Officials investigate mistaken shooting

Arundel man, 20, shot by FBI agent in serious condition

March 04, 2002|By Andrea F. Siegel | Andrea F. Siegel,SUN STAFF

Two separate investigations were continuing yesterday into the mistaken shooting of an Anne Arundel County man Friday evening by an FBI agent who had been looking for a bank robbery suspect.

Federal and local law enforcement officials said they would not discuss what they were learning as they questioned witnesses and collected evidence.

The victim, Joseph Charles Schultz, 20, of Pasadena's Orchard Beach community was shot in the face with an assault rifle and remained in serious condition yesterday at Maryland Shock Trauma Center. He is an Eagle Scout and had no connection to the robbery suspect, authorities said.

Schultz was a passenger in a car driven by his girlfriend, Krissy Harkum, 16, also of Pasadena, when plainclothes FBI agents in unmarked cars pulled the couple over at 6 p.m. Friday on Fort Smallwood Road near Marley Neck Boulevard.

Officials would not comment yesterday about how the mistake occurred, saying they were still investigating. FBI spokesman Peter A. Gulotta said he would not discuss why Harkum's car was targeted or which bank robbery was being pursued because that could compromise the robbery case.

"Nobody - no police agency - in their right mind wants this to happen. It's an absolute nightmare," he said, adding that he could not recall another recent incident in the Baltimore area in which the wrong person was pulled over and shot by an agent.

"The facts will all come out," Gulotta said. Judging the agent before then would be unfair, he added.

"You try so hard to do the right thing. You hope to God you are doing the right thing," he said. "It doesn't make it any better."

Gulotta said federal officials would not name the agent who fired the M-4 assault rifle, describe his background, or say whether he has been reassigned to desk duty pending the results of the investigations.

Two Anne Arundel County detectives were helping the FBI search for the bank robbery suspect, said Officer Charles Ravenell, a police spokesman. "They were part of the operation but not at the scene of the shooting," he said. He would not identify them or discuss their roles.

The civil rights division of the U.S. Department of Justice will review the investigation conducted by an FBI team from the agency's Washington headquarters.

Anne Arundel County police will forward its results to county prosecutors.

Neither the FBI nor county police could say how long its investigation is expected to take.

Kristin Riggin, a spokeswoman for the Anne Arundel state's attorney, said prosecutors would review witness statements, evidence and the investigation process before determining whether more investigation is needed and whether a crime had occurred.

People familiar with similar investigations say the probe likely will focus on what justification, if any, the agent had for the shooting.

Such shootings are typically the result of split-second decisions made under intense pressure and without key information, said L. George Parry, a lawyer who has led numerous investigations into police shootings for the Philadelphia district attorney's office.

"It's a high-stress situation. You are scared to death. And you don't have the luxury of having all of the information that you might expect," Parry said. "You always do not know what you are facing. Maybe you think you see a gun. Maybe you think you see somebody going for a weapon. If it turns out to be the wrong decision, you will be second-guessed."

If the FBI stopped the wrong car, maybe it was the kind of car they were looking for, he said. The investigation will focus on what the agent saw and what the passenger and the driver did, he said.

Investigations of law enforcement shootings hinge on two large issues, said Henry L. Belsky, a lawyer whose firm represents local police officers. "What would an average prudent police officer do at that moment under the same or similar circumstances? And what is his perception?" Belsky said.

Officers generally need to prove that a life was in imminent danger to justify using potentially lethal force, he said.

Investigations will try to determine whether an officer's finger was on the trigger, whether it should have been and whether the officer thought the suspect was reaching for a gun, Belsky said.

"What could the kid in this car have done to warrant shooting him in the face? What was the egregious conduct such that the agent thought he would have to use deadly force?" said T. Joseph Touhey, a Glen Burnie lawyer who has pursued civil suits against police.

A partial account by Krissy Harkum emerged Saturday through her father, Joseph Harkum. He said his daughter told him that agents on each side of the car ordered them to put their hands up and pointed guns at them. The agent on the passenger side fired, he said.

The father said Saturday that he was angry and that his daughter, though uninjured, was emotionally shaken. The family could not be reached yesterday.

He said his daughter told him that Schultz, unable to speak, wrote her a note asking why the agent shot him.

Schultz's family has referred questions to lawyer Joseph C. Asensio, who did not return repeated telephone calls yesterday.

The girl's father said his daughter is a junior honor student at Northeast High School and her boyfriend is a Northeast graduate who works for a local medical company. They were returning from Marley Station mall near Glen Burnie when they were stopped by FBI agents who were looking for a bank robber deemed to be armed and dangerous, spokesman Gulotta said.

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