Case of mistaken identity; Victim, ex-girlfriend asking for $10 million;
The Baltimore Sun
A federal judge in Baltimore ruled yesterday that a $10 million
excessive-force claim can go forward against an FBI agent who shot an
unarmed Pasadena man in the face after mistaking him for a bank
It was a key hurdle in the closely watched case involving Special
Agent Christopher R. Braga, who shot Joseph C. Schultz with an M-4
rifle during a botched arrest March 1 last year.
In a 24-page opinion, U.S. District Judge J. Frederick Motz ruled
that there was not enough evidence to dismiss Schultz's claim.
Braga, in requesting dismissal of the suit, contended that he had
immunity because he is a federal agent.
"I am not prepared to say without development of a complete factual
record ... that a law enforcement officer has qualified immunity to
shoot an innocent person ... who is attempting to comply with the
officer's direction even if his hands may have momentarily gone out
of the officer's view," Motz wrote.
Schultz, now 21, was shot after agents searching for a bank robber
mistakenly stopped the car being driven by Kristen M. "Krissy"
Harkum, then his girlfriend.
Braga told Schultz to unlock his door and get out of the car. As
Schultz tried to comply with the order, he was shot.
Schultz's lawyer, Arnold M. Weiner, said the judge's opinion not to
throw the case out because of immunity is telling. "Motz's ruling was
critical to the case because in these types of cases, the defense is
almost always based in claims of immunity," Weiner said.
Braga said in his request to dismiss the case, which he filed in May,
that he fired when Schultz appeared to reach for his waist, as if to
pull out a weapon.
Motz ruled that because Schultz and Harkum did not try to run from
the agents - and were complying with their orders - he would allow
the case to go forward.
Harkum, now 17, was not wounded in the shooting but is also a
plaintiff in the $10 million lawsuit. She seeks compensation for
"severe emotional injury."
In his opinion, Motz also dealt with other claims in Schultz's suit,
He threw out a claim against Braga that the agent should not have
stopped Schultz's car.
Braga's lawyer, Andrew C. White, called Motz's ruling a partial
victory for his client. "It is not a complete victory for Agent
Braga, but it is a very substantial victory," White said.
The lawsuits also name as defendants two of Braga's supervisors,
agents Henry F. Hanburger and Lawrence S. Brosnan.
Motz tossed out all claims against Brosnan. His lawyer, John
Bourgeois, said the judge ruled appropriately.
Motz also threw out a claim against Hanburger that he was negligent
in the way he supervised the search and seizure of Schultz's car.
One claim against Hanburger, that he is liable for ordering the
agents to stop the car, remains.
The lawsuit filed by Schultz and Harkum alleges the agents
disregarded bureau arrest policies and then played down the
potentially deadly results.
On the day of the shooting, FBI agents were told by a tipster to look
for Michael J. Blottenberger, who was suspected of driving the
getaway vehicle, a red Honda Civic, in the robbery of a Pasadena bank
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 and got into Harkum's red Pontiac Grand Am.
Schultz suffered several injuries to his head and underwent
reconstructive surgery. According to his suit, he suffers from
"severe emotional and psychological injuries."