A $10 million lawsuit against three FBI agents involved in the mistaken-identity shooting of an unarmed Pasadena man should go forward, the victim's attorneys say in court papers asking a federal judge to reject the officers' claims of qualified immunity.
Special Agent Christopher R. Braga and two other agents want the lawsuit brought by shooting victim Joseph C. Schultz to be dismissed, arguing that the shooting March 1 last year was a tragic accident but that the agents took reasonable steps as law enforcement officers that should protect them from legal action.
Responding in court papers made public yesterday, Schultz's attorneys argued that the agents' actions during the botched traffic stop suggested a "deliberate indifference" to Schultz's constitutional rights - not the "unfortunate" and "lamentable mistake" described by the agents' lawyers.
"These expressions by lawyers, as part of their efforts to extricate their clients from the case, stand in stark contrast to their clients' actions and statements immediately after the shooting," Schultz's lead attorney, Arnold M. Weiner, said in the filing. The question of whether the agents should be protected from legal action because of the nature of their work is a key hurdle for the high-profile lawsuit. No hearings have been scheduled in the case, which is before U.S. District Judge J. Frederick Motz in Baltimore.
Schultz, now 21, was shot in the face after agents searching for a bank robber mistakenly stopped the car being driven buy his then-girlfriend, Kristen M. "Krissy" Harkum. Harkum, now 17, was not wounded in the shooting, but she filed a $10 million lawsuit in Baltimore's federal court to compensate her for "severe emotional injury."
In their lawsuits, filed earlier this year, Schultz and Harkum allege that the agents disregarded bureau arrest policies and then played down the potentially deadly results. The lawsuits also name as defendants two of Braga's supervisors, agents Henry F. Hanburger and Lawrence S. Brosnan.
On the day of the shooting, FBI agents were looking for Michael J. Blottenberger, who was suspected of driving the getaway vehicle in the robbery of a Pasadena bank branch. The agents expected Blottenberger to be at a 7-Eleven convenience store, riding in a red car and wearing a white baseball cap.
Schultz and Harkum said in their lawsuit that the agents wrongly zeroed in on their vehicle after Schultz, wearing a white cap, emerged from the store carrying a Slurpee and a Mountain Dew and got into Harkum's red Pontiac Grand Am. A few minutes later, two FBI vehicles forced the couple to the side of the road and four armed FBI agents approached the car.
In their complaint, Schultz and Harkum said that Braga fired his M-4 rifle when Schultz moved to unlock his car door to comply with agents' orders. Braga said in his response that he fired when Schultz appeared to reach for his waist, as if to pull out a weapon.