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FBI agent acquitted of attempted murder in shooting of Metro passenger

An FBI agent was acquitted of attempted second-degree murder and other counts Friday by a Maryland jury that found he was justified in shooting a panhandler who had confronted him aboard a moving Metro train outside Washington, D.C.

Eduardo Valdivia, 38, slowly nodded his head as the verdict was announced. He had faced as much as 40 years if convicted on the most serious charge. His family and supporters in the courtroom began crying as the verdict was read.

The four-day trial, held in Montgomery County Circuit Court, turned on surveillance video from the interior of a Red Line train on Dec. 15, 2020 — and whether the agent’s use of deadly force was justified in self-defense or was an overreaction that escalated too quickly.

On that morning, Valdivia was seated in a nearly empty train around 6:30 a.m. when he was approached by a man who was panhandling and got into a verbal altercation with him. The men eventually stood facing each other, just inches apart, with Valdivia’s back against an end of the train car. The two exchanged words that were not picked up by the recording.

An FBI agent shot another passenger on a moving train. Was it a crime?

But during the trial, Valdivia’s attorney, Robert Bonsib, established at least part of what the passenger told the agent — doing so through the questioning of a detective who had interviewed the passenger.

“I’ll throw you through this wall,” the man said during the encounter, according to trial testimony.

The man’s threats and aggressive posture, according to Bonsib, were enough to convince the agent he could get his gun taken and turned on him.

“Maryland law permits anybody — any ordinary guy on his way to work — to defend himself against the threat of imminent bodily harm,” Bonsib had told jurors.

Valdivia had spent years working undercover as an agent and could sense an imminent attack, his attorneys added.

The passenger did not testify. But Bonsib said the man was reputed to have a “propensity for violence” among Metro system police officers.

Prosecutors built their case around the notion that Valdivia, even if he felt threatened, failed to take steps to defuse the situation. He didn’t tell the man he was an FBI agent. He wasn’t willing to fight him physically, even though he had experience as a boxer and was trained in takedown tactics.

On a 911 call, a Metro passenger recounts seeing an FBI agent shoot another passenger aboard a Red Line train. (Video: Montgomery County Emergency Communications Center)

“He had no business firing a gun,” Assistant State’s Attorney Robert Hill told jurors.

The man Valdivia shot was struck in his torso and arm and spent five days in a hospital.

The jury began deliberating at about 12:30 p.m. and the verdict was returned after about 3:30 p.m. Several jurors approached after their verdict declined to comment.

Bonsib said one of the first decisions jurors would have had to make was whether his client was acting reasonably. He said that in his mind, the jury did, allowing the rest of the verdict to flow quickly from there.

“The jury agreed with us: There was nothing there,” Bonsib said.

Earlier coverage: Charges filed against agent for Metro shooting

“This case was never a case,” Bonsib said. “It should never have been brought. We said that from the very start.”

He said he generally respects the Montgomery County State’s Attorney’s Office. “They usually make good decisions, but in this case they blew it,” he said.

State’s Attorney John McCarthy defended the prosecution, speaking after the verdict about how he had studied the key piece of evidence before charges were brought.

“At the end of the day,” McCarthy said, “when I looked at the video, I saw an unarmed man who was holding on a rail on a train — so he’s got one hand occupied. He never touches the other man, who never identifies himself as a police officer before he takes out his weapon and shoots him basically at point-blank point range.”

McCarthy also noted that another passenger was sitting nearby, supporting one of the charges against the agent of reckless endangerment.

“I thought the video told us what we needed to know,” he said.

Bonsib said Valdivia, who is married with three children, has had to spend two years with heavy charges hanging over him. He hopes to return to active duty soon with the FBI.

“He wants to go back to his normal life,” Bonsib said.