Ibragim Todashev, a 159-pound mixed martial arts fighter and an associate of alleged Boston marathon bombing mastermind Tamerlan Tsarnaev, would likely be a tough cookie to handle, an FBI agent and a Massachusetts state trooper concluded after watching YouTube videos of the ethnic Chechen’s amateur fights.
Before beginning an interview with Mr. Todashev about his alleged involvement in a triple homicide and possibly the bombing, investigators had also heard eyewitness accounts of how Todashev fought two men over a parking space, knocking one unconscious with a punch that loosened teeth.
The release Tuesday of a Florida state prosecutor’s report about the bizarre circumstances that led to Todashev’s death on May 21, 2013 – including a plot to use a samurai sword to attack his interrogators – ultimately agrees with the FBI’s version of events: that the agent was justified in using deadly force to subdue a “non-compliant” Todashev.
Todashev became swept up in the massive Boston Marathon bombing investigation through telephone calls he’d made to Tamerlan Tsaernev, who was also allegedly involved in a triple homicide in 2011 in Massachusetts, in which three men were found with their throats cut and marijuana strewn over their bodies.
At the very least, the report from Florida state prosecutor Jeffrey Ashton provides some new details into a sometimes-contradictory narrative that had been questioned by critics, including Todashev’s father, who has said he believes that US agents tortured and summarily executed his son.
In clearing the FBI agent, who has never been named publicly, Mr. Ashton's report struck a tone of respect when describing Todashev.
Noting that Todashev had a chance to flee but instead chose to fight, Ashton wrote: “We learned much about Mr. Todashev during our investigation. The one common thread among all was the observation that he was, at his core, a fearless fighter. Regardless of how beaten down he was, he simply didn’t have any quit in him. Perhaps on this occasion, he simply reverted to that basic aspect of his personality and chose to go down fighting.”
Of 70 fatal shootings by FBI agents since 1993, no agent has been charged with wrongdoing, The New York Times has reported.
Some legal experts say such statistics fuel speculation that the FBI isn’t telling the whole truth about Todashev’s demise. Since the incident 10 months ago the FBI has not released any details about it, including whether Todashev was even armed.
Even if the Todashev report from Ashton draws the correct conclusion, “the fact that there have been so many investigations and not a single agent found to be at fault, that’s a red flag,” says David Rudovsky, a police misconduct expert at the University of Philadelphia Law School and the coauthor of “Police Misconduct: Law and Litigation.”
Ashton’s report tries to clear up confusion about what happened that day at Todashev's apartment, including explaining early reporting – partly correct, as it turns out – that a samurai sword was involved.
According to testimony by a Massaschusetts state trooper on the scene, Todashev had seen an officer move a large ceremonial samurai sword from a wall mount to the kitchen during the interview. Meanwhile, the 27-year-old, enduring nearly five hours of questioning, had become agitated after confessing to the triple homicide, at one point standing in front of the bathroom mirror for several moments, water dripping off his hands onto the floor.
After upending a table and running into the kitchen, Todashev failed to find the sword but returned with what looked like a broom handle. He then attacked, according to the Ashton report.
“Todashev moved incredibly quickly, almost like something in a movie,” one law enforcement witness wrote. “I then heard shots fired off to my right and saw Todashev make two movements which indicated to me he had been impacted by the shots.”
Todashev may have been jolted by the bullets, the report says, but he got back on his feet, bull-rushing, head first, the FBI agent firing the shots. That stance explains the gunshot wound to the top of Todashev's head, the report says. In his testimony, the FBI agent called Todashev’s behavior in the moments before the shooting “wholly non-compliant.”
The report also showed that Todashev was not shot at close range. “There is no evidence of close range firing in any of the gunshot wounds," the report said.
Todashev’s father, Abdulbaki Todashev, has disputed early accounts about the report, insisting that his son did nothing wrong and was only trying to help the FBI get to the bottom of the case. His efforts to persuade Congress and even President Obama – to whom he sent autospy photos of his son – to investigate have not borne fruit. Mr. Todashev has said in the past that he will consider filing a wrongful death lawsuit against those responsible for his son’s death.