Evidence in kidnapping case against Army vet had massive flaws. BCSO charged him anyway.

All criminal charges against Juan “Tony” Valdez rejected months after his arrest outside Northwest Side home

SAN ANTONIO – Juan “Tony” Valdez expressed disbelief as he sat handcuffed in the back of a Bexar County Sheriff’s vehicle on the evening of November 18.

An argument with his girlfriend, Melanie Hagner, ended with Valdez being charged with two felonies: kidnapping and burglary of a habitation, as well as misdemeanor family violence.

Melanie Hagner speaks with a BCSO deputy on Nov. 18. (KSAT)

A quick glance at the BCSO arrest records for Valdez, a former Army medic, would lead one to believe that he would serve time in prison for a disturbance that began outside of his truck near Shaenfield Road and culminated at Hagner’s home.

But the case was not clear cut and though the charges have now been dropped, Valdez’s life was turned upside down, he and his attorney told KSAT.

Issues with evidence

Body-worn camera footage recorded by Deputy Adam Moreno showed Hagner’s garage door badly damaged.

Hagner told the deputy Valdez dragged her into his truck after she ran away from him and then hit her, before attempting to break into her home after again dragging her out of the truck.

Two women who witnessed the altercation near the neighborhood said Hagner jumped out of the truck as if her life depended on it.

But a thorough examination by KSAT Investigates of the body-worn camera footage and investigative reports raises questions about how the case was handled.

Hagner, a St. Mary’s University School of Law student, recited portions of the Texas penal code while Moreno talked through what charges to possibly file against Valdez, body camera footage shows.

Moreno also continued to tell supervisors that Valdez dragged Hagner, even after both eyewitnesses told him Valdez had not done so.

Moreno’s supervisors seemed to express skepticism about the level of charges he wanted to file against Valdez.

“I just don’t know if it reaches the level of kidnapping,” an investigator is heard telling Moreno during a phone call recorded on the deputy’s body camera.

She then points out during the phone call that Moreno’s discussion of filing a charge of aggravated kidnapping, a first-degree felony, is off-target because Valdez did not have a weapon.

A supplemental BCSO investigator’s report, written more than two months after Valdez was arrested, revealed that Hagner was the one driving the truck because Valdez hurt his knee while trying to retrieve his phone from her.

The report states that both Hagner and Valdez took part in the disturbance and that an eyewitness claimed Hagner could have left but did not.

Court records from a 2019 divorce proceeding involving Hagner additionally reveal that the garage door was previously damaged and that Hagner had attempted to get $500 in damages for it.

“I am just stunned at how this is working. Kidnapping, bodily injury? I just wanted to go home, sir. Like, I don’t want a relationship with her. I am trying to run away from her,” Valdez told Moreno on the deputy’s body camera, shortly before they drove to jail.

‘I feel betrayed. I feel betrayed by the system.’

Valdez, who had no previous criminal record, picked up a fourth criminal charge in January after Hagner showed up at his apartment while he was on house arrest, San Antonio Police records show.

Even though Valdez left the apartment and called the police, SAPD officers determined Valdez had violated a protective order put in place after the November incident by allowing Hagner to spend time there.

“I feel betrayed. I feel betrayed by the system,” said Valdez.

He denied dragging or hitting Hagner during the November incident and said he got out of his truck to run after her only because she had taken his cell phone.

Valdez said he suffered a tibia-fibula fracture and a torn meniscus during the incident.

BCSO records show Valdez was “medically rejected” when first brought to the jail because of his knee injury, and was formally charged only after being treated at University Hospital.

Valdez told KSAT he and Hagner had broken up a day before the incident, after dating for a few months, but that he had agreed to stay at her home and help her prepare meals before going to the gym to work out together.

Valdez, a weightlifter, said he opened Hagner’s garage door after she drove them to her home and ran inside with his truck keys.

He said the door was previously damaged and it was not his intent for it to come off of its rails.

“I just want out of this relationship,” Valdez said while recalling the incident, adding that he was attempting to get his keys and emotional support dog from Hagner so that he could drive to a Veterans Affairs hospital to get his knee injury diagnosed.

“This woman is going to destroy me. She’s going to destroy me because I don’t want to be with her. It’s about control,” said Valdez.

Reached for comment by KSAT, Hagner sent a multitude of text messages but declined to comment on the record for this story.

‘Every day is a new event for us, Dillon.’

On April 13, the same day Valdez and defense attorney Joe Hoelscher interviewed with KSAT, Bexar County prosecutors rejected all four criminal cases against Valdez.

A spokesman for the Bexar County District Attorney’s Office said the decision was made after the attorney assigned to the cases reviewed a transcript of an earlier protective order hearing.

“Our office has a professional responsibility to use due diligence in the investigation of each case to determine whether to pursue indictment and conviction. Part of our due diligence efforts include the review of all available evidence known to the office,” DA spokesman Pete Gallego said via email.

Bexar County prosecutors rejected all four criminal charges against Valdez earlier this month. (KSAT)

Hoelscher did not hold back in his criticism of both the DA’s office and BCSO, since the criminal charges against his client had remained pending for nearly five months.

“People who are in the family violence world, right, should know better than to let the system be used against a victim. It’s the worst possible outcome,” said Hoelscher, who also represents Valdez in several civil actions stemming from the November incident.

“I think he (Moreno) felt challenged by Tony, who was denying what happened and maybe he felt that was a threat to his authority,” said Hoelscher. “He (Moreno) spoke to the night mag (magistrate) assistant district attorney. She told him not to bring the felony charges. He wrote them up as felony charges, and when he brought them to the same person later, she rubberstamped it and put it in front of a judge who rubberstamped it.”

In a written statement released to KSAT, BCSO officials this month defended their handling of the case against Valdez:

“The Bexar County Sheriff‘s Office takes every domestic violence claim seriously, and will file and pursue appropriate charges in the interest of justice for victims. In this particular case, victim statements, as well as that of a corroborating witness, led to the decision to make an arrest. The BCSO considers this an ongoing case and reserves the right to reopen the case and file other charges if additional evidence comes to light.”

Several civil cases filed as well

Representing herself, Hagner in February filed a small claims lawsuit against Valdez seeking payment for her damaged property and the return of some of her belongings.

In late March, Hagner filed for divorce from Valdez, even though they were never married.

Valdez said he and Hagner dated for less than four months.

His legal counsel said Hagner accessed Valdez’s automobile insurance policy, adding herself and changing Valdez’s marital status to “married.”

The incident took place a week after Valdez was first arrested in November, paperwork obtained by KSAT shows.

Additionally, KSAT obtained records showing an iPhone 14 was purchased through Valdez’s cell phone account on April 10 and scheduled to be shipped to Hagner’s home.

The order was placed on hold because the account had a balance due, records show.

A notice of non-suit was filed in the divorce case on April 18, meaning Hagner is no longer moving forward with it.

Hagner, however, has also filed a motion for sanctions against Hoelscher, accusing him of “professional misconduct.”

Tony Valdez (left) and defense attorney Joe Hoelscher (right). (KSAT)

“Every day is a new event for us, Dillon. We never know what’s going to get filed in court,” said Hoelscher. “There is no aspect of Tony’s life that is untouched by Melanie Hanger, because she’s acting like a lawyer and has access to his personal information.”

Hagner no-showed earlier this month for a hearing related to a protective order she is seeking against Valdez.

Information was provided to the court during the hearing that Hagner had overslept.

Records show Family Violence Prevention Services provided legal assistance to Hagner during a previous divorce case.

A spokeswoman for FVPS, however, told KSAT the agency could not take this current case because Valdez was granted a protective order against Hagner and because she was represented at one point by an attorney.

A St. Mary’s University official confirmed Hagner is enrolled in its law school but declined to release her anticipated graduation date.

A San Antonio family attorney confirmed to KSAT that she terminated Hagner from her summer clerk position after a charge on a client’s credit card was traced back to Hagner.

Hagner has not been criminally charged in connection to her prior employment or for her interactions with Valdez.

Hagner still listed herself as a clerk for the law firm as of April 1, email records obtained by KSAT Investigates show.

The family attorney asked that her name and the name of her law firm not be shown in this story.

KSAT could find no records showing Moreno has been implicated in any acts of professional misconduct in connection with his handling of the BCSO investigation of Valdez.

About the Authors

Emmy-award winning reporter Dillon Collier joined KSAT Investigates in September 2016. Dillon's investigative stories air weeknights on the Nightbeat and on the Six O'Clock News. Dillon is a two-time Houston Press Club Journalist of the Year and a Texas Associated Press Broadcasters Reporter of the Year.

Joshua Saunders is an Emmy award-winning photographer/editor who has worked in the San Antonio market for the past 20 years. Joshua works in the Defenders unit, covering crime and corruption throughout the city.

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