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Adrian Walker

Todashev case clearly requires transparency

It’s almost as if Ibragim Todashev, the nearly forgotten figure in the Boston Marathon investigation, just disappeared during his interrogation, rather than being shot by a federal agent.

Todashev, the friend of the alleged bombing mastermind Tamerlan Tsarnaev, was shot to death by an FBI agent during an interrogation in Orlando last May 22. According to reports in the Globe and the Washington Post, separate probes by the FBI and a local prosecutor in Florida are poised to find that the officer acted in self-defense.

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The report by Florida prosecutor Jeffrey Ashton could be released as early as Monday. The FBI’s internal report is said to be under review by the Department of Justice.

What little is known about Ibragim Todashev is disturbing. A mixed martial arts fighter, he was a sparring partner of the older of the Tsarnaev brothers. Their names have been linked to a 2011 triple homicide in Waltham — assumed at the time to be a drug deal gone bad. According to some reports, Todashev confessed to playing a part in the Waltham murder in the interview during which he was shot. The interrogation was conducted by officers from the FBI and the Massachusetts State Police, but only one federal agent was in the room at the time of the shooting, for reasons not yet publicly explained.

The story got even more bizarre after the shooting. Both Todashev’s live-in girlfriend, Tatiana Gruzdeva, and a close friend, Khusen Taramov, were either deported or denied reentry after the shooting. Neither were at the interrogation, but they might be able to fill in other blanks about a life almost completely shrouded in mystery, if only they were around.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts was one of the groups that had begged authorities to investigate Todashev’s death. Executive director Carol Rose told the Globe Friday that they should release the records that led them to their conclusions. She’s right. We need more than declarative statements.

No one is suggesting wrongdoing by the federal agents. The issue here is transparency. We need to know what happened in that room.

The FBI, in particular, has a long record of clearing its officers in agency-related shootings of the past 20 years. If the FBI is going to once again investigate itself and then announce a clean bill of health, we deserve to know how it got there. As for the Florida investigation, we have a right to know what evidence State Attorney Ashton had to weigh. Did the FBI provide him evidence? Did they even return his phone calls? There’s no way to take his conclusions seriously until such basic questions get answered. Given the FBI’s long record of insularity, agreeing to be probed by a mere local prosecutor would represent a major change in behavior.

Boston has always seemed less than riveted by the Todashev saga. We were sorting through so much emotionally a month after the Marathon that the shooting in Florida quickly became a bizarre footnote. Todashev sounded like a bad guy who was a friend of the ultimate bad guys, hardly an object of sympathy. He was, quite possibly, a guy who had gotten away with three murders. He was a skilled fighter who may well have threatened an armed federal agent. No one is Boston was about to hold any marches on his behalf. But none of that is reason to be kept in the dark about how he died.

This case has gnawed at me. Not so much the shooting itself as the widespread presumption that no one needed to explain it. Dubious characters have rights, too. Federal agents are entitled to self-defense. But they don’t have a right to kill witnesses and behave as though what happened is no one’s business.

Adrian Walker is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at walker@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @Adrian_Walker.

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