Tuesday, July 29, 2014

The Miami FBI Shootout - The Lost Tapes

April 11, 1986, approx. 9 a.m.: A squad of more than a dozen FBI agents in 11 cars are about to conduct a stakeout of banks along South Dixie Highway.

Nine days later, on April 20, 1986, the Miami Herald published a reconstruction of the first 15 or 20 minutes of their stakeout; or what would come to be known as the bloodiest day in FBI history:
It was a bright clear morning, just after 9 o'clock, and the poky traffic was up to its usual tricks on South Dixie: stop, start, stop, start. A typical mess. It had been this way for several Fridays now. The FBI agents in their big, comfortable cars. Fighting the traffic. Watching, waiting and making small talk on the car radios.

There had been nothing.

No sign of the bank robbers whose peculiar brand of gratuitous violence prompted the FBI and Metro-Dade police to flood the Suniland area of South Dixie Highway with agents from a high-priority task force. Fridays are paydays; Fridays are best for robbing banks.

"Attention all units," the FBI car radios crackled. "We're behind a black vehicle, two-door, Florida license NTJ-891. We're headed south on South Dixie, no, north on South Dixie."

It was Grogan. Every agent in South Florida knew his bark, the precise, gravelly voice clipping each word. Special Agent Benjamin P. Grogan was something of a legend in the FBI's Miami field office. He had been with the bureau 25 years, and he had done it all.

At least one of the agents that morning - Grogan perhaps - also had a radio tuned to the Metro Police Department's Southwest District frequency.

At 9:20 a.m., a Metro police supervisor gets on the air and asks the dispatcher to advise all Kendall units of the FBI stakeout.

Twelve minutes later, at 9:32 a.m., an FBI agent using the unit number 2960 comes up on the county frequency to advise that he and his fellow agents are behind the bank robbery suspects' vehicle and traveling north on U.S. 1.

Five minutes later, at 9:37, the dispatcher advises units that calls are coming in about machine gun fire at S.W. 120th Street and 82nd Ave.

Her calls to FBI unit 2960 go unanswered.

At 9:41 a.m. a Metro police supervisor arrives on the scene and advises the dispatcher that there are "five on the ground."

Within weeks of the shootout, cassette tapes of that morning's radio transmissions were being circulated within South Florida's law enforcement community. However, very few civilians have ever heard the entire tape.

Until now.

Embedded below, are the first 30 minutes of the morning's radio transmissions.

(NOTE: The audio of the radio transmissions ends at the 29:55 mark. At the 31:23 mark, the tape picks up with audio of the calls that the 911 center started receiving from witnesses at 9:36 a.m.)




Herald Staff Writers

Two FBI agents and two bank robbery suspects were killed and five more FBI men were wounded Friday morning when a wild shoot-out -- the most devastating in FBI history -- erupted on a residential street in Kendall.

More than 100 shots from automatic weapons, shotguns and pistols tore across the suburban Miami street just south of the Suniland Shopping Plaza. The shooting, which started at about 9:35 a.m., lasted more than five minutes.

Agents in front of a white house at 12201 SW 82nd Ave. tried to protect themselves with big white bulletproof bibs -- to no avail. When it was over, only one of eight FBI agents emerged unscathed.

12201 SW 82nd Ave. today. 

Both robbers -- who were driving a car they had stolen from a man they had robbed and shot at a West Dade rock pit last month -- were sprawled in the street, dead.

So were the two agents who had chased the suspects up South Dixie Highway, behind the Dixie Belle shopping center and onto the narrow street of large, single-story homes.

The two slain agents were identified as Benjamin Grogan, 53, an FBI man for nearly 20 years, and Gerald Dove, 30, an agent since 1982.

Five more FBI agents who had responded almost immediately to a call for help were shot, three of them seriously injured. Agents John Hanlon, 48, who suffered a gunshot wound to his thigh, and Gordon McNeil, 43, shot in the chest, were at Baptist Hospital, where both were listed in serious condition.

At South Miami Hospital, agent Edmundo Mireles, 33, was in critical but stable condition with a bullet wound to his left forearm.

Two other agents -- Richard Manauzzi, 43, and Gilbert

Orrantia, 27 -- were treated at Baptist for surface wounds and were released, the FBI said.

"This went down so fast it was unbelievable," said witness Billie Holloway, who lives down the block from the crime scene. "We heard a few shots and then a little quiet. We went outside and heard the car crash. Then the shots just opened up.

"Living in Miami, you know, Miami Vice, I figured it was another drug bust," Holloway said. "It's Miami. You just try to stay alive."

The FBI men were the 28th and 29th agents to be killed in the line of duty. The last time two FBI agents were killed in a single incident was in 1979.

In Washington, FBI Director William Webster called Friday the darkest day in the agency's history. Never before had so many agents been killed or wounded in one incident.

"Miami has had a very difficult time -- a lot of different problems," Webster said. But, he added, "I would certainly not characterize it as a place to stay away from."

Along 82nd Avenue, there were bullet holes everywhere, in the sides of cars, in the concrete wall behind the shopping center.

"Phil Donahue had just come on when it happened," said May Stemas, who lives nearby. "I thought it was a war."



Herald Staff Writer

One color of death was bright yellow.

Yellow were the police ribbons that stretched from tree to tree, to keep people away. The ribbons fluttered in the morning breeze, and crisscrossed in mock gaiety the Kendall neighborhood. Outside the ribbons, crowds stood and stared. On the inside, men with radios and clipboards and tape measures and cameras moved grimly from one corpse to the next. There were four corpses in all.

Yellow was the color of the plastic sheets that covered the two FBI agents, who lay dead in the shade of a black olive tree. Occasionally the breeze would lift the sheets, and a policeman or federal agent would hurry forward to cloak them again.

The dead killers lay bloody and uncovered.

Incredibly, seven agents had been shot here. It was the bloodiest day in the FBI's history. A federal prosecutor who knew the dead agents watched and wept. He was not alone.

From an elevated parking ramp, reporters, photographers, TV cameramen and dozens of bystanders looked down on the tableau, at the intersection of Southwest 82nd Avenue and 122nd Street. Construction workers drank beer and guessed about how it had happened. A lady shopper with an Instamatic snapped a picture.

It was a bright cloudless day, a day when all the colors of death were vivid.

The broad bloodstain in the middle of the road was already burgundy, turning to brown in the heat.

A shotgun lay nearby, five empty green shells shining like emeralds on the pavement. A few feet away was a black-barreled pistol and, beyond that, what looked like an automatic rifle.

During the chase, two cars had crunched into a bottle-brush tree, its blossoms crimson; beneath its outer branches were two cream-colored FBI Buicks, one pocked by bullet holes. The brake lights were still on.

Once all this had been noted and absorbed, there was little else to see. The shooting had lasted only minutes. It had been quiet for hours now, and still we stood and watched. The wounded were gone, the dead were silent.

Up the ramp came several Palmetto High School students, some skipping class, others taking an extra-long lunch break. None of them was clowning around, but the distance from the bodies made casual talk an easier thing.

A blond teen-ager in a sleeveless T-shirt watched for a few minutes, then turned to go. "Death in Miami," he said to some friends. "It's nice to know we live in such a nice city."

Another student, Mark Saymon, asked to borrow a photographer's telephoto lens, to get a closer look. He said this was his third shoot-out scene; the others were a bank holdup and a Farm Store robbery. "Nothing like this," Saymon said. "I can't believe they let that dude lie in the sun."

The dude was dead, of course. He was one of the suspects. Pot-bellied guy with black hair. He lay on his back. His left arm was taped where the paramedics had tried to get some fluids going before giving up; the chubby guy's clothes were soaked with too much blood. A man wearing rubber gloves fished through the dead man's pockets.

What grips onlookers at such times is the proximity of recent death. The danger is past, but the aftermath transfixes.

On television, blazing shoot-outs are followed by commercials. Real-life murder scenes do not dissolve so easily; not in the eye, not in the mind. The color of death is unforgettable.

There is also a ponderous ritual to investigation; the more victims, the longer it takes. On Friday the dead men lay where they fell for four hours.

Finally the killers were placed in the back of a light-blue van and hauled off to the medical examiner.

The agents were taken away in separate hearses.

The color of death was jet black.

A portion of SW 120th Street was dedicated to the memory of 
Agents Jerry Dove and Benjamin Grogan in 2001.
(Click to enlarge.)


FBI.gov: FBI Miami Shooting, April 11, 1986

YouTube: FBI Training Video, Firefight & Personal Reflections

Monday, July 28, 2014

Would you pay $9.95 a month to watch Sarah Palin?


Sarah Palin, the woman who couldn't come up with the name of one newspaper that she read on a regular basis, has now started her own online news channel.

The former half-term Alaska governor former Republican vice presidential nominee, "announced the Sarah Palin Channel, a subscription-based Web site that she says will offer news, video chats with her and behind-the-scenes glimpses of speeches and political events she attends."

The cost? Just $9.95 a month or $99.95 a year. (Good luck with that, Sarah.)

Although I might consider paying if I can see a whole lot more of this.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

The Tampa Bay Times investigates Florida sugar, Gov. Rick Scott, fat cat Republicans and secret trips to a Texas hunting ranch


“Do your own job."Susan Hepworth, Republican Party of Florida spokesperson to a Tampa Bay Times reporter.

Susan Hepworth, Republican Party
of Florida spokesperson. 
A few months ago two Tampa Bay Times reporters were following the money. They were trying learn details about trips taken by Florida Republicans to an exclusive hunting ranch in Texas.

But Republican Party of Florida spokeswoman Susan Hepworth wasn't in the mood to talk, even though, according to her, she was the only RPOF official who could answer questions about the trips.

"I can tell you 100 times over and over that we follow the letter of the law. Do your own job," Hepworth told a reporter.

And so they did.

Tampa Bay Times staff writers Craig Pittman and Michael Van Sickler have a story in this morning's paper that's the culmination of a months-long investigation into the secret trips taken by Florida Republicans to a Texas hunting ranch, financed partly with contributions from U.S. Sugar to the Republican Party of Florida.

Click to enlarge.
From the story....
"A Times/Herald analysis shows that since late 2011, U.S. Sugar paid more than $95,000 to the Republican Party of Florida for at least 20 weekend trips — destinations unspecified on public documents — within days of more than a dozen Florida politicians registering for Texas hunting licenses.

"By not disclosing their King Ranch trips, officials and sugar lobbyists have avoided any scrutiny of their private dealings with each other and whether their relations influence decisionmaking on state agricultural issues, including the future of the Everglades."

On his Facebook page Pittman says this of the story: "It's like the Fight Club of Tallahassee...no one wants to talk about it."

Pittman and Van Sickler write: "Scott won’t answer questions about his trip. After weeks of requests from the Times/Herald, his campaign staff released a one-paragraph statement on Friday saying he had gone to King Ranch 'in support of his political fundraising efforts.' "

Pittman covers the environment for the Times. (He's also the go-to guy on anything having to do with Weird Florida.)

Yesterday I emailed him five questions about his work on the story:

1) How long have you and your colleagues been working on this story and whose idea was it to do the story in the first place? Were you tipped off? Also, can you give us an idea of how many pages of documents you filed requests for and what was that process like?
We got an anonymous tip about it in May and worked on it through June and most of July. The big breakthrough came when Mike Van Sickler came up with the brilliant idea of requesting Texas hunting license records. We checked scores of names, and then were able to compare the dates they got their licenses with the dates listed in Republican Party campaign filings that said that's when the sugar companies paid for flights and lodging.

2) Why is this story important and why should voters care about what politicians do on their days off?
It's important because it shows how Tallahassee really works. Big industries take the politicians off somewhere well away from public scrutiny and wine them and dine them and nobody knows about it. Then they pass legislation that benefits the businesses and leaves the taxpayers holding the bag.

3) Were you surprised at the amount of stonewalling you encountered in reporting this story?
Yes. You'd think at some point someone would say, "Boy, we look really bad by refusing to talk about this." But if anyone ever did say that, it didn't change anyone's minds about opening up. Personally, I hope that every time one of these guys shows up in public, at a campaign rally or an editorial board meeting or just out shaking hands with the public, someone will ask them to explain about these trips.

4) Anything strange happen while you were reporting this, i.e., late night hang-up calls or dark cars with tinted windows following you? Anything else funny or unusual happen?
The door being shut in Van Sickler's face was pretty amazing. His transcript of the encounter left me shaking my head. Gov. Scott's aide tried to body-block me at the groundbreaking, [see video above] but I slipped around her and grabbed his elbow to get his attention so he had to respond to my question (although it was just to brush me aside). And the U.S. Sugar spokeswoman who e-mailed me to say they wouldn't comment, and then added, "I hope you find this helpful." Reporting a story like this rarely involves meeting people in parking garages or anything like that. Instead it was a lot of phone calls and e-mails and building a timeline so we could compare when things happened.

At one point I consulted a guy I know in the Justice Department. We went to high school together, and he tracks down financial info on drug dealers and so forth now. He had some good ideas for getting the info we wanted, but unfortunately they all required having the power to issue subpoenas. He's got that, but we don't.

5) I notice in the video you were wearing your fabled seersucker suit when you tried to buttonhole Gov Scott. If this story goes on to be your Watergate moment, would you consider donating the suit, along with your notes and papers to some journalism school?
Sure. That's tax-deductible, right?

Friday, July 25, 2014

A note to my readers....

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Thank you for your support and continued readership.

The Random Pixels Haitian Culture Corner

I'm sure our Haitian-American friends have made some positive contributions to our community, I just can't think of any at the moment. But I'm reasonably sure that Haitian cuisine and food preparation standards ain't among them.

Pay close attention to the first three restaurants visited by  Local 10's Jeff Weinsier.

WARNING: Do NOT watch the video if you've just eaten!

video platformvideo managementvideo solutionsvideo player

Random Pixels, Aug. 19, 2013: For those of you who aren't yet quite convinced that Miami is just like a Third World Country....

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Your lunch hour time waster

Bear tries to open a bear-proof trash can at a testing facility near Yellowstone National Park.