Privacy SOS

Government reports on Todashev killing raise more questions than provide answers

Yesterday, Florida state attorney Jeffrey Ashton released a 161-page report on the fatal FBI shooting of Ibragim Todashev, clearing government officials of wrongdoing. On the same day, the Department of Justice’s Office of Civil Rights and Civil Liberties released a 16-page summary of its findings. The DOJ, like the Florida prosecutor, "determined that the evidence does not reveal a violation of the applicable federal criminal civil rights statutes or warrant further federal criminal investigation." (At least one reporter has observed that the two reports don’t exactly match up.)

Here are the undisputed facts: In the early hours of May 22, 2013, after a four-hour plus interrogation, Todashev lay dead on his living room floor, having been shot seven times. At the scene were two Massachusetts State Troopers, one FBI agent from the Boston field office, and an Orlando police officer working with the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force in central Florida.

Everything else appears much more muddled, despite the Florida prosecutor and DOJ’s assertions to the contrary. And it was muddled from the start. Initial reports from the law enforcement agencies on scene claimed at turns that Todashev had, after calmly submitting to an interrogation that lasted over four hours, suddenly flipped out and attacked the two officials in the room with him. After attacking the law officers with a knife/pipe/broom/stick/sword/table, Todashev was killed when the FBI agent in the room shot him seven times.

Things are no clearer today, despite the release of the Florida report. Indeed, the report, which basically settles on the table-as-weapon theory, raises more questions than it answers—perhaps foremost among them why the FBI agent who reportedly fired all seven shots was never interviewed for the investigation. As criminal justice professor Tom Nolan told WBUR,

It reminds me of the bizarro world. I mean, this would have been any prosecutor in the United States, [interviewing the shooter] would have been the first order of business. If we have somebody involved in a death investigation, let’s get that person in and let’s conduct an interview. And if it leads into a direction where there might be some criminal responsibility, we change that to an interrogation and we’ve got it videotaped and audiotaped. We don’t have any of that here.

The FBI agent who reportedly killed Todashev was never interviewed during the investigation into the shooting, so there is no recording of that non-interview. But there are other recordings. According to the Florida prosecutor’s report, the Massachusetts official in the room with Todashev during the interview that led to his killing actually did record some of the interrogation. He stopped recording, we are told, right before the altercation that led to Todashev’s death.

Here in Massachusetts, we are left with more questions than we had two days ago, despite the publication of the lengthy Florida report.

Among them: Who were the State Troopers on the scene at the interrogation? Were they working for the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force? Or were they assigned to a drug unit that had been investigating (or not investigating) a gruesome triple murder in Waltham, which took place on the tenth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, and for which the FBI says marathon suspect Tamerlan Tsarnaev and his friend Ibragim Todashev were responsible? Who was overseeing this investigation? Was the corporal of the Massachusetts State Police at the top of the chain of command, or was it the FBI? Who is running the Waltham investigation now, state or federal officials? And why, if the government claims Tamerlan Tsarnaev and Ibragim Todashev were responsible for the slayings, does the investigation continue to this day?

We need answers to these questions, and we need them from Massachusetts officials. Attorney general Martha Coakley is a fine investigator; she should put her considerable talents to use here.

Unfortunately, thus far, the Massachusetts attorney general has claimed that she doesn’t have the authority to do her own investigation. Does that mean Massachusetts cops don’t answer to the state’s top law enforcement official when they are following up on leads outside the physical boundaries of the Commonwealth? If that’s so, who is responsible for the conduct of these police officers? Where does the buck stop, if not here?

© 2019 ACLU of Massachusetts.