Fred Grimm

Assault weapons have taken deadly toll among South Florida law enforcement

In this April 11, 1986, file photo, a shooting victim is taken by rescue personnel Suniland area of South Dade after a shootout where two FBI agents, Benjamin Grogan and Jerry Dove, lost their lives.
In this April 11, 1986, file photo, a shooting victim is taken by rescue personnel Suniland area of South Dade after a shootout where two FBI agents, Benjamin Grogan and Jerry Dove, lost their lives. Mary Lout Foy/The Miami Herald

Thirty years before gunmen in Dallas and Baton Rouge killed eight police officers and wounded 12 others, a bloody shootout in Pinecrest provided a ghastly demonstration of what law enforcement officers face when thugs wield military assault-style rifles.

A pair of brazen bank robbers named Michael Lee Platt and William Russell Matix were intercepted by FBI agents near the Suniland Shopping Plaza on April 11, 1986. And all hell broke loose.

The eight agents may have outnumbered the robbers, but armed with only pistols and a shotgun, they were badly outgunned. Matix only fired off an ineffectual round from his shotgun, but his partner was able to pin down the agents with bursts from his Ruger Mini-14, modeled after the old M-14 military assault weapon and powerful enough to penetrate police-issued body armor. Platt managed to get off at least 42 shots with devastating effect.

FBI agents Benjamin Grogan and Jerry Dove were killed and five others were wounded. (Both robbers were finally shot dead.)

The Pinecrest shootout should have alerted America to a dangerous new reality: that the public’s easy access to military-style weapons posed a terrible risk to law enforcement. The FBI soon equipped its agents with more powerful weapons.

Eleven years later, the infamous Battle of North Hollywood offered another warning, as two bank robbers equipped with fully automatic assault rifles fired some 1,100 rounds at Los Angeles police officers armed with pistols. Eleven officers and nine civilians were wounded before the two gunmen were finally killed.

In 2007, Miami-Dade police Officer Jose Somohano was killed and three other cops wounded in southwest Miami-Dade County when they approached an illegal gun dealer named Shawn Labeet armed with an AK-47.

Four months later, Miami Detective James Walker was ambushed by a local criminal named Andrew James Rolle in North Miami Beach. Rolle fired off 30 rounds from his Romanian-made semiautomatic variation of an AK-47. Walker, crouching behind his bullet-riddled car, hardly had a chance. He was killed. Rolle, who claimed the shooting was a case of mistaken identity, was given a life sentence.

The firepower of these weapons has only gotten more fearsome. Gun-rights absolutists downplay the dangers of civilian-owned assault-style weapons, but the mass shootings in Orlando and San Bernardino and Sandy Hook and Aurora demonstrated an astounding killing power.

When shooters turned their sights on law enforcement in Dallas on July 7 and again in Baton Rouge on Sunday morning, police officials in both cities assumed that their officers must have been up against multiple shooters. But no, the shooters were both working alone in their insane missions. Two disaffected, cop-hating madmen were armed with weaponry so powerful that they created the illusion that several shooters were at work.

There’s a historical marker in Pinecrest, at the intersection where FBI agents Ben Grogan and Jerry Dove were killed in 1986, a reminder of what can happen when lawmen face firepower that no sane society ought to abide.

  Comments