FBI director James B. Comey needs to understand that his agency’s credibility is on the line in its investigation into the killing of Ibragim Todashev. An FBI agent in Florida shot the Russian immigrant in May, while Todashev was being interviewed about his links to Boston Marathon bombing suspect Tamerlan Tsarnaev. Conflicting accounts have emerged of what happened that night inside Todashev’s Orlando apartment; he may have lunged at an interrogator.
But the continuing lack of basic information raises serious questions about the agent’s decision to shoot. Was Todashev armed? Couldn’t the trained law enforcement officials on the scene, including two Massachusetts state troopers, have subdued a potentially crucial witness in a nonlethal way?
Todashev was not a sympathetic character. He had a record of violent crimes and might have been involved in a triple-murder in Waltham in 2011. But that doesn’t excuse any lapses in his interrogation. His killing may have made it impossible to solve the Waltham case, and means investigators will never know what else he might have been able to reveal about the Marathon attackers.
Todashev’s death was also obviously a loss to his own family; his father recently petitioned the White House to intervene in the investigation. But it was a loss to the public, too. The FBI, which has a long track record of exonerating itself in internal inquiries into shootings by agents, has had ample time to investigate Todashev’s death. It’s unclear now what the agency is waiting for. It’s time Comey provided an explanation.