State and federal investigators knew Ibragim Todashev was dangerous. But he was calm when he led them to his small, dark Orlando apartment last May. He asked them to take off their shoes and ushered the investigators inside, through the door emblazoned with the image of an AK-47.
Over the next several hours, the 27-year-old mixed martial arts fighter chain-smoked, twitched, and eventually, confessed to being involved in the grisly slayings of three men in Waltham in 2011.
Then the room exploded. Authorities said Todashev hurled a coffee table at a Boston FBI agent, striking him in the head, and then charged the agent and a Massachusetts state trooper with a metal broomstick. In seconds, Todashev was dead, felled by seven bullets fired by the agent.
“I was in fear for my life,” the agent said. “There was no doubt in my mind that Todashev intended to kill both of us.”
On Tuesday, a Florida prosecutor and the Department of Justice ruled separately that the FBI agent acted in self-defense, offering the first official details of the violent confrontation in more than 10 months since the shooting.
“My conclusion, based upon the facts presented to me in this investigation, is that the actions of the special agent of the FBI were justified in self-defense and in defense of another,” said State Attorney Jeffrey L. Ashton, the top prosecutor in Orlando, in a letter communicating his findings to FBI director James Comey. Separately, the Justice Department said “there is no question” the agent acted correctly and that Todashev had motive to attack, “having just confessed to complicity in a triple murder.”
But both government reports drew criticism for being kept secret for so long and for failing to answer many other questions, such as why they did not arrest Todashev when he first confessed to his involvement in the Waltham killings more than an hour before he died. The redacted reports also provided few insights on the Waltham slayings.
Ashton relied on videos of Todashev’s interview with the investigators, materials from the FBI, accounts from the troopers and a written account by the FBI agent who was involved. The investigators were not identified in the document.
According to the Ashton report, Todashev told the investigators that the Waltham killings had occurred during what was supposed to have been a robbery. “Okay, I’m telling you I was involved in it, okay, I, I, had no idea [word redacted] gonna kill anyone,” Todashev said, according to the FBI agent’s account in Ashton’s report.
In Chechnya, the southern part of Russia where Todashev is from, his grieving father said he was appalled that Ashton had cleared the agent.
“How they could do this, I don’t know, when it’s so obvious what happened,” he said in an interview Tuesday. “I’m astonished, to be honest.”
Abdulbaki Todashev also questioned why investigators did not arrest his son, if they believed he was so dangerous.
“They couldn’t put handcuffs on him?” Todashev's father said. “Even if he had a pole, they couldn’t just take it away from him? Why did they do this?”
Carol Rose, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union in Massachusetts, added, “If they were as sure of themselves and as scared of him as they purport to be, there are many ways that police can take precautions to protect themselves without ending up with a person who is dead.”
Timothy M. Burke, a Needham lawyer and former Suffolk prosecutor who is not involved in the case, said the troopers were wise not to arrest Todashev when he first confessed.
“You’re an investigator. You’re trying to get more information,” he said. “You’re not going to stop the person and say, ‘Don’t say anything more.’ ”
In an interview transcript included in the Florida report, a Massachusetts state trooper at the scene acknowledged that normally he would have arrested Todashev much sooner, since he had confessed. But he said the Middlesex district attorney’s office told him to wait until they could get an arrest warrant.
“They were instructed not to arrest him,” said Richard Wallsh, a spokesman for Ashton.
Massachusetts officials shed little light on the matter Tuesday. Middlesex District Attorney Marian Ryan and Waltham police Chief Keith MacPherson declined to comment, saying that the investigation is “open and active.” The State Police refused to comment.
Rose, of the ACLU, said the continued questions about the state’s involvement are disturbing enough to warrant an investigation by state Attorney General Martha Coakley, who is running for governor.
A Coakley spokesman said she is reviewing both reports but called the Florida report “thorough.”
State and federal investigators first contacted Todashev six days after the April 15 Boston Marathon bombings killed three people and wounded more than 260 others.
Before he moved to Florida, Todashev was a gym buddy of Tamerlan Tsarnaev, who allegedly plotted with his brother, Dzhokhar, to plant the bombs near the Marathon finish line. The brothers also allegedly killed an MIT police officer several days later. Tamerlan Tsarnaev was killed in a police shoot-out in Watertown, and his brother is in custody awaiting trial.
The bombings caused law enforcement officials to take a new look at the Sept. 11, 2011, murders in Waltham of three men that Tamerlan Tsarnaev knew.
Tuesday’s reports and court records show that investigators suspected Todashev and Tsarnaev in the Waltham killings. On Sept. 12, 2011, Brendan Mess, 25, once a close friend of Tsarnaev, Erik H. Weissman, 31, and Raphael M. Teken, 37, were found in Mess’s apartment with their throats slit and their bodies sprinkled with marijuana.
Todashev spoke to investigators several times in the weeks after the bombings. But, after Todashev booked a ticket home to Russia in May, the FBI agent and the two troopers traveled to Orlando to interview him.
A wiry 5 feet 6 inches and weighing 159 pounds, Todashev had been arrested for violent incidents in 2010 and 2012 and again in early May, when he beat a man in a parking lot. By then, FBI agents were trailing him and watched from land and air, according to Wallsh.
By the time investigators arrived at his apartment on May 21, they had studied his criminal record and watched his fighting videos on YouTube.
“On a scale of one to 10, I believe Todashev was an eight a far as his inclination and ability for physical violence,” the FBI agent told state investigators in a statement.
But Todashev refused to meet with agents at the police station. The report said he was upset that federal immigration officials had detained his girlfriend, who they would later deport. They agreed to interview him at home.
At the Peregrine Avenue apartment, two state troopers and the FBI agent interviewed Todashev starting around 7:30 p.m. and stretching past midnight. Another law enforcement officer stood guard outside.
A state police trooper captured parts of the conversation on video. In one video, according to the Florida report, Todashev is sitting on a mattress in the living room, near a sliding glass door. At first he denied involvement in the murders. “Like I said, I didn’t kill nobody and I need your help.”
Time passed, he drank from a bottle of water, opened the door to ventilate the apartment. Crickets could be heard outside.
Finally, Todashev said, “I was involved in it.”
A trooper read him his Miranda rights and Todashev appeared to sign the waiver indicating he understood. “Will you guys help me?” Todashev asked.
As time wore on, the report said, he seemed anxious. He asked if they were planning to take him straight to jail.
Then he dropped his head and asked, “How much time will I get?”
But police did not arrest him. Instead, a trooper asked him to write down his confession. Todashev sat on the mattress, using a white coffee table as a desk, and started to write.
When Todashev was almost finished, one trooper stepped outside to call a Middlesex County prosecutor, leaving the FBI agent and the other trooper alone with Todashev.
Then Todashev asked to go to the bathroom, for the third or fourth time. When he did, the remaining trooper grabbed a samurai sword that was hanging on the wall of Todashev’s apartment, and stashed it behind a shoe rack, to be safe.
At 12:03 a.m., the trooper inside the apartment texted the agent and the other trooper to watch out.
“He is in vulnerable position to do something bad,” the trooper wrote. An instant later, with the agent looking at his notepad and the trooper at his phone, the room exploded with a shout.
The white coffee table was “propelled into the air,” opening a gash in the FBI agent’s head that would later take nine staples to close.
Todashev raced past the grasp of the FBI agent to the kitchen, and frantically rummaged through cabinets and drawers.
The trooper followed, thinking Todashev would run out the door. Instead, he said, Todashev turned toward him brandishing a 5-foot-long metal broomstick.
Todashev raised it above his head and charged toward them, moving “incredibly quickly,” the trooper said.
Bleeding profusely, the FBI agent shouted at Todashev to stop. Then the agent fired three or four times from his Glock 23. Todashev fell, but sprang up and lunged again.
The FBI agent shot him several more times, and he fell, face down.
Todashev was pronounced dead at the scene, with six bullet wounds in his torso and one in the head.
Some bullets entered through the back — an issue that concerned Ashton, but he said it later was consistent with investigators’ description of Todashev rising to lunge at them again.
The state trooper in the apartment praised the FBI agent and said he “absolutely” would have shot Todashev if he had drawn his gun in time. “I am certain [the FBI agent’s] actions saved me from serious physical injury or death,” the trooper said.
Ashton also noted that Todashev could have fled, but didn’t.
“We learned much about Mr. Todashev during our investigation,” Ashton wrote. “The one common thread among all was the observation that he was, at his core, a fearless fighter.”
The FBI still has not released its review of the shooting. A spokesman said the bureau’s findings match those of Ashton and the Justice Department.
“The FBI appreciates the hard work and effort that went into the reports released today by the Department of Justice and the Florida state attorney’s office,” said Mike Kortan, assistant director of the bureau’s public affairs office. “To emphasize, these prosecutorial decisions were made independent of the FBI.”
Ashton said that the FBI did not make the agent involved in the incident available for his investigation.
Wallsh, Ashton’s spokesman, attributed some delays in the Florida report to the initial failure of the FBI to turn over key information, such as DNA that proved the agent was hit in the head.
Hassan Shibly, executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations in Florida, which has aided Todashev’s family, questioned whether they can take the FBI’s account at face value.
“The only person who can contradict the government’s narrative is now dead,” Shibly said.