freaking noble. I hope people don’t forget it.

Halpern: We won’t forget. The FBI marked the 25th anniversary of the shootout with a memorial service in Miami. FBI Director Robert Mueller spoke of Grogan and Dove.

Director Robert S. Mueller: Both men put country before self. They put courage before fear. They put the safety of their community before their own. And that is what special agents do. It is what they are sworn to do.

Halpern: These days, Hanlon may be retired, but he keeps busy. He reads a lot of military history and speaks to those training to become law enforcement. He wants to impart one lesson to them, and that is to get involved with their work. To become motivated by their noble duty as special agents and to act on it. Hanlon says it’s the only way to prepare for a day like the one he survived. The only way to act your best in the face of great adversity.

Hanlon: You have a duty and you have a responsibility and you have an obligation to the people you work with to give them the best you can.

Halpern: Wise words from a man who embodies the meaning of fidelity, bravery, and integrity.

I’m Mollie Halpern of the Bureau, thanks for listening to “Inside the FBI.”

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