"Rangers' report doesn't resolve questions about gun use on last day of siege - FBI has said casings could be from ATF"
by Lee Hancock ("The Dallas Morning News", September 13, 1999)
A Texas Rangers report on evidence from the Branch Davidian siege resolves some mysteries but deepens others, including questions about whether the government fired guns or high explosives on the final day of the 1993 tragedy.
The report sent Friday to Congress indicates that the Rangers' evidence trove includes a dozen .308-caliber sniper rifle shell casings and 24 Israeli-made .223-caliber casings recovered from a house used by the FBI's hostage rescue team throughout the 51-day siege. It was the same house from which FBI documents indicate an FBI agent initially reported hearing shots fired on the final day of the Branch Davidian standoff in Waco.
The agent has since said that account was wrong, and FBI officials insist that none of their agents fired a single shot during the standoff. Bureau officials have noted that the shell casings could have come from agents of the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, who used the house as a sniper post and shot repeatedly at the Branch Davidian compound when a gunfight broke out as as they tried to search it on Feb. 28, 1993.
But the issue is a cornerstone of a federal lawsuit filed by surviving Branch Davidians against the government. And the discovery of shell casings is potentially even more explosive because the FBI agent in charge of the sniper post was Lon Horiuchi, the FBI sniper who fatally shot the wife of a white separatist during the federal standoff at Ruby Ridge, Idaho, in late 1992.
Mr. Horiuchi has denied firing any shots in Waco, but a federal judge presiding over the Branch Davidian lawsuit recently refused to drop him as a defendant in the case.
While the Rangers' report conclusively answers questions about the nature of some evidence - including shell casings from a pyrotechnic tear-gas grenade and two 40-mm projectiles - it offers no conclusions about the potential significance of those items, the sniper rounds or any other evidence under scrutiny.
But law-enforcement officials in Texas say that the report presents compelling questions for both Congress and former Sen. John Danforth, the special investigator appointed last week by the U.S. Justice Department to re-examine the Waco case.
"We now have ballistics exams that can take a shell casing and determine exactly what gun it was fired from," said one Texas official. "We need to see what weapons ATF had and what weapons FBI had, and we can tell you exactly which ones fired these shells.
"This is something that has never been looked at," the official said. "There are things here that are potentially very troubling."
Question of control
The Rangers' report suggests how limited the initial investigation of the tragedy may have been and how tightly it was controlled by the FBI - although federal officials had publicly insisted that the case was led by a special task force of more than 30 Texas Rangers.
"There needs to be a re-analysis of everything in this case in light of what's recently come out," one official said. "People have said there have already been investigations. But there has never been an investigation of what happened on the law-enforcement side."
In the report, a Texas Rangers sergeant assigned to sort through the Branch Davidian evidence kept by the Texas Department of Public Safety wrote that his efforts were slowed by the lack of a complete set of crime scene photographs from the case.
"It is my understanding that the FBI had taken all of the 35-mm film, negatives and reference material into their possession, and only a limited number of photographs were returned to the Texas Department of Public Safety," Ranger Sgt. Joey Gordon wrote in the report obtained by The Dallas Morning News.
The inch-thick document arrived Friday on Capitol Hill, where it had been subpoenaed earlier this month by the House Government Reform Committee. It details an unusual inquiry launched in June by James B. Francis, chairman of the commission that oversees the state's chief law-enforcement agency.
Mr. Francis told the Rangers to try to identify "problematic" projectiles and other items kept in DPS evidence lockers for almost six years since the standoff, which ended April 19, 1993, in a fire that consumed the Branch Davidian compound.
Leader David Koresh and more than 80 followers died in the blaze, which began about six hours after FBI tanks began ramming and tear-gassing the compound.
The siege began with the gun battle that broke out on Feb. 28, 1993, as ATF agents tried to search the compound and arrest Mr. Koresh on weapons violations. Four ATF agents and several sect members died in the exchange.
Government officials have long maintained that FBI agents used no pyrotechnic devices on the day the compound burned.
But last month, the Justice Department and the FBI admitted that tear-gas grenades capable of starting fires had been fired by the government on April 19, in direct violation of an order by Attorney General Janet Reno that no pyrotechnic devices be used that day.
The FBI now says the pyrotechnics were fired at the compound, but hours before the blaze started. Officials still maintain that the fire was set by the compound's occupants.
The admission came only after a former FBI official told The News that use of two U.S. military pyrotechnic tear-gas grenades "was common knowledge" among the FBI's hostage rescue team.
Even before then, the Rangers had been working for several months to try to identify a shell casing that proved to be part of one of the military CS gas rounds and other projectiles that had never been properly identified.
Mr. Francis ordered the inquiry after learning that the Justice Department had tried to block all public access to the evidence trove. The issue came to his attention after Justice Department lawyers defending a massive wrongful-death lawsuit filed by Branch Davidians angrily complained about an independent filmmaker being allowed to view the evidence in DPS custody last fall and this spring.
Based on the questions raised by the filmmaker, Michael McNulty, Rangers began trying to identify an oddly-shaped 40-mm shell casing, several unidentified 40-mm projectiles and a number of other items never scrutinized during the initial criminal inquiry.
By mid-August, Ranger Sgt. Gordon had identified the shell casing as part of a U.S. military gas grenade known as an M651. With the help of U.S. Army experts, the Ranger was able to determine the two-day period in which it was made at a North Carolina factory in 1969 and even acquire two unfired M651 grenades from the same batch that were still in an Arkansas Army arsenal.
Late last month, the Ranger also identified two 40-mm projectiles as German-made "flash-bang" grenades, devices that emit a loud, concussive noise and a blinding flash and are used by U.S. law enforcement to stun or distract suspects. Although tests are still being completed, both appear to be German NICO flash-bang devices from a shipment of about 50 sent in 1990 to the FBI, the report stated.
Mr. McNulty, who is now completing a new documentary on Waco has questioned whether the two black-and-silver devices might be some form of exotic explosive or incendiary device used to deliberately start a fire.
But the report heightens other questions about what the FBI used on the final day of the standoff. It includes a statement from another Texas Ranger who recalled being told by an FBI agent that the bureau had gotten permission on April 19 to fire a device to knock down a door.
A recent government audit of military assistance during the standoff stated that the FBI's arsenal at Waco included 250 40-mm high-explosive rounds.
Bureau officials have said they do not know why the rounds were obtained from Fort Hood, Texas, but they have said that none were used in Waco.
After the compound fire, a Ranger found a strange shell casing among debris left by the FBI. Rangers who were military veterans said at the time that the it looked like a "thumper round," a high-explosive Army munition, the report indicated.
The Ranger said he was approached by an FBI agent in January 1994, just before the Ranger testified in the federal criminal trial against 11 Branch Davidians. He said the FBI agent reported that the shell was used against a door "in an attempt to knock it down."
The shell was ultimately identified as part of a CS gas round, but the Ranger's account raises questions about what might have been fired at a door.
The Rangers' report indicates the DPS has preserved other problematic evidence, including other flash-bang grenades misidentified as silencers, a spent military flare, and DPS photographs and videos.
Mr. McNulty has contended that those videos could determine whether members of the U.S. Army's secret Delta Force unit were active during the tear-gas assault. Defense Department officials have said three special-forces personnel were present but only watched.
The report also indicates that some evidence initially reported missing during the 1994 criminal trial had inexplicably reappeared. Among the items found by Mr. McNulty during his visits to the evidence lockers was a watch cap worn by a Branch Davidian who was shot to death by ATF agents as he tried to approach the embattled compound on Feb. 28.
ATF agents testified that they shot the man, Michael Schroeder, nine times after he fired first at them. He was shot several times in the head, and DPS photographs of his body showed that he was wearing a watch cap when he died.
But defense attorneys for the Branch Davidians were told that the cap couldn't be found before the criminal trials. Mr. McNulty said the hat contains visible residues that should be tested to determine whether Mr. Schroeder was shot at close range or "finished off."
Waco, FBI and the Branch Davidians: Updates
CESNUR reproduces or quotes documents from the media and different sources on a number of religious issues. Unless otherwise indicated, the opinions expressed are those of the document's author(s), not of CESNUR or its directors.
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