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The 1986 Miami Shootout – Takeaways and Lessons for Civilians

May 2, 2018

by Steve Davis
Guns Save Life President

(This was the May 2018 President's Report as previously published in GunNews Magazine.)

April 11th marked the 32nd anniversary of the FBI Miami shootout. It remains one of the most studied confrontations in the history of American law enforcement – right up there with the Shootout at the OK Corral.

The event served as the impetus for changes in law enforcement training and equipment everywhere. At the same time, an analysis of the 1986 shootout also holds out important lessons for civilians interested in self-protection.
In brief summary, the shootout started when eight FBI agents in five separate cars initiated a traffic stop of a pair wanted for six armed robberies and three murders.  The suspects were known to be heavily armed with a Mini-14 rifle, a shotgun, and handguns. They used “commando” tactics, indicating police or military training. In fact, both suspects, William Matix and Michael Platt did have extensive military training.  Matix had served in the military police and Platt was Ranger certified.
A crash occurred when the FBI vehicles forced the suspects off the road. A five-minute gunfight then ensued.  The G-men killed both suspects.  However, out of eight FBI agents, the bad guys killed two and wounded five more. The event finally ended when seriously wounded FBI agent Ed Mireles charged the suspect vehicle and shot both suspects in the head with his revolver.
As noted above, police agencies all over the country changed their training and equipment in response to the failures in Miami. Additionally, civilians can learn plenty as well.  
Train frequently, and to the highest level possible for optimal performance. I am sure most of us train expecting our most likely encounter to be with a garden variety street criminal.  That was largely true of the FBI before 1986 too.  Matix and Platt teach us, however, that we can encounter highly trained, highly motivated, and extremely ruthless attackers.  Your best chance of successfully dealing with such people is to train hard and train often. Advanced training, including good force-on-force coursework provides some of the best preparation you can have for such a confrontation.

This training works.  One of our GSL Defense Training instructors just recently survived an attempted armed robbery thanks to lessons learned from force-on-force.

Do not live in a state of denial. Yes, it can happen to you. The eight FBI agents in this shootout knew they were seeking highly dangerous and heavily armed suspects, but did not take some important steps to prepare for the confrontation. For example, none of the agents brought a rifle to this gunfight. 

Only one agent, Mireles, was able to employ a shotgun. Agent Grogan lost his glasses in the car crash because he did not put on a one dollar nerd strap to hold them on his face.  All of you: Always have your equipment and expect that you might have to use it.
Pro-tip:  your car is NOT a holster!  Two of the eight FBI agents in Miami lost their duty revolvers in the car crash because they placed them on the seat next to them for ease of access.  That didn’t work out so well for them.  Keep your handgun in a holster and wear your gun!
If you have the opportunity, defend yourself with a rifle or shotgun rather than a handgun. The Ruger Mini-14 rifle wielded by Platt killed and wounded most of the agents. The agents present were particularly unprepared for Platt’s use of suppressive fire and a charge which resulted in the death of agents Grogin and Dove.
Routinely practice firing your handguns with your non dominant / support hand. At least two of the agents and both suspects were hit in their dominant hands during the shootout. This is a tendency which we also see in our force-on-force training. When someone is pointing a gun in your direction, you naturally focus very hard on that gun. Since a wound to your strong hand is very possible, your life may depend on how well you can defend yourself with your other hand. Practicing with your ”support” hand feel awkward at first, but is definitely a life skill.
You should buy and carry the best modern defensive handgun ammunition you can afford. The failure of the ammunition used by the agents was a contributing factor to their casualties. Right now, a big percentage of police agencies are using Speer Gold Dot or Federal HST handgun ammunition. To me, that is a strong recommendation.  Whatever you use, shoot it regularly from your handgun to make sure that your gun properly functions with that round.

Finally be aware that handgun rounds rarely result in one shot stops. In Miami, Platt killed two agents and seriously wounded several others over a three minute period after being solidly hit in the chest with a 9mm round. Keep firing until the threat has been neutralized!   
I encourage all readers to research the 1986 Miami Shootout and watch the video recreations which have been recorded. Learn what you can from this incident. It can save your life.


One Response to The 1986 Miami Shootout – Takeaways and Lessons for Civilians

  1. Alpha Co. on May 4, 2018 at 7:51 am

    Excellent write up Steve! I remember when we studied this case in my early training days. Changed the whole way we operated and the gear we were using at the time. And you are absolutely correct in citizens utilizing ammo that we in the gov/LE or even high level security use. There’s a reason certain gear and ammo is utilized today. It might be expensive but just how much is your life or your family’s life worth?! 

    Stay alert, stay safe, stay alive!