The father of a Chechen man fatally shot by the FBI was sought for questioning by the bureau after he arrived in the United States last week to pursue a possible wrongful death lawsuit against the bureau, his lawyers said Tuesday.
FBI agents approached Abdulbaki Todashev at a private residence in Florida after he arrived from Russia to seek answers in the May shooting death of his son, Ibragim Todashev, a friend of suspected Boston Marathon bomber Tamerlan Tsarnaev. Todashev’s father refused to meet with the agents and has had no contact since.
“We’re not going to talk to them, with a lawyer, without a lawyer,” said Barry Cohen, the lead counsel on the legal team Todashev assembled with the help of the Council on American-Islamic Relations in Florida. “He will not be talking to the FBI.”
The FBI declined to confirm Tuesday whether agents had approached Todashev, who lives in Chechnya, a region in southern Russia where he is a government official.
“While individuals are free to speak about their interactions with the FBI, we do not, as a matter of practice, discuss or describe any contact we have or allegedly have with individuals,” spokesman Paul Bresson said. “It is our policy not to confirm or deny whether we spoke with members of the public, because to do so would, in many instances, have a chilling effect on the public’s cooperation with us.”
Abdulbaki Todashev revealed the encounter with the FBI at a press conference to announce his legal team Tuesday at the Tampa office of the Council on American-Islamic Relations. His lawyers said they would monitor the state and federal investigations into the May 22 shooting death of his son in his Orlando apartment and, once the investigations are complete, decide whether to file a lawsuit.
The FBI, with the US Department of Justice, is leading the federal investigation into the shooting. The top prosecutor in Orlando is conducting an independent state investigation into the death, which advocates welcomed Tuesday.
Cohen, a prominent lawyer in Tampa, said Todashev would cooperate only with the Orlando prosecutor and the local US attorney. In an unexpected twist Tuesday, Cohen sent an e-mail to the FBI and other agencies accusing the bureau of sending a clandestine observer to the council’s press conference to report back to the bureau. The FBI declined to comment on the assertion.
Since the fatal shooting of Ibragim Todashev, the FBI has drawn criticism for providing scant details about the death and for barring the Florida medical examiner from releasing the autopsy report.
The FBI has said only that Todashev was shot during interrogation by the FBI and the Massachusetts State Police related to the bombing investigation. The bureau has said that Todashev initiated a violent confrontation and that an agent was injured.
News reports differed over whether Todashev was armed. Some said he was about to write a confession implicating himself and Tsarnaev in a triple homicide in Waltham in 2011, though Eric Ludin, one of Abdulbaki Todashev’s lawyers, said he had seen no evidence of that.
Todashev, a 27-year-old mixed martial arts fighter, had two arrests in violent cases, including a road-rage case in Boston and a parking lot altercation in Florida.
But Todashev’s father has said his son was unarmed and recovering from a recent knee surgery, suggesting he was unable to attack the investigators. He said his son had voluntarily submitted to several FBI interrogations before the final interview. “He didn’t do anything wrong,” Todashev said.
Federal and state investigators contacted Ibragim Todashev after the April 15 bombings killed three people and injured more than 260. Todashev came to the United States in 2008 from Russia to study English and won asylum that year. He lived for a time in Allston and Cambridge, before moving to Florida, and was an acquaintance of Tsarnaev, also an ethnic Chechen.
Tsarnaev and his younger brother, Dzhokhar, are accused of carrying out the bombings and later killing an MIT police officer. Tamerlan Tsarnaev died after a police shootout.
Maria Sacchetti can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @mariasacchetti.