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County police release report on FBI shooting

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

But some of the most troubling questions about why things went wrong March1 remain.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Schultz lay handcuffed on the ground, his face covered in blood. Hisgirlfriend, Krissy Harkum, was in handcuffs bent over the trunk of her GrandAm, 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 baseballcap 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 interviewedsix agents involved in the traffic stop, most of whom spoke candidly. Thedetectives questioned the victims several times. They reviewed radiotranscripts and 911 dispatches. And they noted inconsistencies in the accountswhen they saw them.

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

According to county prosecutors, Braga, in his testimony before the grandjury Tuesday, said Schultz did not obey commands to raise his hands so Bragacould 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: failingcommunications, misunderstandings about where the suspect was, and - inhindsight - acting without knowing whether their suspect was the passenger inthe car they were following.

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

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

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

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

Agents told police it appeared the Grand Am was attempting to evade thestop. Kornek drove beside the Grand Am, and Sheafe was slightly behind itbefore 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 carwith an MP5 submachine gun pointed at the couple. Stowe said he tried tounlock the passenger door, while Braga stood next to Schultz with an M-4 rifletelling the couple he was the "police" and to "show me your hands."

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

Kornek said he tried to open Harkum's door, but it was locked. "I poundedwith my fist on the driver's window, and I called out, `FBI ... Open thedoor,' " Kornek said.

"I heard several agents on the passenger's side yelling, `Show me yourhands,' " Kornek said.

Agents never told police whether they felt it was a mistake to shoutconflicting orders at the couple.

But, Stowe said: "I never observed any threat that would have caused for mepersonally to shoot my weapon. I did not see the passenger make any movementsprior to being shot, but at the time the window exploded, I was watching thedriver."

It is perhaps the biggest question remaining: Why - when agents said theycould see clearly into the car - did Braga think Schultz was armed? Agentssaid they did not find anything in the car that resembled a weapon.

Contrary to previous reports by one of his lawyers, Schultz told police hewas not reaching for his seat belt but that he was trying to unlock the cardoor to comply with agents' orders. He maintained that throughout histestimony.

It wasn't until after Brosnan and the FBI informant arrived on the scenethat the agents realized they had the wrong man. It is unclear why agentsdidn't recognize that Schultz was not Blottenberger. The team of seven agents,working with two county officers, had a mug shot of Blottenberger.

Braga's attorney, Andrew C. White, said he had not seen the report.

Department of Justice officials are reviewing the shooting, and FBIofficials have not said whether they have plans to fix the FBI radio system orwhether they will make changes in their felony stop policies.

County police arrested Blottenberger two days after the shooting. He isawaiting trial on federal bank robbery charges.

Schultz, who was hospitalized for more than a week, began reconstructivesurgeries that are not complete. Harkum has finished her junior year of highschool.

The couple's attorneys are sorting out the police findings, preparing forpossible civil lawsuits, while Braga's lawyer is preparing to defend againstthem.

Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun
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