A Pasadena man mistakenly shot in the face by an FBI agent searching for a bank robber filed a $10 million lawsuit yesterday against three agents, alleging that they disregarded bureau arrest policies and then played down the potentially deadly result, telling an informant at the scene: "This [expletive] happens every day."
Joseph C. Schultz, 21, was shot in the face after agents stopped the car his then-girlfriend, Kristen M. "Krissy" Harkum, was driving. Harkum, now 17, was not wounded in the shooting, but she also filed a $10 million lawsuit yesterday in U.S. District Court in Baltimore to compensate her for "severe emotional injury."
Attorneys who represent Schultz and Harkum said the lawsuits aim to hold federal law enforcement accountable for the mistaken shooting.
"You can't have the FBI and its agents being the judge, jury and the executioner -- all at the crime scene," said Robert J. Weltchek, a Lutherville attorney who represents Schultz.
Schultz was shot by FBI Special Agent Christopher R. Braga, a six-year veteran of the bureau and a former U.S. Marine Corps captain.
Braga was named as a defendant in yesterday's lawsuits along with two of his supervisors, agents Henry F. Hanburger and Lawrence S. Brosnan. According to the lawsuit, Hanburger gave the order for SWAT team members to stop Harkum's car. Brosnan was the agent who was investigating the bank robbery and who organized the arrest team.
Braga's attorney, Andrew C. White, said he had not reviewed the lawsuits and could not comment directly on the allegations. He said Braga was cleared of wrongdoing by an Anne Arundel County grand jury.
"As we said from the very beginning here, he feels terrible about what happened and his heart goes out to Mr. Schultz and Miss Harkum and their families," White said. "The Anne Arundel County authorities have thoroughly investigated the incident, and the grand jury has spoken."
The Justice Department has yet to conclude its review of the incident. In a statement, Gary M. Bald, special agent in charge of the FBI's Baltimore field division, said he was "monitoring any developments in this case."
"The FBI is cognizant of the unfortunate incident involving Mr. Joseph Schultz and Ms. Krissy Harkum on March 1, 2002, and how their lives have been affected," Bald said.
Schultz and Harkum were returning home to Pasadena from a shopping trip at Marley Station mall when the botched traffic stop unfolded a year ago.
That afternoon, FBI agents were looking for Michael J. Blottenberger, suspected of driving the getaway vehicle in the robbery of a Pasadena bank branch. The agents expected Blottenberger to arrive at a 7-Eleven convenience store, wearing a white baseball cap.
Instead, Schultz and Harkum pulled up to the 7-Eleven in her red Pontiac Grand Am. Schultz, who was wearing a white baseball cap, bought drinks for himself and Harkum and left the store.
According to the lawsuit, the agents then zeroed in on Schultz and Harkum -- even though they could not identify Blottenberger as being inside the car and even as Brosnan was receiving word that the suspect was in a red Honda Civic.
A few minutes later, two FBI vehicles forced the young couple to the side of the road and four FBI agents approached the Grand Am, the lawsuit says. The lawsuit says the agents first ordered Schultz and Harkum to "show your hands." A moment later, the agents issued a second order: "Unlock the doors."
Braga fired when Schultz moved to unlock his car door, the lawsuit says.
The agents realized within moments that they had the wrong man, the lawsuit says. When Brosnan's informant -- Blottenberger's landlord, Timothy King -- arrived a few minutes after the shooting, he told Brosnan that the injured man was not Blottenberger.
"It's not even the [expletive] car I told you about," the lawsuit quotes King as saying. Brosnan's response, the lawsuit says, was nonchalant: "This [expletive] happens every day."
Schultz and Harkum are no longer dating, although their attorneys say they remain friends. Schultz, who is recovering from a series of surgeries, repairs water coolers; Harkum did not return to Northeast High School for her senior year and is being taught at home.
A grand jury cleared Braga, but a county police report said the FBI search for Blottenberger was flawed from the start. In the 128-page report, police said key information could not be relayed between agents because of faulty radio equipment.
The lawsuit describes Braga as having exhibited a "startling propensity for shooting unarmed persons." It points to a fatal shooting Feb. 3, 2000, by Braga of a fugitive homicide suspect in Prince George's County. The man, Donald Lee Thompson, was not armed, but investigators later said he had a loaded gun nearby, and the shooting was ruled justified.
In the lawsuit, Thompson is described as being curled up in "fetal position" in a bedroom closet when he was killed.
Attorney Arnold M. Weiner, who represents Schultz, would not identify the sources that provided the account, saying it was based "on what we believe to be completely reliable and firsthand information."