Treasury agent recounts opening gunfight at Waco with Branch Davidians

St. Louis Post-Dispatch, June 29, 2000
By Terry Ganey

WACO, Texas - A Treasury agent testified Thursday that gunfire exploded from behind the closed front doors of the Branch Davidians' complex as he approached to serve search and arrest warrants in 1993.

Kris Mayfield of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms said he dove for cover behind a compressor as bullets came through the doors and the wall beside it.

"It was like pieces of the door, splinters of the door ... were being blown out in my direction," Mayfield said. He said he could not see who was shooting at him but he fired back through the door and wall.

"I started returning fire where I was receiving fire," Mayfield said.

Mayfield was the last of five witnesses the government called to testify in the first day of its defense in the trial of wrongful death claims filed by the Davidians. Survivors of the siege and relatives of those who died claim actions by federal agents led to deaths and injuries.

Four agents and six Davidians were killed during the raid Feb. 28, and 20 more agents were wounded. About 80 Davidians died during a government tear-gas assault 51 days later.

The government's opening witnesses described the raid in which 75 agents disembarked from two cattle trailers as part of a "dynamic entry" to serve search and arrest warrants on the sect's leader, David Koresh.

One of the agents, Eric Evers, said he was running around the side of the complex when bullets started "dancing" around him.

"As soon as I came round the corner of the building - boom, I fell on my face. I had been shot in the chest," Evers said.

He hid in a ditch as bullets whizzed overhead. His protective vest had stopped two rounds, but Evers had been wounded in the shoulder and arm. He stayed in the ditch until a cease-fire was arranged.

Mayfield was with a group of other agents heading for the front of the complex. He saw Koresh standing, unarmed, in the open front doorway.

At that moment, Mayfield said several things happened almost simultaneously. He said he heard a "whoosh" as other agents used fire extinguishers to scare off dogs in the front yard; agents were yelling but he couldn't tell what they were saying; shots were coming from his left; the front double doors closed; and bullets started flying.

"There were shots coming out of a number of windows across the bottom floor," Mayfield said. "If somebody fired through a window or a wall, I would return fire there."

The gunfight continued intermittently for more than an hour. Mayfield said he fired at windows where he saw guns and once threw a "flashbang" distraction device in one of them. He saw one of his fellow agents, Robert Williams, jerk back with a fatal shot to the head.

The Branch Davidians had been alerted that agents were coming, but who fired the first shot during the raid is disputed. Mayfield said the agents knew they had lost the element of surprise but went ahead with the raid anyway because it was the agency's job to serve the warrants.

"We never ever expected to get shot at," Mayfield said. "The very most I expected was that a number of people would meet us at the front door and there were be a physical confrontation but not a gunfight."

Mayfield said he could hear people yelling from inside the complex, "get off our land. We will kill you." Eventually a cease-fire was arranged to allow the federal agents to back off. That led to the FBI siege that ended in a fire on April 19.

Three pilots testified that their Texas National Guard helicopters took gunfire as they approached the complex during the raid.

Government lawyers launched their defense after U.S. District Judge Walter Smith Jr. rejected their arguments that the Davidians had failed to prove their claims during more than eight days of testimony. The Davidians say government agents fired indiscriminately during the initial raid.

Their claims also allege that the FBI tank and tear gas attack violated Attorney General Janet Reno's orders by demolishing the complex and failing to have fire trucks available. The Davidians say the government had no firefighting plan.

In his argument to the judge, U.S. Attorney Mike Bradford said on-scene commanders had discretion under federal law to carry out their orders as they saw fit. His said this discretionary exception gave them the option to hold back fire trucks for fear of gunfire from the complex hitting firefighters. He said Reno ordered only that "sufficient" emergency equipment be available and did not specify what kind.

"The whole point is you don't have lawyers in court seven years later second-guessing that plan," Bradford said. He also said because the Davidians started the fire, the case should not be allowed to go forward.

Judge Smith disagreed, and the government began its defense, which is expected to last about a week.

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