The FBI’s License to Kill: Agents Have Been Deemed 'Justified' in Every Shooting Since 1993
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AMY GOODMAN: Charlie Savage, you quote Professor Samuel Walker who teaches criminal justice about the problem with this .
CHARLIE SAVAGE: This is a professor who studies internal law enforcement investigations, and he said that this very low rate of finding b bad shoots, basically zero when someone was actually hurt, or an animal for that matter — a subset of these are shooting dogs that were menacing while serving an arrest warrant for something — was suspiciously low, in his words. But, of course we don’t know that it means that in fact something was wrong, it is just suspiciously low. One of the problems in evaluating this document set, this is over over 2000 pages of documents, is because as I mentioned earlier, there’s very often, overwhelmingly often with few exceptions, no independently produced investigative report by some other authority where you could put the two report side by side and see, is this is an accurate portrayal of what happened or not.
There’s good reason to believe that the FBI would have a generally lower rate of bad shootings because unlike a city police force, the FBI agents tend to be older, better trained, more experienced, and perhaps most importantly, they’re not patrolling the streets and responding to in-progress crimes and chaotic situations. When they go in to sort-of arresting people and so forth, it tends to be preplanned operations where they go in with overwhelming force and that’s going to minimize chaos. And yet, they still killed or wounded 150 people over 20 years and it’s kind of remarkable that not once in all that time, even in an instant where the Bureau ended up paying over $1 million to someone who was shot by an agent, did they find internally that that was not a justified shooting.
AMY GOODMAN: Charlie Savage, you referred in this piece, to the settlement of $1 million of a man shot in 2002. Can you describe that case ?
CHARLIE SAVAGE: Let me preface it by saying why this is a case worth looking at. It is not that the case is particularly different than others, although there are some oddities about it, and it is over a decade old, but what is interesting about it is it’s a rare exception to the rule that there is nothing to look at but the FBI’s own narrative of what happened. In this case there was an independent investigation by a local police detective with the Anne Arundel County Police, and there was a lawsuit that led to discovery before it was finally settled and there was some additional investigations that were conducted as part of that litigation. And so, there was a lot of alternative information to put alongside the FBI’s own version of events to see at least whether they dovetailed or there were some discrepancies. And there were discrepancies.
So, this was a bizarre case. The FBI was looking for a bank robbery suspect that they thought was going to be coming by convenience store in a white baseball cap, in a car driven by his sister, and unfortunately, another man fitting that description who was innocent, Joseph Shultz, came by in a white baseball cap in a car driven by his girlfriend. So, the FBI thought he was the bank robbery suspect and chased down the car, turned on the sirens, swarmed around him, forced it over, surrounded it with guns, and just a moment later, shot Mr. Shultz — and agent shot Mr. Shultz in the face.
And he, miraculously, survived. The bullet deflected off a piece of metal on the clip that holds the seat belt, and so it sort of hit his jaw rather than his head. But, he underwent facial reconstruction surgery and the FBI eventually paid $1.3 million, or I guess I should say should say taxpayers paid $1.3 million to him to settle that lawsuit. And yet, internally, the FBI deemed this to have been a good shoot. The internal report shows that one member of the panel that was looking at this actually did not think so, but he was outvoted by the rest of them who said that the totality of circumstances surrounding this incident, including that it was a high risk stop, showed that they could not fault the agent for pulling the trigger. But, when you look at the FBI narrative, that was submitted to that panel for review, and you put it along side these alternatives, you see that in a series of small but important ways the narrative omitted information or exaggerated information in a way that made it much more sympathetic to the agent who pulled the trigger than these alternative reports, including the one by this police detective who is a neutral party, obviously, looked like.