It’s Been One Year Since the FBI Killed Ibragim Todashev
Ibragim Todashev was shot to death one year ago today. At the time, the vague, piecemeal reports of his death trickling out of the FBI added another layer of mystery to a story that had already transfixed Boston: the marathon bombings. Todashev had come to the attention of the FBI because he was a friend of bombing suspect Tamerlan Tsarnaev. But leaked FBI sources said that just before he was killed, Todashev had connected himself and Tsarnaev to another crime: a 2011 triple murder in Waltham.
Today, we know much more about what happened in Todashev’s Orlando apartment that fatal night. A report released by Florida State Attorney Jeff Ashton’s office unleashed a wealth of information, including interviews and statements from the law enforcement officials involved in the shooting: two Massachusetts state troopers and the FBI special agent who shot Todashev dead. An error Ashton’s office made while formatting the report also allowed news organizations such as the Boston Globe to learn these officer’s names.
But every detail we have learned about Todashev’s death seems to raise more haunting questions. Currently, the Massachusetts chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, the Florida chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev’s lawyers, the Boston Globe and even the agent who shot Todashev, have all asked that the FBI release more information on the case. And the investigation into the Waltham murders is still open. A rare statement from the Middlesex County District Attorney’s office seems to indicate that detectives are still searching for more suspects: “Identifying all parties responsible for that terrible incident remains a top priority.”
When the FBI first made contact with Todashev, days after the bombings, they were looking for information about his friend Tamerlan Tsarnaev. But after a month of interrogations, clandestine surveillance, and the detainment of Todashev’s girlfriend, state troopers Joel Gagne and Curtis Cinelli, along with Boston-based Special Agent Aaron MacFarlane, travelled to Orlando to interview him in connection to the Waltham case. One of the victims, Brendan Mess, had been Tamerlan’s close friend, and there had already been speculation that the Tsarnaev brother was involved in the killings.
That suspicion had spread to Todashev, who was considered a “person of interest” in the case.
“We didn’t have anything concrete at that point, that, that tied him to the homicide,” said Gagne, according to the Ashton report. “It was more his reluctance to acknowledge that he was in the Boston area in the early week of September .”
The officers’ mission in interviewing Todashev wasn’t necessarily to make an arrest, but to, “either confirm or dispel any type of involvement,” said Curtis Cinelli, the other Massachusetts State Trooper who was there.
Hours into the interview, Todashev did eventually admit some involvement. “I’m telling you I was involved in it, okay, I, I had no idea [Tsarnaev] gonna kill anyone,” the report quotes him as telling the officers. Todashev said that he and Tsarnaev had planned to rob the drug-dealer victims of $40,000, not to kill them. A blood-splattered copy of Todashev’s unfinished handwritten confession, obtained by Boston magazine, expands on that quote, but also raises more questions: Todashev apparently wrote that when he and Tamerlan confronted their victims, they “put them on the ground,” and “taped their hands up.” But the bodies at the scene did not have their hands bound.
And Todashev’s account fails to explain why Tamerlan would rob and murder his friend and sparring partner Brendan Mess and leave $5,000 behind at the scene. He mentions pointing a gun at the victims, but they weren’t shot to death—instead, their throats were slit.
Recent reports by the Boston Globe about McFarlane have raised new questions as well. In his former job as an Oakland police officer, McFarlane was the subject of two police brutality suits and four internal investigations, the Globe reported. In an editorial, the Globe demanded that the FBI release the tapes of Todashev’s confession. “The official accounts of Todashev’s shooting can no longer simply be accepted as complete and reliable. Ending the secrecy around the tapes would be a good first step to restore confidence.”
McFarlane himself apparently told a supervisor that he wanted the tapes released. “It would be nice if we released the video because it would refute many of the press’ allegations,” the Ashton report quotes him as saying.
CAIR-FL has also filed a Freedom of Information Act request for the digital recordings of the interview that night. “We’re just beginning to unravel the level of negligence and mistakes on behalf of the FBI,” says director Hassan Shibly. Most recently, the ACLU has filed a suit against the FBI and US Attorney Carmen Ortiz, alleging that their FOIAs have been ignored.
If we hear anything new about Todashev’s death and the Waltham murder, it could be from Dzhokhar Tsarnaev’s lawyers this fall. Dzhokhar faces a trial and potential capital punishment, his lawyers have twice requested—and been denied—information about the investigation into the Waltham murder investigation. “Tamerlan’s having committed a gruesome triple murder—and having included a “close friend” among the victims—would powerfully support the inference that Dzhokhar experienced his older brother as an all-powerful force who could not be ignored or disobeyed,” they wrote in a motion. It’s ironic that in defending one alleged murderer, they could bring closure to the families of the victims of another.