FBI Awards First Medal of Valor
WASHINGTON (AP) _ The FBI on Tuesday awarded its first Medal of Valor to agent Edmundo Mireles Jr., who was severely wounded in a Miami shootout and later joined a class-action lawsuit accusing the bureau of discrimination against Hispanics.
Mireles and fellow agents were involved in a shootout outside Miami on April 11, 1986, when they tried to follow a car carrying two men they suspected were involved in a series of violent bank robberies.
″Special agent Mireles found himself face to face with his moment of truth,″ FBI Director William Sessions said at the award ceremony. ″His fellow agents were down. He himself was severely wounded.
″Yet in the face of appalling gunfire, he found the courage and the stamina to return fire and fatally wounded both Michael Lee Platt and William Russell Matix,″ Sessions said.
The Medal of Valor is given for ″exceptional acts of heroism in the face of ife-threatening situations.″
Mireles accepted the award in part in the memory of the two agents slain that day - Benjamin Grogan and Jerry Dove - and gave special recognition to two other agents who helped him survive.
″Gilbert Orantia and Ron Riesner ... saved my life on that day.″
Officials later learned that Platt and Matix were not involved in the bank robberies but were suspects in a series of attempted killings.
Mireles, 36, took a year to recover from his wounds, which shattered one arm. He still works on bank robbery cases in the Miami office, said FBI spokesman Greg Jones.
A federal judge in Texas, ruling last year on the 1988 class-action lawsuit filed by 311 Hispanic agents, found there was pervasive discrimination against Hispanic FBI agents and ordered the bureau to take steps to promote Hispanics.
James Perez, the bureau’s new equal opportunity chief, told Congress last month that the FBI had been ill-equipped until recently to investigate complaints of race and sex discrimination. He said the staffing of his office has been beefed up to handle such cases.
Mireles gave mixed answers when asked whether the FBI was trying to send a message to Hispanic agents by giving him its first Medal of Valor.
″I don’t think this award is being given to a Hispanic or a black or a white FBI agent, or a male or a female,″ he said. ″My understanding of why I got the medal is for action rather than for ethnic background or gender.″
But when asked several minutes later whether the FBI was making a statement, he said, ″I’m sure they are.″
FBI spokesman Carlos Fernandez said the fact that Mireles is Hispanic ″was not a consideration at all, as far as I know. ... He deserved the Medal of Valor and that’s why he was given it.″
Mireles said discrimination at the FBI is ″done by individuals, not by the organization as a whole. It’s difficult to control what an individual thinks. ... We’re all human.″
The FBI, he said, ″is making a good effort to try to correct some perceived wrongs, and it’s trying to make the working environment for all agents better. But you can’t change an organization overnight.″