FBI apologizes in shooting of man mistaken for robber

Top Baltimore agent pledges investigation

March 07, 2002|By Gail Gibson and Laura Barnhardt | Gail Gibson and Laura Barnhardt,SUN STAFF

Baltimore's top FBI agent made an unusual public apology yesterday for the shooting Friday of an unarmed Pasadena man whom federal agents had mistakenly identified as a bank robbery suspect. But she refused to discuss the incident in detail, saying that could jeopardize open investigations.

"Let me express our sincere sorrow for this unfortunate accident," said Lynne A. Hunt, special agent in charge of the FBI's local office. "I want this community to know we will do everything necessary to complete a full investigation of the facts."

While FBI and Anne Arundel County police officials remained tight-lipped about the shooting, law enforcement sources said the mix-up might have begun when FBI agents lost contact with an informant who was using a cell phone to guide them to the robbery suspect's car, a red sedan.

The informant's cell phone lost power, leaving agents without updates while the informant looked for a pay phone, the sources said.

FBI and local police officials would not confirm or comment on that account. In the FBI's first extensive comments about the shooting of Joseph Charles Schultz, Hunt said only that the red Pontiac Grand Am in which Schultz and his girlfriend were riding was similar to the one a robbery suspect was reported to be driving.

She also said the couple had "similar characteristics" to the suspect and his female companion that day.

Hunt, who has headed the local 200-agent office for nearly two years, would not release other details about events that led to Friday's shooting.

Schultz, 20, was hit in the face by a single bullet from an M-4 assault rifle. Schultz, according to his lawyer, was shot while reaching to unbuckle his seat belt to comply with an FBI agent's order to get out of the car.

Schultz remained in serious but stable condition yesterday at Maryland Shock Trauma Center, awaiting reconstructive surgery to repair damage to his shattered right cheek and jaw and to his nasal passages.

His girlfriend, 16-year-old Krissy Harkum of Pasadena, was not wounded in the incident.

The FBI's comments came as the agency faced increasing pressure to fully account for the shooting. In Washington, a top Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee said in a statement to The Sun that the incident "raises a lot of questions that the FBI is going to have to answer publicly."

"I'll monitor not only what happened in the shooting, but also the way the FBI investigates one of its own in this situation, so that past mistakes don't recur," said Sen. Charles E. Grassley of Iowa, one of the agency's toughest watchdogs.

An uncle of Schultz, Willis Shelley of Pasadena, said the family also is closely watching the case.

"I think [the agents] are thinking they're going to walk on this one, and I'm hoping they don't," said Shelley. "Joe's a nice kid - he's one of those people you'd always root for."

Shopping trip

Schultz and Harkum were returning from an afternoon shopping trip when federal agents in plain clothes and an unmarked car stopped the Pontiac she was driving. Joseph C. Asesnio, an attorney for the Schultz family, has said two agents approached the car on both sides, each carrying a rifle.

Shootings by FBI agents are relatively rare. In 2001, there were only 11 intentional shootings nationwide, and three of those involved dogs. Hunt said that did not mean the agency would brush off Friday's incident.

"Let me assure you, this is not something we take lightly," Hunt said as a number of grim-faced agents watched her news conference from the back of a room at the agency's office in Woodlawn.

The agent who fired at Schultz has been voluntarily placed on administrative leave, with pay, Hunt said. Three other agents involved in the stop had no change in their assignments, she said.

FBI officials have refused to release the agents' names, citing an internal policy that strictly guards agents' identities in shooting incidents, in part to protect them from possible retaliation.

Hunt said releasing details about the shooting could taint continuing investigations by an independent FBI review team and by Anne Arundel police and prosecutors.

County to investigate

Yesterday, county Police Chief P. Thomas Shanahan promised an independent investigation of the shooting and said its outcome would not be influenced by pressure from the FBI. The review, led by two homicide detectives, is expected to be completed within 30 days.

Kristin Riggin, a spokeswoman for the Arundel prosecutor's office, said that as in all police shooting investigations, prosecutors must first determine if a crime occurred and whether the case should be presented to a grand jury.

The state's attorney also can determine that a police shooting was accidental or justified, and that no crime occurred, without taking the case to a grand jury.

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