Florida State Attorney Clears FBI and Mass. State Trooper in Death of Ibragim Todashev
In clearing an FBI agent and a Massachusetts state trooper of wrongdoing in the shooting death of Ibragim Todashev, Florida State Attorney Jeffrey L. Ashton said the officers were forced to shoot Todashev after he attacked them with a pole during an interrogation on May 22, 2013, in Todashev’s Orlando home. But even as he states that there was no misconduct, Ashton also seemed to question whether law enforcement officers should ever bear responsibility for “poor judgement” at all.
“He was, at his core, a fearless fighter,” Ashton writes. “Regardless of how beaten he was, [Todashev] simply didn’t have any quit in him. Perhaps on this occasion, he simply reverted to that basic aspect of his personality and chose to go down fighting.”
Todashev, a friend of Boston marathon bombing suspect Tamerlan Tsarnaev, had been under FBI surveillance since a few days after manhunt that shut down the city. Boston magazine has reported that agents questioned Todashev and his girlfriend Tatiana Gruzdeva many times in the month that followed, finally taking Gruzdeva into custody on an expired visa after she stopped cooperating.
Six days after her incarceration, agents asked to speak with Todashev again. This time, Ashton writes, “as a result of events that had occurred unrelated to their visit,” Todashev wouldn’t meet with them at a “secure location” but asked that they come to his house.
“They were aware he was a skilled Mixed Martial Arts fighter,” Ashton writes, noting that agents had watched videos of Todashev’s matches. FBI officers tailing Todashev had even stood by, watching as Todashev beat a man bloody and unconscious in a fight over a parking space, Ashton’s report confirms.
Nonetheless, Ashton writes, two Massachusetts state troopers and a Boston-based FBI agent decided that “the risks of meeting him in an unsecured environment were outweighed by the potential benefits of obtaining his cooperation in their investigation.”
These officers weren’t there to talk about the bombings. Instead, Ashton writes, they questioned Todashev for four and a half hours, a “discussion that eventually lead Mr. Todashev to admit some involvemnt in the triple homicide that was under investigation.” The FBI has previously said that Todashev implicated himself and Tsarnaev in the unsolved 2011 Waltham murders of three young men, and Ashton writes that to Todashev made statements to the officers that night “indicating an expectation of arrest, prosecution and probable incarceration.”
Todashev sat down on a mattress in front of a coffee table in the living room area to write a statement. One of the state troopers stepped out of the room.
Then, he writes, while neither the remaining trooper nor the agents were looking at Todashev, “the coffee table is suddenly propelled into the air,” striking the agent on the back of the head and knocking him to the ground. (Ashton adds that DNA analysis of blood on the coffee table confirmed that it belonged to the FBI agent.) Todashev ran toward the kitchen “and is heard rustling through draws [sic] or cabinets as if searching for something.”
With “blood pouring from the wound on his head,” Ashton writes, the FBI agent got to his feet and drew his gun; the trooper also had his weapon out as Todashev emerged brandishing a pole over his head “in the style of a javelin.”
The agent fired three to four shots, Ashton writes. Todashev dropped to his knees, but then “immediately sprung at the officers in what the [trooper] described as a low angled lunge.” The agent fired another three to four shots. Todashev was dead.
Ashton writes that he was “concern[ed]” when he heard that Todashev’s wounds showed he had been shot in the back, but said that it was explained to his satisfaction by the low-lunge posture described by the agents. “It is always treacherous to draw to [sic] strong a conclusion from the precise angle of entry of any single gunshot wound,” he warns. “The human body is far too flexible and movements too unpredictable to make any definitive conclustions.”
Ashton concluded, “There is no evidence in this instance indicating the use of poor judgement by the agent involved.” But he also quoted from what he called an “instructive” unrelated court decision that questions “whether a law enforcement officer should ever be … criminally responsible for using poor judgement.”
“An officer … should not be burdened with the knowledge that if he overreacts to the real or imagined dangers he may be committing a crime, especially when those who judge his actions do so with the benefit of perfect hindsight and from a position of safety,” the quote reads.