Two Massachusetts state troopers recorded much of what happened on May 21, 2013, the night when the questioning of murder suspect Ibragim Todashev went disastrously wrong. It’s time to release those tapes. Too many important details of the chain of events leading up to Todashev’s death remain unclear, and the latest news to emerge — that the FBI agent who fired on Todashev had a troubling record of police brutality accusations, something none of the previous inquiries had disclosed — reinforces concerns that the public has received only a partial, airbrushed accounting of Todashev’s final hours.
Todashev came under scrutiny last spring, after investigators linked him to Marathon bombing suspect Tamerlan Tsarnaev. The two men shared a passion for martial arts, as well as a Chechen heritage. Todashev had left Massachusetts, but police tracked him down in Orlando. Todashev wasn’t involved in the bombing, but investigators concluded that he and Tsarnaev did participate in a different crime: a 2011 triple murder in Waltham. The night of his death, Todashev had reportedly confessed to a role in those killings just minutes before he attacked his questioners. Todashev’s death means that he will never face justice for the Waltham killings, and also can’t answer questions about Tsarnaev.
The split-second decision to open fire may well have protected law enforcement; Todashev was highly trained and violent. Still, the failure of the investigations to include the relevant fact that the FBI agent, Aaron McFarlane, had previously been the subject of two police brutality lawsuits and four internal investigations at his old job seriously diminishes the credibility of their findings. His past conduct was clearly relevant to evaluating his claims that the shootings were justified. The reports exonerated McFarlane, but such an omission creates the impression they weren’t looking very hard.
The tapes captured by the Massachusetts officers do not include the moment of the shooting, and contain other gaps too. They will not answer every question. But they are still the strongest evidence that exists from that night. The official accounts of Todashev’s shooting can no longer simply be accepted as complete and reliable. Ending the secrecy around the tapes would be a good first step to restore confidence.