An ATF agent whose best friend was killed in the shootout at Mount Carmel said officials shouldn’t have gone through with it after they knew they had lost the element of surprise.

Charles Giarrusso, who was also in the Feb. 28 raid, is with the bureau’s New Orleans field division.

His best friend, Conway C. LeBleu, was one of four agents who died in the gunfire.

“Personally, I think it should have been called off,” Giarrusso said. “The element of surprise was the key issue. Conway was a hero, and his acts were of heroism. And I hate that this is associated with an operation that has been judged errored.”

A Treasury Department report released Thursday said the decision to go ahead with the raid was “tragically wrong.”

The critical decision makers, according to the report, included tactical coordinator Chuck Sarabyn, incident commander Phil Chojnacki and deputy tactical coordinator James Cavanaugh.

All three, the report says, knew the raid had been compromised after talking with Rodriguez.

Giarrusso said Ronald K. Noble, assistant secretary of the treasury, promised disciplinary action would be taken to prevent another Mount Carmel.

“He basically said, ‘You people deserve better,’” Giarrusso said. “He did say there were bad decisions made by management. And the people who made the wrong decisions are going to be dealt with.”

After hearing Noble’s speech, Giarrusso said he believes the raid was ill-planned.

“If anything, I feel betrayed by their preparations,” he said. “Whenever we do things down here, there’s a lot of planning. And I just assumed with an operation of that size and magnitude, they’d be doing even more.”

For example, he said, more attention should have been paid to Robert Rodriguez, the undercover agent in the compound the morning of the raid.

“The undercover agent should have been more supervised,” he said. “Let’s face it, he was a vital part of the operation. Rodriguez was commended by Mr. Noble. But it looked like some people lost sight of the caution sings and switched some of their objectives at the end.”

Even the report said that Rodriguez should have been given a control agent to support him.

Cavanaugh and Sarabyn had asked Rodriguez if he had seen any weapons or noticed a call to arms, the report says. Rodriguez said he had not. Officials also could not see Branch Davidians arming themselves.

But Giarrusso says none of that mattered once the cult had been tipped off.

“Remember, the first thing was the element of surprise,” he said. “It doesn’t matter that they’re not doing this or that.”

Giarrusso remembers being rushed once the agency realized the cult had been tipped.

“I basically heard from one of the supervisors that they knew we were coming, to load up and proceed,” he said. “At that point, it was a rush. Everything was accelerated at that point. I had to grab my gear and start dressing.”

He barely had time to think until he was riding in one of two cattle trucks to the compound.

“It wasn’t until I got to the trailer that I started thinking, ‘This could be bad if they know we’re coming,’” he said. “Everybody was very serious. You could tell everybody was thinking. Let’s face it, if they’re prepared for you, you’re sitting ducks.”

He said overworked supervisors may not have wanted to cancel the raid at the last minute.

“Nobody wants to be the guy that has to pull back on the reins and say, ‘Whoa,’” he said. “You get in the ‘go’ mode and it’s hard to stop that momentum. Maybe there were too many burdens placed on people like Sarabyn.”

But no matter what happens, Giarrusso said, nothing can replace his friend and fellow agent.

“I don’t care who is terminated. I don’t care who is fired,” he said. “Of course if people erred, they should be dealt with accordingly. But the bottom line is, nothing can bring back Conway.”

Read the Tribune-Herald's 7-part investigative series on the inner workings of the Branch Davidians. Hours after Part 2 appeared in print, the ATF raided the group's compound.

Read the Tribune-Herald’s account of the ATF raid on the Branch Davidian compound on Feb. 28, 1993. Four ATF agents and six in the compound were killed in the gunfight.

Read the daily news accounts of the 51-day siege at the Branch Davidian compound near Elk, which began Feb. 28 and lasted until April.

April 19 and beyond: FBI agents began inserting canisters of tear gas into the Branch Davidian compound in the early morning hours. By noon, it was on fire.

Federal officials left the compound site in late May 1993. As identifications of bodies continued, questions about the survivors, the compound and the cult itself began to emerge.

As the world began to take a critical look back at the events and legal proceedings continue, the ATF's bombshell report forces a shakeup at the top after the raid gone "tragically wrong."

In 1994, the surviving Davidians went on trial in San Antonio. Over six weeks, more than 140 witnesses testified, with the verdict coming just two days prior to the anniversary of the ATF raid.

The Rodenville shootout and the 1988 trial, the end of the world in 1959 and more stories from deep in the Trib archives.