October 4, 1997 in Nation/World

Teens Roughed Up In Fbi Drill Youths, Mistaken For Trainees In Exercise, Receive Apology

Associated Press
 

Armed FBI trainees in bulletproof vests and camouflage surrounded a group of teenagers, handcuffed them and forced them to the ground before realizing they had the wrong people.

The trainees were taking part in a training exercise at a town square Wednesday night in which they were apparently supposed to nab others taking part in the drill.

Instead, up to 30 trainees - some with painted faces - jumped out of a caravan of vehicles and descended on the innocent teenagers.

“They pulled out their guns and said: ‘FBI! Hands in the air!”’ Tonya Leggore, 18, said. “Everyone was like, ‘What is going on?”’

“I kept telling them I had no idea what they were talking about,” she said. “I was scared. I was crying. I didn’t know what was going on, and he thought I was playing a game.”

Leggore and five of her friends had their wrists bound with plastic ties and were ordered to lie face-down on the sidewalk.

“They kept asking us if we were part of the game or something like that,” Jason Schwanger, 19, said. “It was scary just standing there having guns in our faces.”

After about 30 minutes, the agents set the teens free.

The FBI would not comment on the specifics of the drill.

A senior FBI official apologized Friday, and two agents visited the home of one of the youths Thursday night to express their regrets.

Agents from Philadelphia, New York and New Jersey were in the area to take part in mock hostage situations, according to William Sprenkle, director of the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections Training Academy at Elizabethtown.

Dave Malarney, an agent based in Harrisburg, said the FBI stages scenarios outside training facilities to give agents authentic experience. The public is not meant to be directly involved, however.

“We do it where there’s a possibility of public around, because that’s how these things develop in a real-life situation,” he said. “It’s unfortunate that the youngsters got caught up in it, and we apologize for any inconvenience to anybody.”

The teens may have been misidentified because of the writing on one of their cars.

Leggore had written “We will miss you Terry!” in white shoe polish on the back of her station wagon in memory of a friend who died in a recent car crash.

Schwanger said that while the agents had him hand-cuffed, “they said something about two guys named Terry. That’s who the mission was all about. That’s who they had to get.”

Leggore said two FBI agents visited her home on Thursday to apologize.

“They were really nice about it, but my dad’s still going to talk to his attorney,” she said.

Elizabethtown Borough Manager Peter Whipple was not pleased.

“You would hope that the best of our law enforcement would be a little more cautious,” Whipple said. “You wouldn’t expect normal citizens to be impacted at all.”

© Copyright 1997 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.


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