FBI identifies agent in shooting

Man was wounded by mistake during search for robber

March 09, 2002|By Gail Gibson, Michael James and Laura Barnhardt | Gail Gibson, Michael James and Laura Barnhardt,SUN STAFF

The FBI disclosed yesterday the identity of the agent who mistakenly shot an unarmed Pasadena man last week, describing the agent as a former U.S. Marine Corps captain and decorated Persian Gulf war veteran who has worked for the past four years on a highly trained FBI SWAT team.

Special Agent Christopher Braga, 35, joined the bureau five years ago, after seven years with the Marines. In the military, he was a firearms instructor and was a rifle platoon commander during Operation Desert Storm in the early 1990s.

Lynne A. Hunt, special agent in charge of the FBI's Baltimore office, confirmed Braga's identity to The Sun. Hunt also described Braga as a husband and father of three young children, ages 4, 3 and 8 months, saying she did not want him to be perceived publicly as a "faceless agent."

FOR THE RECORD - An article in yesterday's Sun about the FBI's mistaken shooting of an unarmed Pasadena man March 1 incorrectly reported that Joseph Harkum said FBI agents had activated emergency lights on the unmarked car that had pulled over a car driven by his teen-age daughter. Harkum said that his daughter, Krissy Harkum, did not see any emergency lights on the car.
The article also incorrectly indicated that more than one FBI car was involved in the stop. Only one car was involved.
The Sun regrets the errors.

Braga has been on paid administrative leave, at his request, since the shooting March 1 of Joseph C. Schultz, 20, who remained at Maryland Shock Trauma Center yesterday in serious but stable condition.

Schultz, 20, was shot in the face with an M-4 rifle after FBI agents searching for a bank robbery suspect pulled over the car that his girlfriend was driving.

In a case of mistaken identity, the agents thought Schultz was the man they were seeking. Schultz had no connection to the crime or the suspect.

An attorney for Schultz's family said afterward that Schultz was shot while reaching to unfasten his seat belt after being ordered out of the Pontiac Grand Am driven by Krissy Harkum, 16, also of Pasadena. But the attorney, Joseph C. Asesnio of Glen Burnie, said yesterday that Schultz might only have reached for the door to comply with the agent's order.

FBI and Anne Arundel County police officials have refused to release any details of the continuing federal and local investigations into the shooting, saying that could jeopardize their reviews.

Hunt said at a news conference this week that four FBI agents were involved in the traffic stop that led to the shooting.

When Braga returns to duty, he is expected to be placed on assignments unlikely to involve armed confrontation, FBI officials have said. The other three agents, whose names have not been released, remained on duty after the incident without any change in their assignments.

Andrew C. White, a Baltimore attorney representing Braga, described him yesterday as a skilled officer with extensive training in handling weapons.

"We're confident when all the facts come out that [they'll show] he acted in accordance with training and FBI policy regarding the use of force," said White, who declined to elaborate on the case.

White said Braga is spending time with his family and is deeply sorry about the coincidences that led to the shooting.

"He feels terrible for Mr. Schultz and his family," White said. Braga "was faced with a difficult and dangerous situation involving the apprehension of an individual known to present a deadly threat to law enforcement officers."

Hunt said Braga was a rifle platoon commander during Operation Desert Storm and was decorated for actions at Al Jaber Airfield in Kuwait. Braga's attorney described him as part of an elite fighting force.

Braga was assigned four years ago to the FBI's Baltimore special weapons and tactics, or SWAT, team, a specially trained unit that responds to some of the FBI's most dangerous assignments.

FBI officials have said they considered the bank robbery suspect they were searching for last week, Michael J. Blottenberger Jr., to be armed and dangerous. Blottenberger, who was arrested Sunday night by Anne Arundel County police, is accused of using a handgun to rob an Allfirst Bank branch in the county. Blottenberger, 32, of Baltimore remains jailed on a federal bank robbery charge.

On the day of the shooting, FBI agents had expected to find Blottenberger near a 7-Eleven store in Anne Arundel County, wearing a white baseball cap and traveling in a red sedan, law enforcement sources said this week. When the agents saw Schultz walk out of the store, a white cap on his head, and climb into Harkum's red Pontiac, they followed the car.

Joseph Harkum, the girl's father, said yesterday that the couple had bought Slurpees at a 7-Eleven on Marley Neck Road and that his daughter had just driven away, turning right onto Fort Smallwood Road, when the unmarked FBI cars turned on their blue emergency lights and pulled her over.

Krissy Harkum was not injured, but her family has said she remains upset.

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