Details unfold in FBI mix-up

Agents had photo of real suspect before shooting other man

Revealed in affidavit

They also knew air pistol apparently was used in robbery

March 13, 2002|By Gail Gibson | Gail Gibson,SUN STAFF

FBI agents involved in the mistaken traffic stop and shooting of an unarmed Pasadena man March 1 had a photograph of the actual bank robbery suspect they sought and earlier that day had discovered that an air pistol, not a handgun, apparently was used in the holdup, court records show.

Those details, contained in an FBI affidavit in the bank robbery case, could play a central role in the investigations into the shooting of Joseph C. Schultz, as authorities examine how much federal agents knew about the real suspect they were tracking and how dangerous they thought he was.

Schultz, 20, was shot in the face with an M-4 rifle after FBI agents stopped the car his girlfriend was driving that day. In a case of mistaken identity, the agents thought Schultz was the man they sought, but Schultz had no connection to the crime or to the suspect. Schultz, who is expected to survive, remained in fair condition yesterday at the Maryland Shock Trauma Center.

FBI and Anne Arundel County police officials have released few details about the traffic stop and shooting, saying that could hurt continuing federal and local investigations. But the FBI affidavit, connected to the arrest March 3 of bank robbery suspect Michael J. Blottenberger Jr., provides new information about the police search that preceded the shooting.

An FBI spokesman declined yesterday to comment directly on the affidavit, but suggested that whether or not a real semi-automatic handgun was used in the robbery did not diminish the threat that agents believed Blottenberger posed as they searched for him March 1.

"In general terms, anytime anyone robs a bank, and a gun is displayed, they're considered armed and dangerous," said Special Agent Peter A. Gulotta Jr., who said that in assessing how risky a capture might be, agents also consider a suspect's criminal history.

Blottenberger, 32, of Baltimore has a lengthy arrest record and had been released from jail months before an anonymous caller told an Anne Arundel County detective Feb. 26 that Blottenberger could be connected to the robbery Feb. 20 of an Allfirst Bank branch on Fort Smallwood Road in Pasadena, according to the FBI affidavit.

In the document, FBI Special Agent Lawrence S. Brosnan, a 24-year veteran of the FBI and the lead investigator in the robbery case, said two bank tellers reported that the robber brandished a silver-and-black handgun that day as he forced them to empty their cash drawers. Court records say the robber left with $24,324 clutched in his fists and arms and climbed into a green Ford pickup.

Blottenberger is jailed on a federal bank robbery charge; no one else has been charged in the case.

FBI officials have declined to release a photograph of Blottenberger. The affidavit says Brosnan obtained a 1998 mug shot that he displayed, along with bank surveillance photos, in interviews with people who helped link Blottenberger to the crime.

Brosnan was among the agents looking for Blottenberger on March 1, when Schultz was mistakenly stopped. Another FBI agent, Christopher Braga, shot Schultz that day.

Among the individuals Brosnan interviewed in the days leading up to the shooting was Blottenberger's landlord. Timothy King told authorities March 1 that in a conversation shortly after midnight that morning, Blottenberger said he had driven the getaway car in a bank robbery -- a claim he also made to FBI agents after his arrest nine days ago, the affidavit said.

King told authorities that he then ordered Blottenberger to leave his house, the affidavit said. Soon after Blottenberger left, King and a woman searched the house and found two silver air pistols, which closely resembled semi-automatic handguns, tucked under a television cabinet in the basement. An air gun relies on a compressed air system to propel projectiles, such as pellets or paint balls, and is generally considered far less lethal than a semi-automatic handgun.

A Baltimore police officer and Brosnan went to King's house that morning -- hours before federal agents searching for Blottenberger pulled over Schultz -- and seized the two pistols.

In the affidavit, Brosnan wrote that after comparing the air pistols to the bank surveillance photos, he was "of the opinion that the pistol displayed by the bank robber is similar, if not identical, to the pistols discovered" at the house where Blottenberger had been staying.

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