A jury recently found a veteran FBI agent guilty of assault after a three-day trial in the Montgomery County Circuit Court last week. The charges stemmed from an incident involving the custody exchange of a child, where the father was allegedly two hours late. A bystander captured the entire incident on a cellphone camera, which ultimately led to the agent being indicted for felony first degree assault, use of a firearm in a crime of violence, and misdemeanor second degree assault. Video shows that the agent, a friend of the mother of the child, was angry with the father for being late and repeatedly called him disrespectful. The agent, who was off duty and dressed in plain clothes, kept pressing the father and followed him outside of a Chevy Chase apartment building to continue to voice his displeasure. During the argument a 15 year-old boy intervened and questioned why the agent was getting involved, as he was not part of the family. At that point the agent suddenly struck the boy with and open hand to the chest that sent him tumbling down to the sidewalk on his back. As the boy picked himself up the off duty agent then attempted to place him under arrest. A brief struggled ensued, but ended quickly when the agent pulled out a handgun and threatened to shoot the boy if he didn’t comply.
After receiving a copy of the video the State’s Attorney decided to present the case to a grand jury, which ended up finding probable cause to charge the agent with the three aforementioned offenses. The jury sitting in the trial court did not feel the evidence warranted convictions for the two felony offenses and acquitted the defendant on the most serious counts. But the jury agreed with the state of Maryland that the evidence supported a finding of guilt for second degree assault, as the agent had no legal authority and no defense for striking the boy. The agent’s lawyer argued unsuccessfully that the agent felt imminently threatened by the 15 year-old boy, and therefore struck him in self-defense. But the jury saw through this argument, which was hardly supported by the video.
As the verdict was announced the agent, a 20 year veteran of the FBI and current high ranking counterterrorism officer, became faint and had to be transported from the courtroom by ambulance. The case was reset until this week to deal with post-verdict matters such as setting a sentencing date and deciding whether the defendant will be allowed to keep his firearms. In Maryland a person convicted of a crime of violence such as assault is not permitted to possess a firearm. Although the defendant has been found guilty, he has not been convicted. The judge could impose a probation before judgment, which would not be considered a conviction at the January sentencing date. The Blog will track this case and may post a follow up article after the sentencing hearing, which is bound to be a tense affair. If the agent is adjudicated guilty it’s hard to see how he could remain an active duty federal law enforcement officer. But the FBI will make its own decision on that matter, and will not likely offer any explanation either way. Discipline from his employer as well as from the court seems like a given though, due to the agent’s embarrassing and violent outburst. As a law enforcement officer he was supposed to keep the peace, but instead the agent provoked a situation and ended up assaulting a private citizen, who happened to be a 15 year-old boy no less.
Benjamin Herbst is a Maryland criminal defense lawyer who specializes in assault cases and other violent crimes. Contact Benjamin for a free consultation anytime at 410-207-2598.
FBI agent guilty of assault in an incident caught on cellphone video, washingtonpost.com.