ACLU Sues FBI, Carmen Ortiz for Details on Ibragim Todashev Shooting

Among other things, the Massachusetts ACLU suit would compel the FBI to release audio and video recordings of what the agency has described as Todashev’s confession to his and Tamerlan Tsarnaev’s roles in a triple murder in Waltham.

The Massachusetts chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union is suing the Federal Bureau of Investigation and U.S. Attorney Carmen Ortiz in the hopes of uncovering new information relating to the FBI’s shooting of Ibragim Todashev, a man who was a friend of Boston Marathon bomber Tamerlan Tsarnaev and, the FBI alleges, was an accomplice of Tsarnaev’s in the September 11, 2011, murders of three men in Waltham. Last month, a report by the Department of Justice and another report by Florida state attorney Jeff Ashton cleared a Boston-based FBI agent of any wrongdoing in Todashev’s death.

Among other things, the Massachusetts ACLU suit, filed Thursday under the Freedom of Information Act, would compel the FBI to release audio and video recordings of what the agency has described as Todashev’s confession to his and Tsarnaev’s roles in the vicious killings of the three men in Waltham. The FBI claims that after making a spoken confession, Todashev was in the middle of writing a confession when he suddenly attacked his interrogators—a Boston FBI agent and a Massachusetts state trooper—and was shot seven times by the FBI agent.

The ACLUM suit also asks for the release of documents that describe how the agency collaborates with state and local law enforcement agencies, as well as documents that describe how the FBI-led Joint Terrorism Task Force (JTTF) operates. “The Massachusetts JTTF conducts hundreds of investigations in Massachusetts every year,” the suit claims, yet “[t]he federal government’s collaboration with Massachusetts state and local police, especially through the JTTF, has for years been shrouded in secrecy.” The suit asks for documents that show “the number and type of investigations carried out by the Boston FBI Field office,” as well as “documents concerning the Massachusetts Joint Terrorism Task Force, including how it functions, how its authority is divided and shared, and what safeguards are in place to ensure the civil liberties of the persons it targets.”

The ACLUM says Todashev’s killing brought up questions about the chain of command when local, state, and federal law enforcement work together. “We are concerned about what happens when federal and state law enforcement collaborate,” says Laura Rótolo, staff council for the ACLUM. “What are the protocols?”

“It’s clear when something goes wrong, we don’t know who’s in charge,” adds Rótolo.

The suit also asks, specifically, for information about Todashev’s killing. The suit focuses on what it refers to as the “Massachusetts Investigative Team” that went to question Todashev in his Orlando apartment. That team, it claims, was made up of the Boston FBI agent and the two Massachusetts state troopers—“at least one of whom may have been assigned to the JTTF,” the suit states.

“When law enforcement officials kill someone in his own home, the public deserves to know who was there, why and under what authority. But the JTTF’s opacity prevents the public from getting these answers,” the ACLU states in the suit.
“We’ve called repeatedly for [Massachusetts Attorney General] Martha Coakley to investigate, at least to what the State Troopers are doing,” says Rótolo. Coakley has repeatedly stated that the shooting—even though it involved two Massachusetts State Troopers—is out of her jurisdiction.

The ACLUM had previously filed a FOIA request to the FBI and Ortiz’s office last December, asking for the same information. Last January, citing an ongoing criminal investigation, the FBI denied ACLUM’s requests. The ACLU appealed that decision on March 12. Ortiz, however, has yet to formally acknowledge she received the ACLUM’s request. By law, public officials are required to respond to FOIA requests in 20 days, Rótolo says.

Although the Department of Justice and Florida state attorney’s reports cleared the FBI’s officer in Todashev’s shooting, those reports raised more questions about the chain of command in the investigation, ACLUM said in a statement.

“Why did the officers fail to abide by their collective decision to keep three officers in the room at all times?” asks in the ACLUM in the suit. Only one trooper and one FBI agent were in the room at the time that Todashev was shot. “Why did no one canvass Todashev’s neighbors until more than six months after the shooting? Why was the Florida investigator prevented from talking to the FBI agent?”
The Florida attorney’s report revealed that in the days after the shooting, neither the FBI nor the Massachusetts Assistant District attorney were aware that the Massachusetts state troopers in the room had digitally recorded a part of their interview with Todashev in which he allegedly implicated himself and Tsarnaev in the murders. “To date, the chain of command and oversight during this investigation remains unclear,” the ACLUM said in a statement.

Reached by phone, spokespersons from the FBI and from Ortiz’s office declined to comment on the ACLUM’s suit.