83ºF

Federal judge denies FBI agent’s motion to be dismissed from botched 2018 rescue that left man dead

HOUSTON – A Federal District Court Judge denied an FBI agent’s motion to be dismissed from a case in which the agent shot and killed a hostage victim.

In 2018, the victim and his 12-year-old son were bound and duct-taped by two men. Court documents indicated that the two men then kidnapped the father, holding him hostage. When the FBI responded, an agent shot and killed the father who was being held hostage, officials say. Two years later, the family is still searching for answers.

What happened?

In Jan. 2018, 47-year-old Ulises Valladares was approached by two men asking about his brother’s whereabouts, according to court documents. The men eventually gagged and duct-taped Valladares and his son. Court documents also reveal the men kidnapped Valladares, taking him to another home, and held him hostage for ransom. The 12-year-old son was eventually able to break free and call police. The FBI was called to the scene to help rescue Valladares but in the attempt to rescue him, he was shot by an FBI agent.

An FBI agent, whose identity still remains anonymous, shot and killed Valladares, leaving the 12-year-old boy orphaned.

RELATED: Family sues FBI for shooting, killing kidnapped victim in failed rescue mission 2 years ago

Latest developments

Nearly 2.5 years after the incident, the Valladares family is still looking for answers. The FBI agent has yet to be identified.

That agent filed a motion to be dismissed from the case, citing “qualified immunity,” but Federal District Court Judge Kenneth Hoyt ultimately denied the motion on June 28, asserting in his ruling that the agent’s act was “objectively unreasonable” and stating that “the facts in this case are undisputed... all reasonable officers would have known that the act of shooting ‘blindly’ through a window at an unidentified person violates the Constitution.”

The decision also states, “clearly, a person has a right under the federal Constitution to not be murdered...No reasonable officer would have fired his weapon...particularly [when] not engaged in a ‘fire fight.’”

Looking for accountability

Valladares’ son is now in the care of by Valladares’ half-sister, Brooke Pearce, who is working with Valladares’ mother to demand accountability in his death.

“This isn’t a citizen-on-citizen crime. This is a shooting between a trained agency officer with the FBI that should have the appropriate steps in training,” Pearce said.

Valladares' family is being represented by Houston Civil Rights attorney Randall Kallinen.

“At the very least it’s what’s called manslaughter, maybe murder and then there’s criminally negligent homicide and then there’s also aggravated assault with a deadly weapon,” Kallinen said in a press conference Tuesday. Watch the press conference below:

Posted by KPRC2 Rose-Ann Aragon on Tuesday, June 30, 2020

More on the investigation

“Tragically the autopsy report reveals that the bound Ulises was viciously, extensively tortured by his captors prior to being killed by the FBI. Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo had previously shed doubt on the FBI’s official story stating, cryptically, that the sequence of events as told by the FBI ‘is not supported by the totality of evidence and the statements in this investigation,’” Kallinen said.

Originally, the FBI had reported that Valladares had touched the weapon. However, subsequent investigations revealed Valladares was shot from afar.          

“The FBI failed to indict the killer. The FBI alleges it has a clean shooting record when investigating themselves including the last 150 FBI shootings in a row. It is now up to the Harris County District Attorney’s office to indict the FBI agent for murder, manslaughter, criminally negligent homicide, or aggravated assault.” Kallinen said.

What’s next?

Now the family is looking to the Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg’s office for answers and for an indictment. DA’s office spokesperson Dane Schiller issued the following statement to KPRC 2:

“We share the family’s frustration. Houston-based federal authorities took control of the scene of the shooting, removed all the evidence, and literally left our Civil Rights prosecutors on the outside looking in. The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Texas later exercised its sovereignty to review the incident, then determined it should recuse itself to avoid any conflict of interest, and placed the matter in the hands of authorities based in San Antonio.

Those authorities late last year handed the case to our Civil Rights Division for the first time without explanation or charges being filed. As you know, Our Civil Rights Division is the same unit investigating the Houston Police shootings at Harding Street.

It is our policy that in every instance in which a person is killed at the hands of a police agency, that our prosecutors go to the scene, that they independently review all the evidence, and that the present all of the evidence to a grand jury to determine if criminal charges are warranted.

Grand jury investigations are currently backed up due to COVID, as is just about everything in the criminal justice system. As soon as grand juries are back in full swing, we’ll be able to confirm whether we do indeed have all the evidence so that grand jurors can make an informed decision as to whether any charges are warranted. The family and the people of Harris County deserve nothing less.”

KPRC also reached out to the Houston FBI division. A spokesperson issued the following statement: 

“Due to a pending investigation and litigation related to this case, the FBI cannot comment.”