Civil liberties advocates in Florida and Massachusetts are calling for investigations into the death of Ibragim Todashev, who was shot to death in Orlando while being interrogated by authorities in connection with the Boston Marathon bombing.
Todashev was being questioned during the early hours of May 22, when an incident occurred resulting in Todashev's death and non-life-threatening injuries to an FBI agent, according to a May 22 statement from the FBI, which did not disclose Todashev's name.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Florida this week called upon Florida Department of Law Enforcement Commissioner Gerald Bailey to conduct an investigation into the Orlando shooting.
"We are looking at it," an FDLE official told State House News Service.
"Florida officials are simply deferring to the FBI, allowing the FBI to investigate itself, but it is difficult to accept the FBI's honesty in this matter. The FBI has offered completely incompatible explanations, they have failed to explain how these inconsistent stories found their way into newspaper accounts of the shootings, and have not offered any clarifying comment about what really happened," ACLU of Florida Executive Director Howard Simon said in a statement. "Due to the widely varying explanations that have surfaced about the shooting and the involvement of Massachusetts and Florida law enforcement, officials in both states should conduct their own investigations."
The ACLU of Massachusetts made a similar request to the state's attorney general, alluding to the role of Massachusetts authorities in the interrogation.
"When something goes wrong during an operation involving Massachusetts law enforcement officers, Massachusetts residents deserve a thorough and transparent investigation by Massachusetts officials," ACLU of Massachusetts Executive Director Carol Rose wrote in a Monday letter to Attorney General Martha Coakley.
The FBI prevented the medical examiner from divulging the cause of death, and the federal government initiated the deportation of a potential witness, according to the ACLU. The FBI says the matter is still under investigation.
"There's a process in place already to address this. We've had a process in place for many years of how to respond to shootings," FBI spokesman Paul Bresson said.
Bresson said the process is to allow the FBI to gather the facts and evidence, and then distribute that information to "any prosecutor that wishes to review it."
Bresson said the FBI would not stand in the way if local law enforcement attempted to conduct its own investigation.
"We wouldn't interfere with that," said Bresson, who said the FBI would not proactively release the eventual report but would disclose "the gist of what's in the report."
Coakley's office has no plans at this time to investigate the case, and spokesman Brad Puffer noted the shooting occurred outside the office's jurisdiction.
"We have reviewed the letter from the ACLU. While the use of deadly force by law enforcement should be appropriately investigated, this particular incident happened in another state which is outside our jurisdiction," Puffer said in a statement.
Citing law enforcement sources, the news media has reported that Todashev was a friend of Tamerlan Tsarnaev – a suspected marathon bomber who died during an April 19 firefight with police in Watertown, Mass., --- and before his killing in Florida, Todashev had confessed to playing a role in a triple murder in Waltham, Mass., where the victims' bodies were covered in marijuana after their throats were slit.
In the aftermath of the April 15 bombing, Boston was awash in law enforcement from various agencies, with the FBI taking the lead. Two Massachusetts state troopers were present at Todashev's home during the shooting.
Noting various, sometimes conflicting, accounts of the incident were leaked to the media, the ACLU called for state law enforcement officials to conduct their own investigations.
The ACLU cast skepticism on the FBI-led investigation into the shooting, citing a New York Times investigation, which found that of 70 fatal shootings and 80 injuries inflicted by the FBI between 1993 and 2011, all were found to be "justified" by the federal agency.
"Recent disclosures in The New York Times show that FBI shooting investigations, even when carried out with ostensible oversight of both the Justice Department's inspector general and the Civil Rights Division, virtually always clear the agency of wrong-doing," said Rose in a statement. "Secrecy surrounding the FBI's investigation of the Todashev shooting has deepened the public's mistrust."
Bresson said he does not know whether there has ever been a case of an FBI shooting that was not found to be justified, and noted that there are many more incidents where the FBI acts with restraint in dangerous situations.
"The FBI doesn't draw their weapon really very often," said Bresson, saying an agent "only does so when there's an imminent threat."
Suspected marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev has been indicted and arraigned for the alleged act of terror that killed three spectators and injured scores more. He is being prosecuted by the office of U.S. Attorney Carmen Ortiz.
The FBI's investigation into Todashev's death is still in early stages, Bresson said. He said, "The Department of Justice needs to weigh in, and determine whether or not they're going to go forward."
EDITOR'S NOTE: State House News Service is a Boston-based sister organization of The News Service of Florida.
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