The Conner Conspiracy

He was an aviation classic: independent, stubborn, savvy. And he was convinced powerful forces were out to ruin him. Did that include government informants and federal agents? Gus Conner will never know.

"I asked him what he was doing in the lot, and he said he was waiting on someone," Wade recalls. "When I asked who he was waiting on, he said he couldn't tell me. He said, 'I'll know them when I see them.'"

"That's not a good enough answer for us," Shedd adds.
"Not nearly good enough," Wade affirms, "especially when we could observe binoculars on the front seat and a camera in his lap. Obviously he wasn't there just to wait on someone. At that point we identified ourselves as federal agents and asked him to step out of the car. He refused."

Wade says he then opened the door and tried to pull Conner from the car: "I reached in and grabbed him not harshly, not gently, but firmly by the arm and gave a tug on it and said, 'You're going to have to step out of the car.' And I pulled him to get him out and get control of the situation, which was getting out of hand. He had started to struggle to get away from me."

According to Wade, Conner not only pulled back but also reached into a pouch he was wearing around his waist and tried to pull out one of the guns he had brought with him. "He [Conner] reaches in and grabs the gun and starts to pull it out," Wade recounts. "I'm in the line of fire. I mean, he's not pulling out the gun to give it up. He reached in and grabbed it and started to come out with it. The agent on my side of the car shouted, 'He's got a gun! He's got a gun!' And another agent came through the passenger side of the car and grabbed his wrist and holds it so he couldn't get the gun out. The guy on my side of the car grabbed the gun and takes it away from him. He saved my life, very simply."

The agents were finally able to pull Conner from the car and force him to the ground, where he was handcuffed and searched in "textbook" fashion, Wade says, adding that the agents found the two guns but no concealed-weapon permit for either of them. When they discovered Conner was taking heart medication, they asked him repeatedly if he wanted a Dade County medical team to examine him. He refused.

Conner told his friends and family a different story, later typed out at the airline office. In his version, the agents never identified themselves but simply approached his car and told him he would have to leave. Conner responded that he was under the impression the parking lot was public. When he refused to leave, the two men asked him to get out of his car. Conner agreed, but before he could comply, the agents wrestled him from the driver's seat, threw him to the ground, not once, but twice, and pummeled him with punches and kicks. Conner said he did not resist, but tried to fend off repeated blows to his head, neck, and body. In his account of the incident, Conner never went for either of the guns in his car even though he thought he might be the victim of a kidnapping attempt. One of the guns was on the seat, he told his wife, and one was indeed in the pouch around his waist. But the DEA agents did not find that gun, he said, until they had him inside the headquarters. The concealed-weapon permits were in his wallet, he claimed, at least until the DEA confiscated them. Finally, Conner contended, the DEA agents never expressed any concern regarding his health.

About the only points of concurrence in the two versions are Conner's hands. Both sides agree they were lacerated when the DEA agents took him down. "I'm sure his hands did get skinned up a bit," Wade says. "It was Miami in August. It was hot and it was a blacktop parking lot. But he was treated no different than any other suspect."

No different, that is, until the DEA decided whether to charge and incarcerate Conner. The record of Conner's final confrontation with federal officials resembles the latter part of his life: it is filled with contradictions, confusion, and shadowy areas that will probably never be illuminated. Chief among the unanswered questions is why the DEA, after forcibly subduing an armed and suspicious man, and then interrogating him for three hours, allowed him simply to leave. Spokesman Jim Shedd says the explanation is simple. Conner had allegedly committed serious offenses A assaulting a federal agent, refusing a reasonable request from a federal agent, and carrying a firearm without a permit. But he had done it all on a Friday, and had he been jailed he would have had to wait until Monday before he could see a federal magistrate for a bond hearing. "Taking into consideration his age and his physical condition at that moment," Shedd says, "it was not a wise move to take him to jail."

The decision not to charge Conner with any federal crimes was made during conversation between Wade and a prosecutor at the U.S. Attorney's Office. In that conversation, Wade says he notified the prosecutor that Conner was found with concealed weapons and no permit and that he had refused to leave a restricted area. But Wade admits he failed to mention that Conner allegedly had attempted to draw a gun on federal agents. He explains that he was not aware Conner had grabbed his gun until after he discussed the incident with the other agents involved, a discussion that didn't take place until after he had spoken with the U.S. Attorney's Office.

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