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Tactical Briefs #8, August 1998

Sanow, Ayoob Shooting Incident Falsehoods Reveal Credibility Problems with Gunwriter "Street Results" Research and Data
- by Shawn Dodson

The work of gunwriters Ed Sanow and Massad Ayoob is well known to readers of such magazines as Handguns, Guns and Ammo, Combat Handguns and American Handgunner.  Both authors purportedly investigate shooting incidents to evaluate the "stopping power" of various ammunition cartridges.

Sanow claims to have examined several thousand shooting incidents.  Ayoob holds his cards a little more closely and doesn't reveal much about his data base.  Both declare their data show "which bullets really work in actual street shootings," a claim disputed by professional wound ballistics researchers who also study shootings.

The validity of data used by Sanow and Ayoob to determine "street effectiveness" has been questioned and criticized.  Sanow’s data have been described as "bogus," "fabricated" and "made up to fit a preconceived theory."  Ayoob has managed to steer clear of this kind of flak, but his observations, recommendations and advice are similar to Sanow’s.

A few years ago, Sanow wrote several articles critical of the 9mm 147 grain JHP cartridge, and listed a number of police agencies that were allegedly dissatisfied with its "dismal" performance after officers shot criminals with it.  Several law enforcement firearms trainers were so alarmed at Sanow’s reports that they contacted the agencies identified by Sanow to verify his claims.  What these trainers learned was that Sanow deliberately misrepresented the circumstances and facts of these shootings to make the 147 grain JHP look bad.  As a result, Sanow lost what little credibility he had remaining with law enforcement.

Sanow’s trustworthiness recently took another hit as a result of an article he published in the October 1997 issue of Handguns magazine ("Defense Loads for the .40 S&W," pp. 38-41, 78-79).  In the article, Sanow alleges problems with medium-velocity (approximately 950 fps) .40 caliber 165 grain JHP cartridges.  To support his claims, he makes the following statements:

"The low slide velocity from the 165-grain Medium-Velocity JHP caused a stoppage during a Dayton, Ohio, police shoot-out gunfight as the wounded officer became less than an ideal firing platform.  The Dayton Police have since adopted 180-grain Gold Dots.

"One of the 165-grain HydraShoks recovered after a solid upper torso chest shot during the Dayton Police shoot-out could have been reloaded and fired again according to Montgomery County, Ohio, Sheriffs officials."

A few months later, in the June 1998 issue of Handguns, a letter was published from Detective Mark E. Lukas, Dayton Police Rangemaster, which disputed the accuracy of Sanow’s facts (pp. 7, 89).  Lukas describes the circumstances of the shooting in detail: two officers were ambushed outside the back door of a district office by a gunman, who first made friendly contact then suddenly drew a gun and shot both officers.  Apparently one officer was killed almost immediately, and the second officer was wounded by a bullet that hit him in the face.  The wounded officer then engaged in a gunfight with his assailant, who attempted to flee in a stolen truck.  Lukas states:

"The injured officer’s gun never failed to fire or malfunction in any way."

Lukas also describes the wounds inflicted on the assailant:

"The suspect was hit 10 times.  Five bullets were recovered from the body: two bullets showed signs of expansion; two showed signs of nose damage (point collapsing); and one bullet found in the lower left lung (entering through the lower abdomen) was not expanded or deformed.  This bullet probably passed through the truck door as the suspect was entering the vehicle to escape.  No rounds were recovered from the upper chest area of the suspect.

"The Dayton Police have not adopted the 180-grain Gold Dot as a general duty round.  It is used by our SWAT team as a duty round in the .40 S&W MP-5s.  Our current duty round is the 165-grain Speer Lawman Gold Dot at 1,125 fps.  In our Glock pistols, it performs well."

As a result of Officer Lukas’ letter, I telephoned Dayton Police and spoke with him.  He told me that when his agency decided to purchase and issue the Federal HydraShok 165 grain medium-velocity cartridge, the decision was based, in part, because the catalog specified a velocity of 1050 fps.  Unfortunately after the shooting they discovered that the lot of ammunition delivered by Federal was not what they'd ordered.  Federal had made an unannounced design change by lowering velocity to 970 fps, and didn't bother to inform the department.

Because of this foul-up, Dayton police implemented a new ammunition purchasing process that includes minimum performance specifications similar to the IWBA Handgun Ammunition Specification.  The purchase order stipulates that the department will test a sample of the ammunition by shooting it into standard ordnance gelatin.  It must meet or exceed the department's performance specs or the ammunition will be rejected.

Officer Lukas is familiar with FBI Ammunition Tests results that show most JHP bullets rarely expand after penetrating auto body sheet metal.  This most likely explains why the bullet recovered from the gunman’s lung did not exhibit any indication of expansion or deformation.

During my phone conversation with Officer Lukas, he explained to me the reason why they issue the 165 grain Gold Dot cartridge to their patrol officers is because some officers had problems controlling their department issue Glock 27 when shooting the heavier 180 grain Gold Dots.  Changing to the lighter 165 grain bullet solved this problem.  The Glock 27 is issued as a backup gun to all officers, in addition to the full-size Glock 22.  In two shootings that have occurred since changing to the 165 grain Gold Dots, the department has been satisfied with the bullet’s performance.

I found Sanow’s source of information in the second paragraph particularly intriguing.  Why is he citing "Montgomery County, Ohio, Sheriff’s officials?"  Were they involved with the shooting investigation?  Apparently there’s a cop/gunwriter who writes for Combat Handguns magazine who just happens to be a Montgomery County Sheriff’s Deputy.  It appears that instead of contacting Dayton Police Department and speaking with officials who were directly involved in the shooting investigation, Sanow simply chose to rely on a secondhand war story from a buddy.  As a result, Sanow got bad information and passed it on readers as if it were verified official information.

Sanow’s quality is garbage in, garbage out, yet he insists his "street results" are, by far, the most accurate method for determining/predicting "street effectiveness."

Ayoob’s shooting investigations and reconstructions appear to be as poorly performed as Sanow’s.  I base this observation on two magazine articles he wrote for American Handgunner magazine:

"Four Minute Massacre: The FBI Miami Shootout." American Handgunner, 13(73); January/February 1989: pp. 38, 71-80, and

"FBI Miami Shootout: An Update." American Handgunner, 16(93); May/June 1992: pp. 68, 84-88.

Both articles are reprinted in his book Ayoob Files: The Book, which can be ordered from http://www.ayoob.com.  Except for a few minor editorial changes, plus the addition of some photos, the book faithfully reproduces the magazine articles.

The first article, re-titled "Massacre in Miami: The FBI shootout" (pp. 190-210), Ayoob states his shooting investigation/reconstruction is based on information he received from "Metro Dade Police, FBI, Medical Examiner’s Office, and other sources."  Within a few pages it's evident he didn’t receive the kind of cooperation and detailed information from these sources that he'd like his readers to believe.

To expose the extent of Ayoob’s inaccuracies, I compare his findings to Dr. French Anderson’s "Forensic Analysis of the April 11, 1986, FBI Firefight."

Note: the gunshot wounds present on Matix's body (six wounds, A-F) and Platt's body (12 wounds, A-L) are identified and detailed in alphabetical sequence in the autopsy reports prepared by Dade County Medical Examiner Jay Barnhart, M.D.  These reports have been reproduced in Anderson's book.  Anderson refers to each wound using the same identification letter and terminology as documented in the autopsy reports.  The corresponding wound is identified below by the letter in brackets, e.g., "(X)".

Ayoob Claim

Anderson’s Forensic Analysis

P. 193: "Silvertip .357 is authorized by the Bureau only for special circumstances, and it is believed that supervisor McNeill’s 2 ½" Combat Magnum was so charged." McNeill’s gun was loaded with FBI standard issue .38 Special 158 grain LSWCHP +P bullets.
P. 197: "It is perhaps 45 seconds since the first shot – a Mini-14 round triggered by Platt – has been fired.  Already two agents are severely wounded, one slightly wounded and one criminal is also slightly wounded." At this point in the gunfight, Manauzzi has been slightly wounded, McNeill has been shot in the hand by a .223, and Mireles has been shot in the arm by a .223.  Matix has been hit three times: in the right forearm by Grogan (E), in the head [knocking him unconscious] by McNeill (F), and in the neck/chest by McNeill (B).
P. 198: "A couple of car lengths away, Grogan and Dove have been firing their S&W 459s, but not yet with effect.  Up ahead, Platt Crawls out the window of the jammed Monte Carlo’s door.  At about this time he is hit by at least two Winchester Silvertip 9mm bullets. Grogan had already hit Matix (E), who is at this time unconscious on the front seat of the Monte Carlo after having been also hit twice by McNeill (F, B).  Dove hits Platt three times as Platt is crawling out the passenger side window of the Monte Carlo.  One bullet perforates Platt’s right upper arm and enters his chest at the arm pit (B), a second bullet passes through Platt’s right thigh (L), and a third bullet hits and passes through Platt’s left foot (I).
P. 198: "One bullet hit the region of the armpit, the other biting deep into the pectoral muscle.  One of these bullets come from Agent Risner..." There is no forensic evidence that Risner hit Platt in the pectoral muscle of the chest.
P. 198: "The other bullet comes from the 9mm of young Jerry Dove.  It courses through the lung area of Platt as it mushrooms, and it cuts a vital artery.  Blood begins to pour freely from the gunman’s chest as he rolls out the window of the Monte Carlo." Dove’s bullet hit Platt’s right upper arm first, where it fully expanded in the biceps muscle and cut the brachial artery (B).  The bullet went completely through the arm and penetrated the chest between two ribs, where it also cut major blood vessels in the right lung.  The blood that was spurting from Platt’s body was from the brachial artery of the arm.  The wound to the right lung caused mostly internal bleeding.
P. 199: "Meanwhile, Matix has squeezed out the driver’s door of the wrecked getaway car, and he unleashes a blast of 00 buckshot at Grogan and Dove to pin them down." Matix’s shotgun was loaded with #6 birdshot.  He fired one round at Grogan/Dove before he was hit in the right forearm by Grogan (E).  Forensic evidence indicates Matix fired only this one shot before he was hit in the head and neck by McNeill (F, B).  At this point in the gunfight, Matix is still lying unconscious on the front seat of the Monte Carlo.
P. 199: "Grogan, Dove and Hanlon are clustered at the white Buick, the first standing in a Weaver stance firing blindly, the other two kneeling, all focusing their consciousness on Matix who is providing his partner with shotgun cover." Matix is still unconscious on the front seat of the Monte Carlo.  He managed to fire one shot out of his shotgun at the very beginning of the gunfight before he is temporarily incapacitated by McNeill.  Forensic evidence indicates Grogan fired nine shots total during the shoot-out, suggesting that he wasn’t firing blindly, but instead engaging Platt and Matix with controlled, disciplined gun fire.
P. 200: "[Dove] moves around from his position at the right front door to the left side of the Buick, the better to have cover from shotgunner Matix." Dove relocated to the driver’s side of the Buick, but he didn’t move to escape Matix’s shotgun fire.  Matix was apparently still unconscious on the front seat of the Monte Carlo.
P. 200: "Arrantia jerks from the sudden impact as he is hit, but he keeps firing, emptying his Smith & Wesson revolver a second time..." FBI Agent Orrantia is occupying a battle position across the street hunkered down in the driver’s seat of his car.  A .223 bullet fired by Platt hit the car, and Orrantia is hit by fragments from the dashboard and possibly by bullet fragments.
P. 201: Platt rounds the side of the Buick, firing rapidly as he comes.  He deliberately fires a shot into helpless Hanlon’s groin." Hanlon was lying on his back, his whole upper body almost underneath the trunk of the Buick, his head near the rear driver’s side tire.  Platt leaned against the rear passenger side fender and fired one shot into Grogan’s chest first. He couldn’t see Hanlon at this time.
P. 201: "Platt is pulling the trigger of the Mini as fast as he can. Grogan cries "Oh, my God," and goes down, hit multiple times in the torso." Grogan was killed by a single gunshot wound to the chest.  After shooting Grogan, Platt rounded the back of the Buick where he saw Hanlon.  After spotting Hanlon, Platt shot him once.
P 201: "Mireles jerks the trigger. The blast goes low.  The shotgun is loaded with 00 buck – not FBI’s trademark #4 – but a few .33 caliber pellets rip into Platt’s left foot." Platt was hit in the left foot by two 00 buckshot pellets (G, H).  His right foot was also hit by two shotgun pellets by this same shot (E, F).
P. 202: "[Mireles] is rewarded with the sight of Platt slamming back against the driver’s seat. The buckshot has smashed into his face... but it has come in from a side angle, and no pellet has reached his brain." There is no forensic evidence that Platt was hit by any shotgun pellets in the face.  Evidence indicates that Mireles’ first shotgun blast was the only one to hit Platt (E, F, G, H).
P. 203: "Mireles fourth blast and his fifth, blows out the windshield of the Buick.  Matix twists in agony as he is hit by the pellets.  But, he too, has not yet taken a dynamic, manstopping gunshot wound." There is no forensic evidence that Matix was hit by any shotgun pellets fired by Mireles.
P. 203: "And behind the wheel, his face a bloody mask...." Autopsy photographs reveal a few cuts and abrasions on Platt’s face.  He had not yet been hit in the head by any bullet or shotgun pellet, so there’s no reason why, at this point in the gunfight, that his face would be a "bloody mask."
P. 203: "[Platt] twists the six-inch Smith & Wesson .357 from its shoulder holster and flings open the door.  His right hand won’t hold the gun properly because a bullet believed to be a 9mm from Agent Risner’s gun has gone through and through the forearm...." Platt obtained Matix’s Dan Wesson .357 out of Matix’s shoulder holster.  Earlier in the gunfight, immediately after Platt had crawled out the passenger window of the Monte Carlo and had taken a position in front of the Cutlass, he drew his own Smith & Wesson M586 .357 Magnum revolver from his shoulder holster and fired three shots.  A bullet, fired by either Orrantia or Risner, hit Platt’s right forearm and broke a bone (D).  Platt immediately dropped the revolver because he was physically incapable of holding it with his right hand anymore.  He resumed firing with the Mini-14.  His revolver was recovered after the gunfight right where he’d dropped it after being shot.
P. 204: "[Mireles] concentrates on the face of the copkiller at the end of the tunnel, and on his front sight, and even in broad daylight there is the flash as the Federal 158 grain lead hollowpoint .38 slug roars from the barrel of his gun and into the brain of the murderer Platt." Mireles' first shot missed Platt.  The bullet hit the back of the front seat behind Platt’s left shoulder.  Forensic evidence indicates that no bullets ever penetrated Platt’s brain.
P. 204: "He sees the gunman jerk, and fires again to be sure, and because the other murderer is in the shadows of the car Mireles stumbles forward until he can see his face before he fires one... two... three times and sees the force of the +P bullets slam Matix against the door post." The second shot fired by Mireles apparently hit the front door post of the Buick and fragmented.  A single fragment struck Platt in his right forehead, penetrated the skin, ricocheted off the skull and traveled beneath the skin where it stopped above the right temple (A).  It did not penetrate the cranium.
P. 204: "Now [Mireles] is virtually on top of Platt, just outside the door, as he fires the sixth and final shot.  This bullet, like the five before it, tunnels deep into vital tissue and lodges mushroomed in the gunman’s head." Mireles’ last shot hit Platt in the upper left chest, and because Platt was apparently lying on his back in attempt to hide from Mireles, the bullet penetrated and lodged in his spinal column at the fifth cervical vertebrae of his neck (J).
P. 205: "It has been suggested by various self-anointed gun experts that if the agents had been using .45 hardball or 10mm ammo, Platt would have been instantly put down before he could kill the two agents.  The fact is, the Monte Carlo was shot to pieces and it is not provable whether or not [Dove’s] bullet had passed through window glass or auto body before it entered Platt’s chest." The x-ray of Platt’s upper torso clearly shows a perfectly mushroomed hollowpoint bullet, evidence that indicates the bullet did not pass through window glass or sheet metal before it hit Platt (B).  Apparently, earlier gunshots by Dove and Grogan had shattered the glass in the back window of the Monte Carlo, clearing a hole in the glass for Dove’s bullet to pass through without damage.
P. 207: "The Miami Massacre gives lie to the old canard that "a gunfight lasts 2.3 shots." Jerry Dove fired dry both his 9mm magazines, 29 shots, and died with an empty gun; his pistol had also been hit in the slide by a bullet." Forensic evidence recovered at the scene indicates that Dove fired a total of 20 shots.

The second article in the book has been re-titled "After the smoke cleared: Miami reconstructed" (pp. 212-223).  The following table identifies the major inaccuracies in this article:

Ayoob Claim

Anderson’s Forensic Analysis

P. 214: "[McNeill] adds that he learned later that both Matix’ eardrums had been ruptured by his partner’s gunfire. Autopsy examination revealed no evidence of Matix having suffered ruptured eardrums (or cornea damage). 
P. 214 "We also noted that Platt was struck twice in the gun arm – once by Agent Jerry Dove, who would die minutes later, and once by Agent Ron Risner...." Platt was hit three times in his right arm: 1) Dove’s bullet hit just above the elbow, penetrated the biceps muscle, cut the brachial artery, and entered Platt’s chest through the arm pit (B), 2) Risner’s bullet hit Platt in the upper arm, about mid arm, penetrated the triceps muscle, exited the arm and penetrated the fleshy soft tissues of the right side chest and stopped in the tissue just below the shoulder blade (C).  The bullet did not enter the chest cavity, and 3) a bullet that struck Platt’s right forearm, breaking a bone and causing him to drop his .357 Magnum revolver (D).
P. 215: "It has now been discovered that at almost the same time [as when Platt was hit by Dove’s bullet as he crawled out the passenger side window of the Monte Carlo] he [Platt] was also hit in the shoulder of the gun arm by a bullet from Risner’s pistol....  This bullet struck Platt in the back under the shoulder blade.  Unfortunately, the gunman was rolling and was at such an angle that the bullet skidded through subcutaneous tissue and muscle on a track that it exited in the upper right shoulder." One of Risner’s bullets perforated Platt’s right upper arm and stopped in the soft tissue underneath the right shoulder blade (C).  This bullet did not exit. Another bullet, the identity of the shooter is unknown, grazed Platt’s back from left to right (K).  The bullet abraded the skin just to the right of the spine, in the location of the right upper shoulder blade.
P. 216: "At the same time, a third bullet struck Platt.  This was a lead hollowpoint .38 slug fired from the service revolver of Agent Gil Arrantia, across the street with Risner.  It caught Platt in the leg as he rolled across the hood of the car.  It did not strike bone or a large blood vessel, however, this 158 grain bullet showed no stopping effect." The location of the entrance and exit wounds, and the angle of the wound track suggest the bullet that caused the thigh wound was fired by Dove (L).
P. 216: "The bullet that stopped the murdering was also a gun-arm hit.  This was the shot fired by Risner that broke the bone in Platt’s right forearm.  From here on, the only shots Platt fired were three wild misses with a six-inch S&W Model 586 revolver, triggered left-hand only. Forensic evidence indicates this wound was inflicted shortly after Platt crawled from the Monte Carlo (D).  He apparently was shooting his .357 revolver at the time when he incurred this injury.  The wound caused him to drop the revolver next to the passenger side fender of the Monte Carlo, where it was recovered after the shooting.  After the injury, Platt went on to shoot McNeill in the neck, wound Orrantia and Hanlon, and kill Grogan and Dove with the Mini-14.
P. 216: "It should be noted that Risner’s second hit that took out the killer’s gun arm also severed a major artery.  This was the second fatality-level wound Platt received, the first being Dove’s Silvertip that had severed his pulmonary artery to the point where doctors believe he would have bled to death in another two minutes anyway." The bullet fired by Dove that penetrated Platt’s chest first passed through his right upper arm and cut the brachial artery, which supplies the entire arm with blood (B).  It is unknown who fired the bullet that hit Platt’s forearm (D).  The bullet fractured the bone on the thumb side of the forearm and did not cut any major blood vessels.
P. 217: "Gordon McNeill, the first to engage the pair, had lost the sight of his right eye during a previous shooting incident in Texas." McNeill states in his written personal statement that he is totally blind in his LEFT eye.
P. 219: "[Mireles first shotgun blast] blew up the killer’s left foot." Platt’s left foot was hit by two shotgun pellets as he stepped to enter the Buick (G, H).  The pellets simply penetrated through and through, breaking some bones in the process, but they did not cause Platt’s foot to "blow up".
P. 219: "It should be noted that the ‘unregistered’ shot fired by Risner would have been within seconds of the conscious that neutralized the killer’s gun arm and opened the artery, and doubtlessly also saved lives." Forensic evidence suggests that Platt’s forearm injury was inflicted shortly after he crawled out of the Monte Carlo (D).  As to which agent fired the shot, Risner or Orrantia, is unknown because the bullet was never recovered.
P 220: "[Mireles] was able to clearly distinguish between what he described as the popping sound of agents’ 9mms and .38s, the bang of McNeill’s .357 Magnum rounds, and the ‘psychologically devastating ka-boom’ of Platt’s .223 rifle." McNeill’s gun was loaded with FBI standard issue .38 Special 158 grain LSWCHP +P cartridges.  There were no .357 Magnum cartridges fired by any of the FBI agents during the gunfight.  Platt was the only participant to fire .357 Magnum cartridges.
P. 221: "[Mireles’] first shot had mangled the foot of the cop-killer, and the last three rounds of 12-pellet 00-buck smashed into Platt’s maxillofacial structure and also tore into the face of Matix. One pellet entered Matix’ brain." Mireles’ first shotgun blast hit both of Platt’s feet (E, F, G, H).  No shotgun pellets hit Platt or Matix in the face or head.  No projectiles ever penetrated Matix’s cranial vault to enter his brain.
P. 222: "...Dove fired 27 pistol shots and scored only one hit, and Grogan fired close to 20 with no hits." Dove fired 20 shots and attained three hits on Platt [right upper arm/chest (B), right rear thigh (L), and left foot (I)].  Grogan fired 9 shots and hit Matix once in the right forearm (E).

The intent of this distasteful exercise is to point out sloppy research and expose falsehoods. Sanow and Ayoob claim "the laboratory ain’t the street," and their "street effectiveness data" are more accurate in showing which bullets work, and which don’t.  As shown here, both have a problem ferreting out and reporting the truth.

One thing to keep in mind about these gunwriters is that they're regarded as members of the media by law enforcement agencies. Simply because they're cop/gunwriters doesn’t mean law enforcement agencies are going to bend over backwards to accommodate their requests for information, especially if it's going to be used to critique a shooting incident in a newsstand gun magazine for profit.

Indeed, these two gun writers may very well have collected the results of thousands of shootings, but this review provides critical insight into the trustworthiness of their "street effectiveness data."

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