Florida prosecutor says FBI agent’s troubled past doesn’t change shooting findings
A Florida prosecutor who cleared a Boston FBI agent in the fatal shooting of a friend of Tamerlan Tsarnaev has ruled that the agent’s troubled past does not change his 2014 finding that the homicide was justified.
Prosecutor Jeffrey L. Ashton has admitted that he did not know about prior allegations of misconduct against FBI agent Aaron McFarlane while he was investigating the 2013 shooting of Ibragim Todashev in Orlando. After the Globe reported the allegations last year, the Council on American-Islamic Relations in Florida demanded that Ashton reopen the probe.
In a May 18 letter, which was released Thursday, Ashton said he dispatched his chief investigator, Eric Edwards, to Washington and Boston last year to examine the disciplinary records of McFarlane and the two Massachusetts State Police troopers who interrogated Todashev that night in May 2013, just weeks after the Boston Marathon bombings. He said he also examined the records the FBI used to hire McFarlane.
“I concur in his assessment that there is nothing contained in those disciplinary files which would change my previous assessment that the agent(s) involved used lawful deadly force in their encounter with” Todashev, Ashton said in the letter.
Ashton concluded in March 2014 that McFarlane shot Todashev in self-defense after the 27-year-old mixed martial-arts fighter attacked him and a state trooper after hours of interrogations in Todashev’s apartment. His report said Todashev had confessed to being involved with Tsarnaev in a 2011 triple homicide in Waltham.
FBI and State Police investigators had contacted Todashev after the 2013 Boston Marathon bombings that killed three people and injured over 260 others.
His friend Tamerlan Tsarnaev died during a police firefight days after the bombings, but in April a federal jury convicted Dzhokhar Tsarnaev of carrying out the attacks with his older brother and killing an MIT police officer days after the bombings. He has been sentenced to death and is in the Supermax prison in Colorado pending an appeal.
Hassan Shibly, executive director of CAIR in Florida, said he was disappointed that Ashton did not appear to have investigated McFarlane’s treatment of Todashev before and during the interrogation.
He said CAIR and the Todashev family will continue to pursue a lawsuit against the FBI. In March, the family filed a $30 million claim against the bureau for Todashev’s death.
In 2014, the Globe reported that in four years on the Oakland Police Department, McFarlane was the subject of two police brutality lawsuits and four internal affairs investigations. He also invoked his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination at a police corruption trial after a prosecutor suggested that he falsified a police report.
McFarlane had denied wrongdoing in all cases.
McFarlane retired from the Oakland police in 2004 at age 31 on a tax-free disability pension that now exceeds $52,000 a year for life. He continued to collect the pension when he went to work for the FBI in 2008. Despite efforts by Oakland city officials to investigate the pension, he was still collecting it as of Thursday, said Amy Morgan, spokeswoman for the state-run retirement system in California. As of November, his total pension payout since 2004 was $507,638.94.
The FBI declined to comment Thursday. The bureau has refused to answer questions about McFarlane’s stormy past, his pension, and the Todashev shooting.
In Florida, Ashton’s office has also been rocked by controversy. Last month, he apologized after a local website, the East Orlando Post, revealed that he had enrolled in the Ashley Madison website, which facilitates extramarital affairs, starting in 2013, when he also launched the Todashev investigation. The police union has called for an investigation into Ashton’s use of the site to ensure that he did not break any laws, according to the Orlando Sentinel.