County police release report on FBI shooting

Questions unanswered about what went wrong

No indictment by grand jury

`Coincidences,' `mistakes' noted by prosecutor

Anne Arundel

July 07, 2002|By Laura Barnhardt and Andrea F. Siegel | Laura Barnhardt and Andrea F. Siegel,SUN STAFF

In a report released by Anne Arundel County police last week, FBI agents answered many of the questions about what went wrong the night an agent mistakenly shot an unarmed Pasadena man.

But some of the most troubling questions about why things went wrong March 1 remain.

For example, why didn't FBI agents recognize that the man in the car they had stopped was not the bank robbery suspect they had a photo of and planned to arrest? Why did the agent who fired the shot through a car window think the man was armed? And why did agents around the car shout conflicting instructions at two people who turned out to be not a suspected bank robber and his sister, but a young couple on their way home from a local mall?

"Coincidences - there were a lot of coincidences and mistakes and problems in planning," said Anne Arundel County State's Attorney Frank R. Weathersbee.

For example, Joseph C. Schultz, 20, wearing a white baseball cap, was at the same Glen Burnie 7-Eleven that FBI agents had staked out for a suspected bank robber in a white baseball cap.

Minutes later, Schultz was on the side of the road, shot in the face with an M-4 rifle by Special Agent Christopher Braga.

The real suspect, Michael J. Blottenberger Jr., 32, spotted four sedans surrounding the convenience store, sized them up as unmarked police cars and did not stop.

An FBI spokeswoman said the agency had not reviewed the county police report and would not comment on it or on issues raised by it. Braga, who has returned to duty, could be named in any civil lawsuit filed by the young couple's attorneys.

County police released the 128-page report after a grand jury declined to indict Braga last week on criminal charges stemming from the shooting. The report provided a detailed look at the events that led to a shooting that the FBI has called "tragic."

Police said they arrived at the shooting scene to find agents surrounding a red car - the wrong red car. The FBI's informant in the case had called county police to tell them Blottenberger was in a Honda Civic - information that at least one of the FBI agents acknowledged receiving, according to the report.

Schultz lay handcuffed on the ground, his face covered in blood. His girlfriend, Krissy Harkum, was in handcuffs bent over the trunk of her Grand Am, screaming and crying.

Shattered glass and blood covered the grass to the side of the car. Officers wrote, "Just off the road was a 7-Eleven Slurpee cup, a Nike baseball cap and a small police notebook standing over a spent rifle shell casing."

Police started there.

Over several weeks, a handful of detectives and FBI officials interviewed six agents involved in the traffic stop, most of whom spoke candidly. The detectives questioned the victims several times. They reviewed radio transcripts and 911 dispatches. And they noted inconsistencies in the accounts when they saw them.

Braga did not talk with county police - his was the only voice missing from their report.

According to county prosecutors, Braga, in his testimony before the grand jury Tuesday, said Schultz did not obey commands to raise his hands so Braga could see them, and it appeared Schultz might be reaching for a weapon.

In the end, county police made no judgments about who or what was to blame. FBI agents offered the most details about the problems: failing communications, misunderstandings about where the suspect was, and - in hindsight - acting without knowing whether their suspect was the passenger in the car they were following.

Braga and Special Agent L. Bradlee Sheafe were parked at an Italian restaurant southeast of the 7-Eleven. "From our vantage point, it appeared the white male passenger fit the description of the bank robbery suspect Michael J. Blottenberger," Sheafe told police.

Sheafe said it appeared that Schultz met briefly with the informant in the store, but no surveillance tape or other agent could confirm that, police noted.

In fact, when Special Agents Lawrence S. Brosnan and Barry Mones called Braga on their cell phones and told him to follow the Grand Am, they said they weren't sure "who was in the car."

Special Agents Stephen P. Stowe and Donald E. Kornek, in a Chevrolet Impala, were first to get behind the Grand Am. Sheafe and Braga followed in a Buick Century. Agents said they activated emergency lights - red and blue visor strobes - but none recalled turning on sirens.

Agents told police it appeared the Grand Am was attempting to evade the stop. Kornek drove beside the Grand Am, and Sheafe was slightly behind it before they forced Harkum to pull to the shoulder, federal agents told police. And everything occurred quickly.

Sheafe said Stowe was out first, positioning himself in front of the car with an MP5 submachine gun pointed at the couple. Stowe said he tried to unlock the passenger door, while Braga stood next to Schultz with an M-4 rifle telling the couple he was the "police" and to "show me your hands."

"Unlock the door," Stowe said he yelled to the driver.

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