FBI Agent Recalls Tear Gas in Waco

The Associated Press, June 23, 2000
By Matt Slagle

WACO, Texas (AP) - A tank-riding FBI agent testified Friday he launched as many as 80 canisters of tear gas into the Branch Davidian complex but could not recall shooting any potentially flammable devices on the final day of the Waco siege.

Tom Rowan said so-called ``ferret rounds'' - plastic canisters containing tear gas - were launched from tanks into the complex on April 19, 1993, to try to force David Koresh and his Davidian followers from their rickety wooden complex. Experts say ferret rounds are not considered incendiary devices.

But the lead attorney for the sects' survivors and family members suing the government, Michael Caddell, tried to get the agent to talk about more incendiary munitions, asking if the FBI used ``military rounds,'' metallic canisters that potentially could be flammable devices.

``I don't recall if we had military rounds in our (tank) or not,'' Rowan said, under questioning by Caddell. ``I don't believe I've ever fired a military round.''

Other FBI agents, including Joseph Servel and Michael Sackett, have said a fire erupted in the kitchen soon after they saw a tank insert tear gas into the room.

``We saw smoke within seconds. We saw flames and then the smoke started getting really thick,'' Servel, a tank commander, testified Thursday.

Sackett said he saw flames in that area about 15 minutes after seeing the smoke.

Under cross-examination by government attorneys, Servel, Rowan and Sackett said they observed what appeared to be muzzle flashes from gunfire in several windows before the fire started.

``I saw muzzle flashes, curtains moving, and glass breaking,'' Rowan said Friday.

Attorneys representing survivors and family members in a $675 million wrongful death lawsuit against the federal government contend agents started the fire through the use of potentially incendiary tear gas canisters or by knocking over kerosene lanterns.

Government lawyers say sect leader David Koresh and some 80 followers intentionally started three fires that ultimately engulfed the complex and ended the 51-day siege.

In other testimony Friday, Steve McGavin, an FBI supervisory agent who helped draft proposals to remove the Davidians, said agents had several rounds of the military-style canisters in their possession - handed over by local law enforcement agencies when supplies of the ferret canisters became low - but he didn't know if the military rounds were returned unused.

Before testimony resumed Friday morning, U.S. District Judge Walter Smith excluded testimony of one of the plaintiff's expert witness, Frank Johnson, an engineer. Smith said his testimony over whether exits to the compound were blocked by debris left in the wake of tanks penetrating the building would confuse jurors.

At midmorning, Smith's growing impatience with repetitive questioning became evident when he imposed a 40-hour time limit on both the plaintiffs' and the government's lawyers.

The judge noted at Friday's lunch break that the plaintiffs already had logged in more than half their time.

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