The Massachusetts ACLU today called on state officials to launch an independent investigation into the FBI shooting death of Ibragim Todashev, a Chechen immigrant who was killed May 22 during a joint interrogation by FBI officials and local law enforcement officers from Massachusetts and Florida.
In a letter to Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley, the ACLU urges the state Civil Rights Division to investigate the role of Massachusetts State Police in the shooting. The ACLU of Florida also issued a request to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to look into the role of Orlando police officers in the killing.
Two Massachusetts state troopers, along with Orlando police officers, were present with FBI officers during the interrogation of Todashev, 27, at his Orlando home.
One week after the slaying, Todashev's father called for the agents who shot his son to be tried. Abdulbaki Todashev bitterly questioned the agents' reasoning at a news conference in Moscow, saying his son was unarmed when he was shot seven times. He said he suspected his son might have been killed to keep him silent.
According to the ACLU, there are conflicting reports as to whether the Massachusetts troopers were in the room at the time of the shooting and whether their purpose at the interrogation was to investigate the Boston Marathon bombings, a 2011 triple-homicide in Waltham, or something else. The role of the Orlando police officers is even more unclear, according to the ACLU.
Notwithstanding the involvement of state personnel in questioning Todashev, and an earlier call by the Council on American-Islamic Relations for an independent investigation into the shooting death, public reports indicate that the only investigation into Todashev's shooting is being led by the FBI.
The ACLU contends that the FBI's approach "has fostered widespread public distrust."
Immediately after the shooting, the FBI released a statement claiming that Todashev had initiated "a violent confrontation," and reports cited anonymous law enforcement officials who made statements in support of that claim.
However the ACLU said that subsequent statements have offered contradictory reports.
"Initially, it was reported that either an FBI agent or another law enforcement official shot Todashev after he attacked an FBI agent with a knife or other sharp object," the agency said in a statement. "Then new stories emerged, asserting that Todashev lunged at the FBI agent with a metal pole or broomstick, or that Todashev overturned a table, or that he was actually unarmed."
"A person was shot and killed at the hands of law enforcement in Florida. That alone should require Florida officials to investigate, and explain to the public what happened," said Howard Simon, ACLU of Florida executive director.
"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," Simon said. "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 maintains that public skepticism in the FBI's ability to investigate itself was heightened when The New York Times reported on June 19 that public records obtained through litigation showed that between 1993 and 2011, F.B.I. agents fatally shot an estimated 70 "subjects" and wounded about 80 others, but that FBI internal shooting investigations deemed every one of those episodes to be "justified."
"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 Carol Rose, executive director of the ACLU of Massachusetts. "Secrecy surrounding the FBI's investigation of the Todashev shooting has deepened the public's mistrust."
The FBI has allegedly "gagged the medical examiner from divulging the cause of death," according to the agency, and the federal government has taken steps to detain and press for the speedy deportation of a potential witness in the investigation of the shooting, and the FBI's final report may be classified.
"An independent investigation is necessary to maintain public confidence in law enforcement and get to the bottom of the events surrounding Todashev's death," said Rose.
"Since 2001, the number of local law enforcement officers assigned to the JTTF has more than quadrupled," said Rose. "Yet the citizens of the various states who pay their salaries have no idea how they are supervised or even what, precisely, they are doing. It's time to impose some accountability on local law enforcement who are assigned to FBI-JTTF operations in general."