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Profile: Roger Ballesteros

Roger Ballesteros was a participant or observer in the following events:

BATF agents attempt to force entry through a second-floor window of the Branch Davidian compound. At least one of the agents depicited will be shot in the firefight.BATF agents attempt to force entry through a second-floor window of the Branch Davidian compound. At least one of the agents depicited will be shot in the firefight. [Source: Asian Celebrities (.com)]The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (BATF) launches its long-planned raid on the Branch Davidian compound near Waco, Texas (see 5:00 A.M. - 9:30 A.M. February 28, 1993). About 9:30, the BATF forces arrive at Mt. Carmel, the location of the Davidian compound. Two National Guard helicopters, which had been scheduled to create a diversion in the rear of the compound so as to allow the cattle trucks carrying the BATF agents to arrive unseen, are late in arriving, and fail to carry out their mission. The raid commanders are out of radio range and unable to abort the raid or modify the deployment of agents. Moreover, as some agents will later tell the New York Times (see March 27, 1993), only squad leaders can communicate with their team members, so communications are difficult, and when a squad leader is shot—and one will be shot in the first few minutes of the raid—that leader’s squad can no longer receive or send information. [New York Times, 3/27/1993]
BATF Agents Advance, Shots Fired - At least 70 agents wearing bulletproof vests, helmets, and army gear emblazened with “ATF Agent” in yellow and white letters, emerge from the trailers and race towards the buildings in groups. Davidian leader David Koresh opens the front door and shouts: “What do you want? There’s women and children in here!” (Some reports say Koresh is unarmed; others say he is dressed in black and carrying an AR-15 semiautomatic rifle.) The lead agent, Roger Ballesteros, brandishes a search warrant and shouts: “Police! Get down!” and Koresh closes the door. Moments later, BATF agents, including Ballesteros (see January-February 1994) and John Henry Williams, and Texas Ranger David Byrnes will report that the Davidians shoot first; Davidians will claim the opposite. One BATF agent will later report that a fellow agent actually shoots first, at a dog he feels is threatening him, but later that agent will retract the claim. A team of agents with a battering ram is slated to burst through the main doors. Two teams of BATF agents with ladders mount to the roof of the first floor and break into windows on the second floor, where they believe the weapons are stored. The ladder and battering ram teams all encounter heavy fire, and several agents are hit, including one on the roof who manages to hobble to a ladder and slide down. Davidians rain bullets from the upper windows onto the agents. One BATF team manages to force entry into the compound, but is unable to advance. Most of the agents are pinned down behind vehicles. The two sides exchange heavy gunfire. [New York Times, 3/27/1993; Newsweek, 5/3/1993; Dean M. Kelley, 5/1995; Dick J. Reavis, 7/19/1995; PBS Frontline, 10/1995; LMPD Arcade, 2009] A federal law from 1917 mandates that federal agents use what is called the “knock and announce” approach—in essence, a federal law enforcement agent must knock on a door and announce himself and his intentions before entering. Ballesteros and his fellow BATF agents do not follow this legal provision, though the law does have several exceptions that may apply in this instance. A later House investigation will find the BATF’s choice not to “knock and announce” reasonable under the circumstances. [House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight, 8/2/1996]
Helicopter Activity - Two of the three helicopters land after taking fire. [Newsweek, 3/15/1993] Philip Chojnacki, the agent in charge, rides in one of the helicopters; he is almost struck by a Davidian bullet in the first minutes of the raid. [New York Times, 3/27/1993] The House investigation will find that Chojnacki’s presence in the helicopter essentially takes him out of the communications loop with the raid commanders and team leaders before the beginning of the raid, and deprives him of any opportunity to learn that the Davidians are planning an ambush. [House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight, 8/2/1996] Catherine Mattison, a Davidian who will escape the April 1993 conflagration (see April 19, 1993), will say in 2003 that she saw gunfire from the helicopters. “They were shooting when they came in,” she will recall. “I went upstairs to my room and all of a sudden I could see three helicopters in V-formation firing. David’s rooms were in the back of the building and that’s where they were firing. I didn’t realize that for three months afterwards because of all the shock and commotion but they were trying to kill him right then.” [Guardian, 10/28/2003] Mattison’s allegations are unconfirmed; testimony from a number of agents will challenge her account, and videotape from the raid shows no gunfire from the helicopters. The helicopters are on loan from the National Guard, and are expressly forbidden to engage in any role save as observational. [House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight, 8/2/1996]
Machine-Gun Fire - Reflecting on the raid 10 years later, BATF agent Bill Buford will say: “But before I even got out of the trailer, I could hear machine guns, and I knew we didn’t have any.… I’m an old Vietnam vet, and I can tell you—the firing was intense.” Buford is wounded in the gun battle. “The one thing we had not planned for was to be pinned down by fire right out in front of the building,” Buford will add. “We did not anticipate we would come under such heavy fire, nor did we anticipate we would have such heavy casualties.” Buford will say that after the botched raid, the BATF will all but abandon such “insertion”-type assaults, and rely instead on surrounding a building and negotiating with the inhabitants. [Waco Tribune-Herald, 3/16/2003]
Failure to Follow Manual - Ballesteros will later testify that no particular agent was assigned to announce their identity and the purpose of the raid. “We basically all announced,” he will say. He will admit that according to the BATF manual, “[o]fficers are required to wait a reasonable period of time to permit the occupants to respond before forcing entry,” and the agents do not follow that mandate. He will testify that the agents expected resistance, but not gunfire, and had not planned for that contingency. BATF agent Kenneth King, one of the two “ladder” team members who attempt to force entry through the second-floor windows, will also testify that the agents did not plan for gunfire, and were unprepared for such a heavy level of resistance. Later testimony also shows that some of the damage suffered by the agents may have been from “friendly fire”; one BATF agent is wounded by what later proves to be a 9mm hydroshock bullet, the ordnance being used by the BATF assault teams. [Dean M. Kelley, 5/1995]

Entity Tags: Catherine Mattison, Kenneth King, David Byrnes, John Henry Williams, David Koresh, Branch Davidians, Roger Ballesteros, Bill Buford, Philip Chojnacki, US Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives

Timeline Tags: 1993 Branch Davidian Crisis

Ten men and one woman, survivors of the Branch Davidian debacle near Waco (see March 1, 1993 and April 19, 1993), are tried for an array of crimes allegedly committed during the initial federal assault on the Mt. Carmel compound (see 5:00 A.M. - 9:30 A.M. February 28, 1993) and the ensuing siege (see August 7, 1993). (Fourteen other survivors face no charges.) All 11 are charged with conspiring to kill federal agents “with malice aforethought,” and for aiding and abetting such killing. A twelfth defendant, Kathryn Schroeder, pleads guilty to a lesser charge and testifies for the government. Some of the defendants also face charges such as using or carrying firearms in the commission of a violent crime. Ten lawyers represent the defendants. The trial takes place in San Antonio and lasts for seven weeks. Trial testimony casts doubt on the government’s tale of a vicious, unprovoked attack on the agents of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (BATF) who raided the compiund, and the cool, entirely professional response of the BATF and FBI. [Dean M. Kelley, 5/1995; Houston Chronicle, 4/21/1997] The defendants accuse the FBI of persecuting them for their unorthodox religious beliefs and for not respecting their constitutional right to bear arms. [Conway and Siegelman, 1995, pp. 244]
Bullet Holes in Door - Attorney Jack Zimmerman, who represented Davidian Steve Schneider and who met with Schneider during the siege, testifies that he saw the double front door of the compound riddled with bullet holes on the outside, presumably from shots fired by the BATF during its February raid. The door was not recovered from the compound after fire destroyed much of it, even though it was made of steel and presumably would not have vaporized in the flames. Texas Ranger Fred Cummings, who testifies about the details of the Rangers’ search for evidence after the fire, cannot explain what happened to the door, though he does acknowledge that FBI and BATF agents had access to the area between the time that the fire subsided and the time the Rangers took over. Presumably, the defense is trying to give the idea that either FBI or BATF agents absconded with the door in order to conceal evidence. Zimmerman also testifies that he saw eight or nine bullet holes in the roof that “caused the building material to be pooched in or down” showing that “the rounds came from above the ceiling down into the room.” Evidence that would confirm or disprove this claim was destroyed in the fire. BATF agent Roger Ballesteros, the agent assigned to lead the assault on the compound through the front door, testifies that he emerged from the cattle trailer carrying the assembled agents and charged for the front door, in full SWAT gear and carrying a shotgun across his chest. Balesteros testifies that Davidian leader David Koresh opened the door and asked, “What’s going on?” (Koresh and the Davidians were aware that an assault by federal agents was underway.) Balesteros testifies that he shouted: “Police! Lay down! Search warrant!” though he admits not mentioning these statements when he discussed the raid with Texas Rangers afterwards. He says bullets, fired from inside the compound by the Davidians, began spraying through the door moments later, and one struck him in the thumb. Asked how he knows that, he says that he saw holes in the door and splinters of wood pointing outward. The door, as established earlier, was steel and not wood.
Davidians Had Guns for Business Purposes, Gun Dealers Say - Testimony from gun dealers shows that the Davidians were acting as gun dealers themselves, buying and selling weapons for profit at gun shows. The prosecution introduces into evidence dozens of guns found in the ashes of Mt. Carmel that had been illegally converted into fully automatic weapons (see May 26, 1993); some of these weapons are proven by their serial numbers to have been sold to the Davidians by the testifying gun dealers. Photographs of engine lathes, a hydraulic press, and a milling machine show that the Davidians had the equipment to modify legal firearms to make them into illegal versions of those weapons. However, the prosecution fails to unequivocally prove that the illegally modified weapons were modified by the Davidians. Two heavy .50-caliber guns are introduced into evidence, along with the appropriate ammunition, but the defense argues that it is not illegal for citizens to own such guns, nor could it be proven that those weapons had been fired.
Unable to Escape - The FBI has always maintained that it took steps to ensure that any Davidian who wanted to leave the compound during the last assault could do so. Tarrant County medical examiner Dr. Nizam Peerwani, testifying about the condition of the bodies found, notes that some Davidians, such as Schneider and Koresh, died from close-range bullet wounds in the head, indicating that they had no intention of trying to escape. However, several women’s bodies were found in the hallway leading to the trapdoor access to the underground school bus at the north end of the building that had been constructed as a tornado shelter. Apparently the women were trying to leave, but they could not because the trapdoor had been buried by debris from the collapsing of the wall pushed in by a tank prior to the fire. All of the children who died in the conflagration, and many of the women, were found in a cinderblock room used for cold storage of food. The room, located under the four-story guard tower, was the strongest and safest area of the compound, furthest from the gas and the FBI armored vehicles. Around 30 bodies were recovered from that room; many, especially the smaller children, were covered with blankets, sleeping bags, and extra clothing, apparently due to attempts by the women to protect the children from the gas and fire. When the room collapsed in on itself, the tower fell on it. Those inside the room died from suffocation, blunt trauma from debris impact, close-range gunshot wounds, and/or smoke and fire.
Gas, Armored Vehicles - FBI agents testify that hundreds of canisters and “ferret rounds” containing CS gas were “inserted,” or fired into, the compound. Some of the ferret rounds bounced off the frame walls, but many entered through windows and other openings. FBI testimony shows that the Davidians began to fire at the agents, or their armored vehicles, after the gas was introduced. When the Davidians began shooting, agents testify, they abandoned the plan to slowly and measuredly introduce gas into the compound over a matter of hours, and began firing gas into the compound as quickly as possible. The order to use CEVs (combat engineering vehicles) to push in walls of the compound were given in order to allow observers to see inside. The CEVs also pressed forward through the compound towards the guard tower (where, unbeknownst to the agents, the women and children were gathering to escape the assault). By that point, the original plans for a gradual and careful assault had been all but abandoned.
Fire - The government prosecutors introduce a plethora of evidence that shows the Davidians themselves set the fires that eventually burned the compound to the ground. High winds aided the spread of the flames. The defense claims that Davidians did not start the fires, but instead the tanks and CEVs knocked over Coleman lanterns, being used for light because the FBI had cut the electricity to the compound. Prosecutors play audiotapes and enter transcripts of the Davidians allegedly making preparations to set the compound afire, obtained through electronic surveillance. Voices on the tapes and in the transcripts say such things as: “The fuel has to go all around to get started,” “Got to put enough fuel in there,” “So, we only light ‘em as they come in,” or as a slightly different version has it, “So, we only light ‘em as soon as they tell me.” The defense argues that if the Davidians indeed poured lantern fuel or other accelerants through the compound, they were doing so in an attempt to stave off the incoming armored vehicles. Defendant Graeme Craddock told a Texas Ranger that he was ordered by one Davidian, Wayne Martin, to pour lantern fuel on any tank that came in through the wall and to light it—a last-ditch tactic that might result in the defenders’ death as well as the attackers’. Testimony shows that the FBI had alerted the Burn Unit at Parkland Memorial Hospital early that morning to be prepared to receive burn victims, and asked for directions as to how to land helicopters bearing burn victims at the hospital. FBI agents wore fireproof suits for the assault. And a helicopter carrying a Forward-Looking Infra-Red (FLIR) camera circled over the complex, ready to photograph any outbreak of fire. The FBI maintains that it was prepared for fire, but had no intention of actually causing a fire. The defense notes that the FBI did not initially bring up fire-fighting equipment to the compound. A government witness, arson investigator William Cass, says that films taken at the time of the fire show fire starting almost simultaneously at 12:11 p.m. The strong winds, aided by the holes punched in the walls by the CEVs, helped the fire engulf most of the compound within five minutes. The defense shows an earlier portion of the FLIR video showing a flash or flare of heat in the gymnasium area taking place at 12:08 p.m. Cass testifies that he has never seen that video. Observer logs show that two reports of fire in the gym were made at 12:11; Cass testifies he has never seen those logs. The logs were handled by Paul Gray, chief of the arson investigating team. The defense shows that Gray often testifies on arson incidents on behalf of the BATF, and his wife works in the BATF’s Houston office. Gray’s final report claims that CN tear gas is not flammable and would have actually impeded the spread of fire; testimony shows that the assault did not use CN tear gas, but a very different substance, CS gas delivered by a rather flammable propellant. In 1995, a surviving Davidian will confirm that the sect members, and not the FBI, actually set the fires (see August 4, 1995). In 1999, the FBI will admit to firing pyrotechnic gas canisters into the compound, but will deny that the devices started the fires (see August 25, 1999 and After). In 2000, a prosecutor will be charged with hiding evidence about the canisters from the defense and from a subsequent government investigation (see November 9, 2000).
Verdicts - The jury finds the defendants not guilty of the two most serious crimes, conspiracy to murder federal agents, and aiding and abetting such a conspiracy. The jury convicts five defendants of voluntary manslaughter, defined by Judge Walter Smith as acting “in the sudden heat of passion caused by adequate provocation.” Two defendants are convicted of firearms charges. Seven defendants are convicted of using and carrying firearms “during and in relation to a crime of violence,” convictions set aside by the judge because of the jury’s failure to convict the defendants of guilt in committing those crimes of violence. (The judge later reinstates those convictions.) In all, four are acquitted of all charges and seven are convicted of various crimes. Davidians Renos Avraam, Brad Eugene Branch, Jaime Castillo, Livingstone Fagan, and Kevin A. Whitecliff receive 10-year sentences for voluntary manslaughter, and additional 30-year sentences for using a firearm in a violent crime. Craddock receives 20 years for possessing a grenade and using a firearm in a violent crime. Paul Gordon Fatta receives a 15-year sentence for possessing and conspiring to possess machine guns, though he was not present during the siege. Ruth Riddle is convicted of using or carrying a weapon during a crime. And Schroeder, who cooperated with the prosecution, is convicted of forcibly resisting arrest. [Dean M. Kelley, 5/1995; Houston Chronicle, 4/21/1997; Associated Press, 4/19/2006]

Entity Tags: Fred Cummings, US Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, David Koresh, Wayne Martin, William Cass, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Steve Schneider, Brad Eugene Branch, Branch Davidians, Ruth Riddle, Walter Smith, Renos Avraam, Graeme Leonard Craddock, Jack Zimmerman, Jaime Castillo, Roger Ballesteros, Kathryn Schroeder, Livingstone Fagan, Kevin A. Whitecliff, Paul Gray, Nizam Peerwani, Paul Gordon Fatta

Timeline Tags: 1993 Branch Davidian Crisis

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