Florida’s law enforcement commissioner has refused to investigate the fatal shooting of a Chechen man in Orlando by a Boston FBI agent, days after the top prosecutor in Massachusetts also declined to look into the case.
In a letter to the American Civil Liberties Union, which urged the state officials last week to investigate the shooting, the commissioner said the FBI and the Justice Department are handling the inquiry.
“This is an active federal investigation,” Gerald M. Bailey, commissioner of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, said in a brief letter to the ACLU of Florida released Wednesday. “It would be inappropriate for FDLE to intervene.”
Bailey’s refusal to investigate leaves only the FBI and its overseeing agency, the US Department of Justice, investigating the May 22 shooting of Ibragim Todashev, 27, a friend of suspected Boston Marathon bomber Tamerlan Tsarnaev. The FBI has said little about the shooting, except that Todashev initiated a violent confrontation that led the FBI agent to shoot him. Advocates for Todashev however, have pointed out that he had voluntarily submitted to multiple interviews with agents.
Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley declined to investigate the shooting last week, saying it had happened outside her jurisdiction.
The ACLU chapters in Massachusetts and Florida had argued that the states should investigate because local police officials, including Massachusetts State Police troopers and an Orlando police officer, were also at the scene. The ACLU also pointed to the extreme secrecy surrounding the case and the fact that the FBI’s internal investigations of shootings in the past 20 years have almost always cleared agents.
On Wednesday ACLU officials called the state officials’ refusal to investigate the death of Todashev disappointing.
“If Massachusetts state officials have the authority to send law enforcement officers out of state to investigate crimes, then it’s unclear why state officials wouldn’t have the authority to investigate what those officers do,” said Carol Rose, executive director of the ACLU of Massachusetts. “After all, the governing principle of this state isn’t ‘what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas.’ ”
Howard Simon, executive director of the ACLU of Florida, said Bailey’s refusal to investigate makes it likely that Todashev’s family will have to file a lawsuit to find out how he died.
“It is extremely disappointing, given the incompatible and inconsistent explanations coming from the FBI, that the Florida Department of Law Enforcement would defer to them, allowing the only investigation to be the FBI investigating itself,” Simon said. “A person was killed at the hands of law enforcement in Florida, and our state’s government has chosen to evade their responsibility to explain to the people of Florida how that happened.”
Todashev’s family and friends and the Council on American-Islamic Relations have also called for an independent inquiry into his death. The council has urged the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division to investigate, saying in a letter to the department in June: “It seems unlikely that the agents were justified in using deadly force against a single unarmed suspect.”
Shootings by FBI agents are typically investigated only by the FBI with the Justice Department, but independent inquiries are not unprecedented. The Michigan attorney general and the Dearborn police conducted their own investigations into the 2009 shooting of a Detroit imam by the FBI. Both inquiries found no evidence of wrongdoing by the agents.
In contrast to past shootings involving FBI agents, however, the FBI has refused to divulge details of the Todashev case over the past two months.
Instead, conflicting reports about what led the agent to shoot Todashev have emerged in news reports. Some said that Todashev was armed with a blade. Another said he was unarmed. Still another said that Todashev attacked the agent with a pole or a broomstick.
Todashev was allegedly about to sign a confession implicating Tsarnaev and him in a 2011 triple slaying in Waltham, according to news reports. Tsarnaev, 26, died after a police shootout days after the Marathon bombings. His brother, Dzhokhar, is facing federal charges in the explosions.
In addition to its refusal to provide details on the Todashev case, the FBI has also barred the medical examiner from revealing the cause of death.
Immigration officials have also detained Todashev’s former roommate and a potential witness, Tatiana Gruzdeva, for immigration violations since May 16. At a hearing later that month that was not disclosed to the public, a federal immigration judge ordered the 19-year-old Gruzdeva to return to Russia by July 1 and ordered her to remain jailed until she left. US Immigration and Customs Enforcement, a Homeland Security agency, later extended her stay 30 days.
Maria Sacchetti can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.