The American Civil Liberties Union is urging state officials in Massachusetts and Florida to conduct their own investigations into the fatal shooting of a Chechen man by a Boston FBI agent, saying it was unlikely the FBI investigation would fully inform the public about the death.
The FBI and the Department of Justice are conducting an internal inquiry into the May 22 shooting of Ibragim Todashev, a 27-year-old Russian national who was being questioned in his Orlando apartment by the FBI and the Massachusetts State Police about his friendship with suspected Boston Marathon bomber Tamerlan Tsarnaev.
On Monday, ACLU officials urged Attorney General Martha Coakley of Massachusetts and Gerald M. Bailey, commissioner of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, to investigate, as well.
The civil liberties group said state officials should look into the shooting because of the secrecy surrounding the FBI’s inquiry and because state and local law enforcement, including at least one Orlando police officer, were also at the scene.
“When something goes wrong during an operation involving Massachusetts law enforcement officers, Massachusetts residents deserve a thorough and transparent investigation by Massachusetts officials,” Carol Rose, executive director of the ACLU of Massachusetts, said in a letter to Coakley.
The letter said “it seems unlikely that the FBI investigation will meaningfully inform Massachusetts residents about what happened.”
The New York Times recently discovered that the FBI and the US Justice Department’s internal investigations of shootings over the past 20 years almost always cleared agents of wrongdoing.
Coakley spokesman Brad Puffer said Monday that the attorney general’s office has no plans to investigate the matter at this time.
“We have reviewed the letter from the ACLU,” he said. “While the use of deadly force by law enforcement should be appropriately investigated, this particular incident happened in another state, which is outside our jurisdiction.”
A spokesman for Bailey said his department is reviewing the letter and expects to respond to the ACLU this week.
The Massachusetts State Police and the FBI declined to comment, citing the pending investigation. An Orlando police spokesman said he believed police had no authority to investigate the FBI shooting of Todashev.
“That’s a basic civics lesson,” said Sergeant Jim Young, spokesman for the Orlando department. “Local governments do not have jurisdiction over federal governments.”
Todashev’s family and friends, as well as the ACLU and the Council on American-Islamic Relations, have called for an independent investigation into the slaying, in part because of the secrecy surrounding the case, in contrast to past FBI shootings.
Two months after the shooting, the FBI has not provided a full accounting of Todashev’s death. Instead, conflicting reports based on anonymous sources have appeared in news articles, saying Todashev was armed with a blade, or unarmed, or that he attacked the FBI agent with a metal pole or perhaps a broomstick.
The FBI has also barred the medical examiner in Florida from revealing the cause of death, and US immigration officials have detained Todashev’s former roommate and a potential witness in the case, Tatiana Gruzdeva , for immigration violations.
Typically the only investigation into fatal shootings by FBI agents is conducted by the FBI itself with the agency that oversees it, the Justice Department.
However, state and local investigations of FBI shootings have happened before, notably following the 2009 shooting of Imam Luqman Ameen Abdullah of Detroit by the FBI. The Michigan attorney general and the Dearborn police probed the imam’s death and found the shooting was justified.Maria Sacchetti can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @mariasacchetti.