WACO, Texas - An FBI agent who fired tear gas at the Branch Davidian complex in 1993 testified Friday that his armored vehicle was probably equipped with fire-causing military tear gas rounds.
But the agent, Tom Rowan, said he was sure that the only rounds he fired were plastic "ferret" rounds which would not start a fire. Rowan's testimony was brought by the Davidians' lawyers during the trial of sect's wrongful death lawsuit against the government. It was designed to show that tear gas fired by the agents could have contributed to the start of the fire that destroyed the complex.
About 80 Davidians died on the last day of the government's siege at Waco, April 19, 1993. Some died from gunshots but most from the effects of the fire.
Rowan was a member of the FBI's hostage rescue team that had encircled the Davidians' complex during a 51-day siege. During a tank and tear gas operation to roust the Davidians, Rowan fired gas rounds from a grenade launcher through a six-inch-wide port from inside an armored vehicle. Rowan testified that he fired between 70 and 80 rounds during a six-hour operation.
Under questioning from Davidians' lead lawyer Mike Caddell, Rowan admitted that his story containing details about what happened during that period had changed twice since then.
In an interview the day after the siege ended, Rowan told an FBI investigator that he fired rounds at all the windows at the back of the Davidians' complex. During Friday's testimony, he said he did not fire at a row of windows at the rear of the gymnasium.
During a deposition in January, Rowan said he could not recall whether his tank had military rounds or not. On Wednesday he changed his deposition to say that since other FBI tanks were equipped with them, his probably did, too.
FBI agents were ordered to put tear gas into windows from which the Davidians were firing guns at the FBI tanks. Although Attorney General Janet Reno prohibited the use of the military rounds, the FBI fired one or two early on the last day of the siege.
Caddell attempted to show through his questioning that agents may have wanted to use the heavier military rounds to penetrate the walls of the complex. The "ferret" rounds deploy liquid tear gas. The metal military rounds emit the gas by means of an explosion. But Rowan said he has never fired any military rounds, at Waco or anywhere else.
Earlier Friday, U.S. District Judge Walter Smith Jr. blocked an attempt by the Davidians to use an expert witness who would have testified that damage the tanks did to the complex may have prevented the Davidians from escaping. Judge Smith responded to a motion filed by government defense lawyers who challenged the expert's methodology.
"His opinions would more likely confuse the jury than clarify issues," Judge Smith wrote.
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