FBI agent testifies about firing tear gas at Davidian compound

WACO, Texas - 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 attempted 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. ''I don't believe I've ever fired a military round.''

Plaintiffs in the $675 million wrongful death lawsuit against the government allege flames consumed the structure minutes after the last canisters landed in the kitchen area and possibly knocked over kerosene lanterns.

The entire building ultimately burned to the ground, killing some 80 people inside to end the 51-day standoff.

The government maintains suicidal sect members set the three fires that engulfed the complex and are responsible for their own demise.

Several FBI agents, including Joseph Servel and Michael Sackett, have said a fire erupted in the kitchen less than 30 seconds after they saw a tank insert tear gas into the room.

''We were in the (tank) and I was observing the area of the kitchen or dining room. Some smoke was coming from in between the clapboards from what was designated as the kitchen area,'' Rowan testified.

On Thursday, Servel, a tank commander, showed other FBI agents also noticed smoke coming from the structure. ''We saw smoke within seconds. We saw flames and then the smoke started getting really thick,'' Servel said.

Under cross-examination by government attorneys, Servel and Rowan 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,'' said Rowan.

Before testimony resumed Friday morning, U.S. District Judge Walter Smith approved a request by government lawyers to exclude the testimony of expert witness Frank Johnson, an engineer. Smith said his testimony over whether exits to the compound were blocked would confuse jurors.

On Thursday, a videotaped deposition of former FBI Director William Sessions called into question the destruction rendered by tanks as the tear-gassing operation went forward.

On the tape, plaintiffs' lead counsel Michael Caddell asked Sessions if the destruction of a part of the building known as the gymnasium was approved. ''That was not the plan, the plan was for the insertion of the gas,'' Sessions said.

Plaintiffs' attorneys have said the FBI's on-scene commanders ordered the dismantling of the Davidians' complex with tanks less than five hours into the tear-gassing operation, even though the plan, approved by Attorney General Janet Reno, called for the complex's systematic destruction 48 hours after it was determined that the tear-gassing plan had failed.


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