Tragic coincidences cited in FBI shooting

Victim, suspect alike in white cap, red car

March 08, 2002|By Gail Gibson, Laura Barnhardt and Michael James | Gail Gibson, Laura Barnhardt and Michael James,SUN STAFF

As they searched last Friday for bank robbery suspect Michael J. Blottenberger Jr., FBI agents expected to find him at an Anne Arundel County convenience store, wearing a white baseball cap and traveling in a red sedan, two law enforcement sources said yesterday. The agents also were braced for a potentially violent confrontation with Blottenberger, who they expected to be armed.

But instead federal agents saw Joseph Charles Schultz walk out of the 7-Eleven on Fort Smallwood Road, a white baseball cap on his head, and climb into his girlfriend's red Pontiac Grand Am, according to the sources, who spoke on the condition they not be identified.

The coincidences touched off a tragic chain of events.

Soon after, Schultz, 20, was shot in the face when agents pulled over his girlfriend's car, mistaking Schultz for their robbery suspect.

An attorney for Schultz's family has said that Schultz, who is expected to survive his injuries, was shot while reaching to unfasten his seat belt to comply with an agent's order to get out of the car.

In an interview yesterday, an informant who had been helping federal agents in their search said that he arrived at the scene soon after the shooting. He said he quickly realized that agents had stopped the wrong person, because he had told them Blottenberger was in a Honda Civic.

Asked to identify the wounded young man, the informant said he couldn't, telling agents: "It's not the right car."

The informant, like the two other sources, spoke yesterday to The Sun on the condition that he not be identified because he feared retaliation.

FBI and Anne Arundel County police officials would not confirm or comment on any detail of last Friday's events that have emerged from local and federal investigations.

In an extraordinary public apology for the mistaken shooting, Baltimore's top FBI agent said Wednesday that releasing details about what led to the shooting could jeopardize those investigations.

Lynne A. Hunt, special agent in charge of the local field office, said only that the car Schultz and his girlfriend were riding in was similar to the one Blottenberger was driving. She also said the couple had "similar characteristics" to the suspect and his female companion that day.

The two law enforcement sources who spoke yesterday said FBI agents believed last Friday that Blottenberger, who has a lengthy arrest record, was likely to be armed and capable of shooting police to avoid returning to jail.

FBI officials have said only that they considered Blottenberger to be armed and dangerous because he was accused of using a handgun to rob an Allfirst bank branch Feb. 20. Blottenberger, 32, has been jailed since his arrest Sunday night by Anne Arundel County police. He faces a federal bank robbery charge.

Schultz remained in serious but stable condition yesterday at the Maryland Shock Trauma Center. A bullet from an FBI agent's M-4 assault rifle shattered Schultz's right cheek and jaw; it remains lodged in the left side of his face.

An uncle of Schultz, Willis Shelley of Pasadena, said yesterday that his nephew was continuing to show signs of recovery - and of outrage at what happened.

"The good news is, Joey's getting mad," said Shelley, adding that his nephew typically is very reserved and highly respectful of authorities.

Shultz, who lives in Pasadena and was laid off in December from his job at an area medical company, did not have health insurance and his family is unsure how they will afford the multiple reconstructive surgeries he is expected to undergo, Shelley said. The family has started a contribution fund through First Union National Bank.

In the aftermath of the shooting, family members raised concerns about how quickly Schultz received medical attention. However, 911 dispatch records showed that paramedic units were on the scene within minutes, and Anne Arundel County fire officials said their emergency workers had full and immediate access.

Neither Schultz nor his girlfriend, Krissy Harkum, 16, also of Pasadena, was in handcuffs when the first medical units arrived, according to reports yesterday by the paramedics and fire department commanders on the scene.

Yesterday, investigators piecing together the events leading to the shooting were reviewing 911 emergency dispatch tapes and interviewing county paramedics and emergency workers who were among the first people on the scene, police said.

Local police officials refused to release copies of the 911 tapes and recorded radio transmissions, saying both were part of the shooting investigation. Lt. Joseph E. Jordan, a spokesman for the county police, said the tapes would not be made public until the case is concluded.

A shooting review team from FBI headquarters in Washington is conducting one investigation, which will be reviewed by Justice Department lawyers. County police are conducting a separate investigation, expected to be completed in 30 days and forwarded to the state's attorney's office.

Anne Arundel County Police Chief P. Thomas Shanahan said that FBI agents in Baltimore were cooperating fully with the county investigation. He added that he was in daily contact with Hunt and that he met earlier in the week with the shooting review team from FBI headquarters.

An FBI spokesman said yesterday that the two agencies closely coordinated on the original bank robbery and the probe of the mistaken shooting.

"We have a very good working relationship with all police agencies in this area," said Special Agent Barry A. Maddox.

Shanahan has promised an independent review of the shooting.

"It's our responsibility to conduct a fair and detailed probing as to how and why this occurred," he said.

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