Educational Zone #106 – Forensic Analysis, 1986 FBI Miami Firefight

A recent thread on AR15.com that discussed the Miami firefight caused me to want to know more about this important firefight. So, I ordered the book, Forensic Analysis of the April 11, 1986, FBI Firefight, by W. French Anderson, M.D.

I took the book with me on the recent flight to Las Vegas to the SHOT Show and read it in one sitting. It was a real eye-opener.

In short, in Miami, in 1986, the FBI had a shootout with two bad guys and it was the biggest firefight in the FBI’s recent history.

The two bad guys, Platt and Matix, were killed. But two FBI Agents were also killed, and three FBI Agents were very seriously wounded, and two others were injured.

Dr. Anderson decided to do a very detailed analysis of the firefight to try to learn as much as possible from the fight. His analysis is recognized as the “best” by the FBI, and they use it to teach new agents in their training.

In addition, many police agencies have also included this information in their training. Many lives have been saved as a result.

Most of us that are kind of “gunny” have heard of this fight, but many have drawn wrong conclusions, due to their not knowing all the facts. I will not try to cover all the details of the book, but would encourage anyone interested in ballistics to get a copy of this book and read it and study it.

I would like to list some of the lessons I learned about the firefight from this book.

1. Use good quality ammo.

This is one of the biggest lessons learned from this incident. In short, the FBI was using older JHP ammo that would not always expand, and usually did not penetrate deeply enough.

Early in the fight, one of the bad guys was shot with a 9mm round that penetrated his upper arm before entering his body. It stopped just millimeters short of reaching his heart. As a result, he was able to continue to fight for several minutes. Had it reached his heart, it would have stopped him.

Based upon the failure to the bullets to reach vital organs, the FBI set a standard of requiring a minimum of 12 to 15 inches of penetration for their ammunition.

Which brings us to #2.

2. A determined adversary can continue to fight, even when severely wounded many times.

The bad guys were both “shot full of holes”, to put it mildly. The book had autopsy photos of both men that are pretty gruesome. They are full of holes. But they were tough and determined fighters, and simply would not quit, as long as they were physically able to shoot back.

The only way to STOP a bad guy is to hit vital organs or his central nervous system, and either of these things takes a lot of penetration.

3. Gunfights are not like cowboy shows on TV.

At the start of “Gunsmoke”, the Marshall and a bad guy face each other on a street and draw and shoot. But real gunfights are seldom like that.

In the Miami shootout, the bad guys were under some trees and in deep shade. The FBI Agents were in bright sunlight.

One important factor was that the FBI Agents could not clearly see the bad guys. And when they could see them, they only saw parts of their bodies.

As Clint Smith says, “Shoot at whatever is available, as long as it is available, until something better becomes available.”

That’s what the Agents did. They shot at the bad guy’s legs, or feet, or whatever they saw a chance to shoot. They hit them too, but this did not cause injuries that would STOP the fight.

In one case, an Agent shot Platt in the feet with 00 buckshot, causing several very bad injuries to his feet. It would have crippled him, but it didn’t Stop him. He continued to fight.

Folks often ask, “Why do we need 12 inches of penetration, it is only a few inches from the front of the chest to the heart?” But it is seldom in a real firefight that you will get a shot from the front with no obstructions in front of the chest.

That’s why 12 inches penetration is the minimum.

4. Use the best available weapon.

Matix started the gunfight with a pistol-gripped only shotgun loaded with birdshot. As a result he was totally ineffective and was shot and put out of the fight for several minutes.

Platt, however, brought a carbine to the fight. As a result, he was able to do a lot of damage before being killed.

The FBI Agents were shooting mostly pistols, either 9mm semi-autos or revolvers shooting +P .38 Special ammo. One Agent used a 12 gauge pump shotgun.

Why didn’t the Agents have carbines? They didn’t know that they were going to be in a big firefight. Just like the rest of us.

Most of us carry handguns on a daily basis, because of ease of concealment and ease of carry. But if you knew you were going to be in a firefight, you would bring a rifle.

Also, like many police officers, these Agents thought that handguns were “effective”. They were to learn that they are not. Just imagine the “rubber trigger nightmares” caused by this firefight. They shot and shot the bad guys, but the bad guys just kept on fighting.

5. Marksmanship.

One false idea that is widely spread is that the Agents were poor marksmen, but this is inaccurate. They made many good hits on the bad guys, but pistols are pistols and rifles are rifles. And the bad guys were not stopped by the pistol rounds.

It is very important to hit your target. But if the round is ineffective, it will not stop the fight.

6. Gunfights are confusing.

As Dr. Anderson wrote this book, he interviewed the surviving Agents several times. His step-by-step and shot-by-shot analysis showed that the memories of the Agents were simply wrong on several counts. In the excitement of the fight, they did not see everything and did not correctly remember all of the things they saw.

There are many other conclusions that can be drawn from this fight, but those are a few that come to mind.

The book is an excellent resource and I highly recommend reading it. I also highly recommend applying the lessons learned.

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