FBI fired as victim unbuckled, lawyer says

Agents ordered man from car at gunpoint

March 05, 2002|By Gail Gibson and Laura Barnhardt | Gail Gibson and Laura Barnhardt,SUN STAFF

Joseph Charles Schultz, the Anne Arundel County man shot Friday after being mistaken for a bank robbery suspect, was reaching to unfasten his seat belt to comply with an FBI agent's order when the agent opened fire, an attorney for Schultz's family said yesterday.

"They told him to get out of the car, and he was trying to comply with that," attorney Joseph C. Asensio said.

A single bullet from an M-14 assault rifle struck Schultz, 20, in the face, shattering his right cheek and jaw.

He remained in serious but stable condition yesterday at Maryland Shock Trauma Center in Baltimore, where relatives and his girlfriend, Krissy Harkum, 16, were at his bedside.

FBI officials, meanwhile, said police had arrested the man federal agents were searching for when agents mistakenly stopped Schultz.

Michael J. Blottenberger Jr., 32, of the 1600 block of Locust St. in Baltimore, was charged with bank robbery and made an initial appearance yesterday before a federal magistrate.

Schultz and Harkum, both of Pasadena, were returning home in her red Pontiac Grand Am after a shopping trip about 6 p.m. Friday when FBI agents in plain clothes and an unmarked car pulled the couple over on Fort Smallwood Road in Pasadena.

The agents were looking for Blottenberger, who was wanted in connection with the Feb. 20 robbery of an Allfirst Bank branch and who was believed to be driving in a red sedan Friday.

Asensio, a Glen Burnie attorney, said yesterday that two agents carrying assault-style rifles approached the car that Harkum was driving and ordered her and Schultz to put their hands in the air.

After the couple complied, Asensio said, the agents ordered them to get out of the car.

Schultz was shot when he reached over to unbuckle his seat belt, said Asensio, who met with Schultz, Harkum and their families at the shock trauma center Sunday.

FBI officials have acknowledged that Schultz had no connection to the crime or to the suspect.

Special Agent Barry A. Maddox, a spokesman for the FBI's Baltimore field office, said yesterday that he could not comment on Asensio's version of events. Citing bureau policy, Maddox said he could not provide any details of the shooting investigation or names of the agents involved in the incident.

"It's an ongoing investigation, so we're very limited about what we can say about it," he said.

For the first time, however, the FBI indicated that the agent who fired the weapon Friday has been temporarily reassigned. "The agent involved in the shooting has been assigned to duties that will likely not involve armed confrontation," Maddox said.

A team of FBI investigators was dispatched from bureau headquarters in Washington over the weekend to investigate the shooting. The FBI's findings will be reviewed by the Justice Department's civil rights division, which could bring charges in the case.

Anne Arundel County police are conducting their own investigation; its results will be forwarded to county prosecutors. Two Anne Arundel County detectives were helping the FBI search for Blottenberger on Friday, but were not at the scene of the shooting, said Officer Charles Ravenell, a county police spokesman.

An arrest warrant charged Blottenberger with robbing the Allfirst Bank branch in the 8400 block of Fort Smallwood Road in Pasadena on Feb. 20. A criminal complaint filed yesterday in U.S. District Court in Baltimore charged that Blottenberger took $26,324 in the armed robbery.

Witnesses told police at the time that the robber left in a green pickup truck, and officers later recovered such a vehicle behind a nearby video store. Witnesses described the robber as a white male, 5 feet 7 inches to 6 feet tall and weighing 160 to 200 pounds, according to police reports.

During an initial appearance yesterday before U.S. Magistrate Judge James K. Bredar, Blottenberger had short-cropped, light brown hair and wore wire-rimmed eyeglasses. He had a large tattoo on the back of his neck.

Blottenberger, who has previous addresses in Essex and Glen Burnie, has a lengthy arrest record for charges including burglary, theft, drug possession and assault, state court records show.

In court yesterday, Blottenberger acknowledged the bank robbery charge against him but did not enter a plea. Bredar ordered him held without bail after Blottenberger did not request a detention hearing.

Blottenberger was arrested late Sunday after a chase that lasted nearly three hours and involved at least a dozen officers, canine and helicopter units, Anne Arundel County police said yesterday.

Police first spotted him about 8 p.m. Sunday, driving a gold-colored Ford Escort at a Pasadena gas station. Officers in marked police cars tried to pull over Blottenberger, but he wouldn't stop, Ravenell said.

Blottenberger abandoned the Escort at Oakwood Road and Fifth Avenue in Glen Burnie and was eventually captured in a fenced area of Evergreen Gene's Glen Burnie Garden Center in the 400 block of Crain Highway.

County police immediately turned Blottenberger over to the FBI.

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