Bethesda, MD – A federal agent who shot an aggressive panhandler aboard a Metro passenger train in 2020 was found not guilty by a jury late last week.
Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) Agent Eduardo Valdivia was facing charges of second-degree attempted murder, reckless endangerment, assault, and felony use of a firearm in connection with the Dec. 15, 2020 shooting of Steven Slaughter, WTOP reported.
He could have received a sentence of up to 65 years in prison if he had been convicted.
A jury found Agent Valdivia not guilty on Dec. 2 after approximately three hours of deliberations, according to WRC.
Agent Valdivia’s attorney, Robert Bonsib, said his client never had any intention of getting into a near-deadly encounter that day, WTOP reported.
“All he wanted to do that day was go to work, come home, and be with his family,” Bonsib said during the proceedings. “It was 100 percent self-defense.”
Investigators said the incident occurred on the Red Line train near the Medical Center station after Slaughter approached Agent Valdivia and asked him for money, FOX News reported.
Security footage showed that the off-duty agent and Slaughter exchanged a “fist bump,” but Agent Valdivia declined to give him any money, according to WRC reported.
Slaughter muttered various expletives as he turned away, at which point Agent Valdivia told him to “watch your mouth,” WRC reported.
“It was over until Valdivia couldn’t let it go,” Assistant State’s Attorney John Lalos said during closing arguments on Friday, according to the news outlet.
Slaughter then turned back towards the agent and started to advance on him, ignoring Agent Valdivia’s repeated warnings to back up.
A 911 recording revealed that a bystander who reported the incident told the operator that the man was told to stay back, but that he refused and instead prepared himself to fight, WRC reported.
“The FBI agent said: ‘Move away. I’m an FBI agent. Back away,'” the bystander said in the 911 recording. “The other gentleman didn’t, dropped his bag, approached him to fight him.”
Bonsib noted that Slaughter later acknowledged he threatened to throw Agent Valdivia into a wall during the incident, WTOP reported.
As the situation escalated, the off-duty agent pulled out his 9mm handgun and shot Slaughter from two or three feet away, according to WRC.
Bonsib said Agent Valdivia believed he was about to be attacked and that he fired the weapon to protect himself.
“He believes what he did was necessary,” he said, according to WRC. “There was no intent to kill. He had 15 rounds. He only used two. His intent was to protect himself.”
Lalos told the jury the agent overreacted.
“You don’t get to shoot people for hurting your feelings. He never touched him. There was no immediate threat,” the prosecutor declared, according to WRC. “This was not a reasonable response. He had options. He chose the most serious.”
Slaughter survived the shooting, but had surgery to his pancreas, colon, and spleen as a result of his injuries, WRC reported.
Bonsib said during the trial that Slaughter has a lengthy criminal history and was known to police due to his violent and unpredictable behavior.
Slaughter also allegedly attacked and threatened to kill another person at a Metro station back in 2019, WRC reported.
“Just a panhandler? Yeah, right,” Bonsib said during the trial. “He’s every commuter’s nightmare.”
Agent Valdivia’s attorney said his client never should have been prosecuted in the first place, WTOP reported.
“It befuddles me today to understand why (Valdivia) had to go through this for two years,” Bonsib added.
Agent Valdivia was suspended without pay by the FBI after the incident, WRC reported.
“It’s two years of a life that he can’t get back,” Bonsib told WJLA. “He’s still an agent. He’s going to go back and do what he’s always done.”
FBI Agents Association (FBIAA) President Brian O’Hare said he was pleased to learn Agent Valdivia has been cleared of all charges, FOX News reported.
“He and his family have had the FBIAA’s full support throughout this difficult 18-month legal process,” O’Hare said. “FBI Special Agents place their lives on the line every day, and SSA Valdivia’s actions in this incident were an example of the difficult, split-second decisions that are required to protect the public and ourselves.”
“As we have said from the beginning, this incident was a case of a law enforcement official performing his duties properly, and with integrity and professionalism,” he added.
Montgomery County State’s Attorney John McCarthy said that the case was not an easy one to prosecute, WTOP reported.
“The victim was unarmed. He never touched the defendant, as you can see from the video,” McCarthy said, according to WJLA.
He said he was disappointed by the jury’s verdict, but that he respects their decision.