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      A Cocaine Cowboy's Last Ride

      "Something Had To Be Done"
      Bob Pilgrim

    The January 3, 1982 edition of the Miami Herald's "TROPIC" magazine said it all, "Miguel Miranda was a man of monstrous violence. For eight years he lived ostentatiously, as a federal fugitive in South Florida. He rode in Lear jets and limousines, sold cocaine by the suitcasefull, killed animals and drank their blood. He vowed to die fighting, like Dillinger. He was not particularly clever or even careful. He didn't have to be. The authorities that were supposed to be hunting him never really tried. Those who could have arrested him didn't. Ten murders later he finally got their attention."

    It was well past midnight on another balmy April night in Miami. Frank White and his team were engaged in an extended 19-hour surveillance that led them to Neon Leon's restaurant. The agents and police were waiting for DEA fugitive, Cuban expatriate Miguel Miranda and his brother Humberto to emerge so they could finally rid the country of this drug kingpin. The plan was to close in as both of the Miranda's arrived at the doors of Miranda's Cadillac. It was a simple operation, but was complicated by the presence of prostitutes plying their trade and who were very adept at spotting police activity. Because of the high likelihood of compromise by the comely courtesans, the surveillance had to be established from a distance making positive identification difficult.

    A couple of men left the restaurant and put two boxes in the Cadillac's trunk. Frank placed no particular significance on this since he knew the Miranda's frequently took food home from Neon Leon's. One of the males got into the car and the other disappeared down an alley. After a short wait, the vehicle's headlights came on and the Cadillac began to move slowly forward, but lurched to a stop, reversed and backed up to its original location. Frank did not initiate the take down, because he did not know who was in the car.

    The driver proceeded down 58th Court and disappeared from Frank's visual when he made a right hand turn. Team radios came alive with a positive make of two males in cowboy hats and the driver was Miguel. Frank initiated his contingency plan for a mobile encounter. DEA cars and trucks with a marked police unit rolled and took up cut off and blocking positions. Miguel, sensing the steel envelope that was beginning to box him in threw the Caddy into reverse, floored it and smashed into the follow car. "Watch out," was heard over the noisy melee as Miguel accelerated forward, attempted to run an agent over and rammed the lead vehicle, pushing it out of his way. "Crack-crack," multiple shots emanated from the darkened Cadillac as Humberto laid down covering fire with his pistol. Big mistake. Frank reacted by blowing away his face with one well placed round from his forty-five.

    Breaking out of the cordon, the Cadillac hopped a curb, took out a parking meter and sped off toward a gas station. Frank and Barry, former CIA and vet of the clandestine wars in Laos and Vietnam took off in hot pursuit. Two competent gunmen had Miguel's rapidly diminishing number. And it was about time: Miranda was a federal fugitive and avoided incarceration by retreating to his fortified estate. It was surrounded by high fencing, equipped with electronic security and protected by mounted body-guards, vicious dogs and numerous automatic weapons, further augmented with hand grenades. He was wanted for or suspected of dozens of killings. A practitioner of Santeria and believed to be a babalawos, or high priest, many of his murders were merely for personal entertainment. His favorite assassination weapons were ssilenced .22s and .380s. But in one case, he ended the life of a young model by injecting an over dose of cocaine directly into her jugular vein. He even involved his ! next-door neighbor Miami Dolphin Mercury Morris, by forcing one of his "Coke Heads" to call him numerous times and beg him for $6,000 to pay off his debt to Miranda. On his final call he asked Morris to tell his wife that "he lover her and to take care of the kids, she'll never see me again." He reappeared days later, stuffed in a plastic garbage bag and floating in a 55-gallon drum in Biscayne Bay.

    Although he had outstanding warrants from three agencies and was known to be Miami's most notorious serial killer the "Jackals," which is Frank's sarcastic sobriquet for the local prosecutors, either failed to act, frustrated investigations into his activities or consistently dropped charges against him. Therefore, it came as no surprise to Frank when evidence uncovered at the estate revealed that one of the Jackal's lived in the addict's compound. The boss Jackal, who rose to national prominence in the Clinton administration never responded to the serious issues raised by the evidence.

    Careening off the side of the gas station, the Cadillac bounced onto the South Dixie Highway and screamed back toward Neon Leon;s, which Miranda had extorted a controlling interest in and turned into a refuge for criminals. Seeking the protection of his fellow travelers he frantically drove through Miami streets, hopped another curb, demolished a street sign and propelled a newspaper kiosk and large mailbox into the road. As Miranda's wild ride rebounded off the curb Frank and Barry's "G-ride" became entangled with the two-ton missile and Barry cranked off at Miguel. This violent odyssey had to stop-now. Frank leapt from his vehicle and ended the rampage with two rounds into Miguel's head. Amid the carnage, passenger Humberto was still alive and came out of the car screaming in Spanish, "You don't want me-It's my brother you want."

    Law enforcement personnel on the street and many citizens were elated, but the boss Jackal was not. She referred to Miranda as an "allegedly dangerous subject" and characterized Frank's shooting as a "Negligent, haphazard, reckless and slipshod apprehension." Her bombastic attack was designed to conceal her culpability and negligence, which kept Miranda in circulation and permitted him to continue his killing spree.

    There are very few checks and balances at the highest levels of law enforcement and things can be swept under the blue rug unless a vigilant press and ethical and courageous police professionals are willing to confront internal corruption. While checking on the progress of ballistics tests, the lab officer took Frank aside and told him in hushed tones that he had been ordered to stop conducting further ballistic tests on all 22 confiscated firearms including Miguel's suppressed High Standard .22 caliber pistol. The officer confided, "You killed the biggest mass murderer in Florida's history. They fear having any more bodies tied to Miguel's guns. Who knows how many more victims fell victim to his guns."

    Shooting Recapitulation

    Frank fired a total of five rounds. The range to both Miranda's was about 15 to 20 feet. Humberto had two handguns and when he fired Frank responded with one .45 caliber FMJ round while standing next to his vehicle's left front wheel well. There was enough street illumination and ambient light to see his sights. To take Humberto out of action Frank had to "thread the needle" and fire past Miguel's head through the open driver's side window. When it was Miguel's turn, Frank fired four rounds through the Caddy's rear window and hit him twice in the head. The first pair was touched off while seated in the DEA vehicle through the "V" created by the open door and body. Frank knew he scored on Humberto, because the Commander's muzzle flash confirmed his sight picture after he broke the shot. It was the same with Miguel and as soon as the flash showed that his sights were realigned he pressed the trigger.

    LESSONS LEARNED:

  • Agents were on duty for 19 hours. Not good, but it does happen. If available, plan for and schedule enough manpower for relief. Also, train under demanding conditions that will test and strengthen you physical and mental endurance.

  • Like Waco, it was inadvisable to storm Miranda's fortified compound. The advantage is generally with the defender, particularly if you have lost the element of surprise. However, mobile operations are very difficult to control. If blocking vehicles are to be used, make sure they are heavy enough to be effective against the targeted conveyance and choke points can be sealed off. Establish vehicle-to-vehicle contact, so that no maneuver room is available.

  • People are often least alert when they are returning to their sanctuary. Many successful ambushes have been executed outside the wire of a position against a returning patrol that is tired and thinking about a cold one as soon as they pass through the lines. Consider setting up a car stop in the vicinity of the subject's residence and have surveillance shadow him and alert the arrest team when the subject is headed in their direction. Maintain perimeter security in the event the subject's back up force arrives on the scene.

  • Whenever you plan consider any options that take away the subject's ability to make decisions, such as fighting or fleeing. The futility of resistance should be immediately apparent.

  • Night sights are fine and lasers are better, but learn to use muzzle flash as a shooting aid.

  • During the lead up to WW2, the Germans repeated every day training exercises at night. Learn to make darkness your friend and become comfortable when operating in marginal light.

  • Always stack the odds in your favor. This includes firepower as well as manpower. Each non-driving agent/officer passenger should have a shoulder weapon.


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