Arundel police fault FBI manhunt

Pasadena man shot

report finds problems with supervision, radios

July 04, 2002|By Laura Barnhardt and Andrea F. Siegel | Laura Barnhardt and Andrea F. Siegel,SUN STAFF

The FBI's ill-fated search for a bank robbery suspect, which led to the March shooting of an unarmed Pasadena man, was flawed from the start, according to an Anne Arundel County police report released yesterday.

Problems ranging from malfunctioning equipment to poor supervision are detailed in the investigative report, which recounts the FBI shooting of 20-year-old Joseph C. Schultz in a case of mistaken identity.

Among the findings of the 128-page report:

Agents were working with a faulty radio system, with only one agent able to communicate with county police. That left agents without a complete description of the suspect's car and without key details from their informant.

Agents had no way of knowing whether the car they pulled over held the suspect.

The real suspect drove in circles around the FBI agents, who were in unmarked vehicles and out of uniform, and left the area unseen by federal agents.

Once agents stopped the car being driven by Schultz's girlfriend, they gave conflicting orders. One agent shouted, "Open the door!" while another ordered, "Put your hands up!"

In the March 1 mix-up, Schultz, who had no connection to the Pasadena bank robbery, was shot in the face with an M-4 assault rifle by FBI Special Agent Christopher Braga.

Schultz was returning from a local mall with girlfriend Krissy Harkum, 16. They had just stopped at a Glen Burnie 7-Eleven, where FBI agents were waiting for Michael J. Blottenberger Jr., 32, the suspect in a Feb. 20 bank robbery.

Both Schultz and Blottenberger were wearing white baseball caps. And both were passengers in red cars being driven by females.

The report was presented to an Anne Arundel County grand jury that investigated the shooting. On Tuesday, the grand jury declined to indict Braga.

Braga told the grand jury that Schultz did not put his hands up and that he believed Schultz might have been reaching for a weapon.

"The behavior of the entire FBI team in this case was appalling," Schultz's lawyer, Arnold M. Weiner, said yesterday. "It is apparent that this mission was undertaken without any regard for the harm these agents were likely to cause to innocent civilians, and it is no wonder Joe Schultz, an innocent bystander, was almost shot to death."

The report includes comments from Schultz, who has not spoken publicly.

In one interview with county detectives, Schultz said: "When [the agent] tried the door, he told me to unlock it. He then jumped back and off to the right. My hands were up clear in front of my face, showing them I had nothing in them. ... I was moving both hands back to unlock the lock on the top of the door so he could see me. The rifle was pointed at me. ... As I was reaching for the lock, I heard a pop, felt the glass hit me and my head got all warm."

Police noted in their report that the lock was actually located near the door handle.

Weiner said the difference is a matter of inches. "He was clearly moving to the right with his hands in full view, reaching for the door latch. And the door latch in this case was a couple of inches below the window sill."

Andrew C. White, Braga's lawyer, said had not seen the report and did not have access to witness statements.

The report draws no conclusions about who was at fault, but summarizes much of what led to the shooting.

"We felt a thorough, fact-finding probe was necessary, because an innocent person was almost killed by the actions of a law enforcement officer," said Anne Arundel County police Chief P. Thomas Shanahan. "The public needs to have confidence in their local and federal police agencies."

Braga, who took a brief voluntary leave after the shooting, has returned to duty. He could face federal criminal charges stemming from a pending review by the Justice Department's civil rights division. He also faces the possibility of internal FBI discipline.

Of the seven agents assigned to arrest Blottenberger that night, only Braga declined to speak with county detectives.

Again and again, agents pointed out flaws in their radio system, the report said. "We immediately began to have radio problems," said Special Agent Donald E. Kornek.

"I heard only intermittent radio transmissions from the surveillance/arrest team," said Special Agent Lawrence S. Brosnan. "The bureau radio system is seriously flawed," he said, blaming a 1999 injury on FBI radio woes. "Unless the bureau revamps the radio system, the possibility of loss of life and further injury will continue to plague the effectiveness of successful FBI investigations."

Brosnan told police that none of the agents staking out the 7-Eleven, at Route 648 and Marley Neck Boulevard, "could positively identify the passenger as Blottenberger, because they were too far away from the car."

According to 911 transcripts, the FBI's informant told dispatchers that Blottenberger had spotted the undercover agents and "has just been circling and circling and circling. He's riding past these officers."

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