Will a $30 million lawsuit being filed over the FBI killing of a Boston Bombing witness shed any more light on shooting riddled with questions, secrecy and official reversals? Joanne Potter looks at the case of Tamerlan Tsarnaev’s dead friend, Ibragim Todashev.
The trial of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev may not shed much light into the murky matters surrounding the Boston Marathon bombing. In at least one aspect, though, there is hope that the truth may come out.
Todashev was a friend of alleged Boston bombing principal Tamerlan Tsarnaev, who himself was killed by authorities in Boston a month earlier. Todashev died in Orlando, Florida, under interrogation by the FBI and Massachusetts State Police. His family is seeking $30 million in a lawsuit expected to be filed in the coming weeks.
The family’s forthcoming wrongful death suit, signaled in a document known as a notice of claim, alleges that FBI Special Agent “Aaron McFarlane…illegally shot and killed Ibragim Todashev…on May 22, 2013.” It is the latest twist in an aspect of the bombing investigation which has drawn widespread attention and criticism from within and without government circles.
Rep. Bill Keating (D-MA) told Boston Public Radio that government interactions with Todashev did not conform to protocol and “could have been handled better.”
Interview or Interrogation?
Indeed, the four-hour plus interview in Todashev’s apartment— the last of several weeks of his tense interactions with marathon bombing investigators—was a full-on interrogation seeking a confession to a grisly 2011 triple murder in Waltham, Mass. The idea, apparently, was to tie Todashev and his friend, Tamerlan Tsarnaev, to the killing.
However, what exactly Todashev said—or was about to say—remains the subject of furious dispute, especially as it pertains to Dzhokhar Tsarnaev’s ongoing federal capital murder trial.
Back in November, U.S. District Court Judge George O’Toole reviewed the FBI’s records of Todashev’s interviews, but denied a request from Tsarnaev’s defense attorneys to view them. His reason: The statements would not assist the defense “beyond what is already available to them through discovery.”
Tsarnaev’s lawyers were seeking information regarding “Tamerlan’s role in the Waltham murders and evidence concerning the brutality of those murders.” They hoped the investigation would bolster a potential mitigation argument: that Dzhokhar was coerced, or unduly influenced, by his older brother.
O’Toole’s ruling, taken on its face, means that Todashev never elaborated on Tamerlan’s purported involvement in the murders beyond the sparse details he provided in an unfinished handwritten confession. Further, his confession was inconsistent with the crime scene and fell short of even mentioning the killings.
“Cannot Be Trusted”
Even before O’Toole’s ruling, prosecutors revealed that they had “no evidence Tamerlan Tsarnaev actually participated in the Waltham murders.” That marked a complete reversal in the government’s position, which, backed by anonymous law enforcement leaks, led the public to believe that Tamerlan Tsarnaev played an active role in slitting the throats of the three Waltham victims.
That alone is cause for suspicion, according to Thania Diaz Clevenger, the civil rights director for Florida’s chapter of the Council on American Islamic Relations:
It raises the question of why Ibragim Todashev was questioned by the FBI to begin with and whether the alleged confession by Ibragim was coerced or a pretext used to harm Ibragim’s reputation in order to justify the FBI shooting.
Yet the federal government has simultaneously argued that Todashev’s statements are vital to the Waltham case, and therefore are part of an ongoing criminal investigation not subject to public scrutiny. State investigators have also refused to reveal any details about the Waltham slayings, citing the ongoing investigation. The killings remain unsolved.
Todashev, 27, was allegedly “moments away” from completing his handwritten confession when, the FBI says, he flipped a table and injured McFarlane, who subsequently shot him multiple times.
McFarlane was cleared of any wrongdoing by a State of Florida probe, which accepted the argument that Todashev was about to write his confession. However, that report made no mention of the ex-Oakland cop’s violent history. McFarlane had been the subject of two police brutality lawsuits and four internal investigations. He was also embroiled in the notorious Riders corruption scandal, in which federal prosecutors accused him of lying on the witness stand.
What isn’t clear is why the government chose an officer with that kind of history to handle a sensitive case like Todashev’s. Equally, it’s clear that the federal government has gone to extraordinary lengths to keep the results of that particular investigation from being fully disclosed.
Now, the only hope of uncovering the truth appears to lie in what the family’s wrongful death lawsuit can uncover.