An agency that investigates itself will almost always clear itself. The FBI, which still allows interviews of suspects to be “memorialized” with pen-and-paper recollections by the interviewer, is allowed to handle its own internal investigations of deadly force deployment. Unsurprisingly, FBI agents are rarely found to have acted inappropriately.
New FBI data obtained exclusively by NBC News shows the bureau found fault with the actions of agents five times in 228 shooting incidents from 2011 to the present. Eighty-one were intentional shootings involving people or objects, 34 were intentional shootings of animals, and 113 were accidental discharges.
The large number of cleared incidents quite possibly includes this list of questionable shootings:
In August, an FBI agent was acquitted of federal criminal charges that he lied about firing his weapon in a 2016 standoff with right-wing extremists in Oregon. The FBI declined to comment on any disciplinary investigation.
In June, an FBI agent — off-duty but armed with a handgun — accidentally shot someone in a Denver nightclub after he did a backflip that dislodged his weapon. He pleaded guilty to third degree assault and was sentenced to two years probation. The FBI would not discuss his status at the bureau.
In 2016, an FBI agent shot a 31-year-old man during a military-style raid to serve a warrant on a different person. The FBI says the man was armed; his family, which has filed a wrongful death lawsuit, disputes that and adds that he was blind in one eye and disabled. The FBI declined to comment on the case.
In 2015, the FBI terminated an agent who fired his weapon from a second-story apartment in Queens, shooting an unarmed man as he tried to burglarize the agent’s car on the street below.
It’s impossible to say if any of these might be one of the five incidents the FBI found problematic. The agency refused to comment on any of these shootings when questioned by NBC.
Very little information can be obtained by those seeking to hold the FBI responsible for wounding them or killing their loved ones. Even as the FBI has tentatively encouraged other law enforcement agencies to be more proactive in releasing information about officer-involved shootings, it hasn’t applied the same level of transparency to its internal investigations. What has been released is heavily-redacted, giving readers little to work with but a few raw numbers.
This is especially of concern to Junior Valladares, whose father was shot by an FBI agent during a hostage situation in Houston, Texas. His father was the hostage. According to the FBI, an agent poked a gun through a window to try to shoot the man holding Junior’s father hostage. The gun was grabbed by someone in the room, resulting in the agent firing two shots into the room. One of those two bullets struck and killed Ulises Valladares, who was tied up on the couch.
The hostage was the only person in the room, and the FBI went on record as stating it was the hostage who grabbed the rifle. It seems like an unlikely thing for a bound hostage to do, but the FBI has stuck to this story. Houston police chief Art Acevedo — who is dealing with the fallout from a botched raid himself — stated at a news conference last fall he no longer believes the FBI’s narrative. It’s unclear what Acevedo has seen that has changed his mind, but at this same news conference he called out the FBI for allowing the investigation to drag on for months, denying Valladares’ son any closure.
Law enforcement agencies have proven time and time again they can’t be trusted to police themselves. The FBI is no exception.