A federal appeals court gave a green light yesterday to a lawsuit filed against an FBI agent in the shooting of a Pasadena man whom the agent mistook for a bank robber.
Last year, U.S. District Judge J. Frederick Motz ruled that shooting victim Joseph C. Schultz could proceed to trial in the civil lawsuit against Special Agent Christopher Braga. The FBI agent appealed Motz's ruling, arguing that as a law enforcement officer, he had immunity from such claims.
That argument was rejected by the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Va., whose judges upheld Motz's ruling.
"In sum, there remain genuine issues of material fact as to the circumstances leading up to Agent Braga's decision to fire his weapon at Schultz," the appeals court ruled.
Arnold Weiner, Schultz's attorney, said they were "gratified that the 4th Circuit did the right thing and now Mr. Schultz can finally bring this case to trial."
Schultz, then 20, was shot in the face March 1, 2002, after FBI agents searching for a bank robber stopped the car being driven by Kristen M. Harkum of Pasadena, who was 16 and Schultz's girlfriend at the time.
Harkum, who was not wounded, filed a $10 million lawsuit, but the 4th Circuit dismissed her claim that Braga had violated her constitutional rights.
Her attorney, Steven A. Allen, said Harkum still has a tort claim against the government arguing that Braga was negligent and should pay about $1 million.
In Schultz's claim, the 4th Circuit found that there was a dispute over whether Braga had heard a command another agent gave Schultz to unlock his car door. If he did, a jury should hear evidence about whether Braga reasonably believed that Schultz was disobeying the command and making a "noncompliant, dangerous movement" instead, the appeals court concluded.
Yesterday, Braga's attorney, Andrew C. White, said, "While the Court of Appeals' decision means that Agent Braga's case will go to trial, it by no means ruled that he did anything improper. Simply put, the 4th Circuit only ruled that there was a question of fact that needed to be decided by a jury and not a judge."