The Florida State’s Attorney for the Orlando region, Jeffrey Ashton, today released his conclusion at the end of a 10-month investigation into the FBI slaying of Ibragim Todashev, a suspected witness in the Boston bombing case, saying that he will not be prosecuting the agent. Ashton ruled that the killing, in which the agent, at the end of a nearly 5-hour May 21 interrogation in Todashev’s Orlando apartment, fired seven bullets into Todashev, killing him justifiably, after being attacked.
However the evidence submitted to Ashton’s office by the FBI, the local coroner’s office and his own investigators, on examination, actually leads to a different conclusion from the one of justifiable homicide which he, and the FBI in its own internal probe, have reached.
For one thing, the two accounts of what happened offered by the FBI agent who shot Todashev, and by a Massachusetts State Trooper who was also in the room at the time of the shooting, are significantly at odds.
Why should we care about the FBI slaying of a Russian Chechen immigrant during an investigation into a Boston murder case? Because, as I wrote recently in Counterpunch magazine, Todashev was actually also a close friend of Tamerlan Tsarnaev, the elder of the two brothers suspected of being the Boston Marathon bombers. The FBI had started investigating Todashev a day after the bombing when it learned he was a friend of the elder brother, but perhaps were more interested in preventing him from talking about what he knew than in learning what he had to say.
First a scene setter: According to all witnesses who came onto the scene after the shooting, Todashev’s body ended up in a foyer leading to the front door from the apartment’s living room, where the interrogation happened, his feet pointing to the front door, and his head and shoulders on the floor in the living room. He was found positioned face down by an investigator from the local Medical Examiner’s office lying there on top of a red broomstick, a point made by every witness to the scene.
The Massachusetts State Trooper, in a May 29 interview with FBI internal investigators of the shooting, explains that stick in his account of the shooting. He says that late in the evening, towards midnight, Todashev had begun to confess to having been involved in a 2011 triple murder in Waltham, Mass., which the a Massachusetts prosecutor was investigating, and had agreed to write a confession, when he suddenly yelled, flipped the table he was writing on at the FBI agent questioning him, and raced towards the front door. He says Todashev, a martial arts expert, ran toward the door, but then “grabbed a rod, approximately five-foot-long pole that was lying against the wall near the door,” and then “raised the pole in his hands kind of with both hands which appeared to me to be a trained fighting position and charged me as if he was going to impale me with the pole.”
At that point the trooper says he heard shots fired from his right as he was standing in the living room facing the charging Todashev, and “saw Todashev make two movements which indicated he had been injured by the shots. “He fell to his hands and knees, and then, almost instantly, he sprang forward, coming up in a fighting stance. I heard more shots and he fell to the ground, this time apparently incapacitated.”
Different lawman, different story
But the FBI agent who shot Todashev has a different story. Interviewed a day earlier in the course of same FBI investigation, he says Todashev was just at the point of writing out a confession and continues:
“I was reading my notepad when I heard a loud noise and suddenly felt a blow to the back of my head. I was knocked partially off my chair but I caught myself. I saw Todashev running past me and I tried to grab him. I removed my weapon from the holster and aimed the gun at Todashev, who had run towards the kitchen (actually a kitchen unit separated from the living room area by a waist-high counter). I shouted ‘Show your hands!’ I saw the trooper to my left, but didn’t know if he had his weapon. I stood in the middle of the room and saw Todashev partially in the kitchen. I constantly yelled for Todashev to show me his hands, but he did not comply. I heard the sound of metal banging together like knives in a very hurried fashion. I believe that Todashev was trying to retrieve a weapon and that he was successful in doing so. Todashev instantly ran at full speed from the kitchen towards me and the trooper. I saw Todashev’s left shoulder drop as he rounded the corner from the kitchen to the living room. It was obvious that Todashev was in an attacking pattern.”
“In the split second available to me to assess the threat posed by Todashev’s wholly non-compliant actions I was in fear for my life and the life of the trooper. In order to stop the threat I shot Todashev three to four times. Todashev fell backwards (my emphasis) but did not go to the ground. He then re-established his footing and suddenly rushed toward us. I then shot him three to four more times in order to stop his clearly deadly threat. This time, Todashev fell to the ground face first and I believed the threat had been eliminated.”
These two tales don’t work together of course. Either one taken alone, if true, would certainly justify the shooting of the suspect, but when they diverge so wildly — in one version Todashev remains in the foyer, and grabs the red broomstick, while in the other he rummages through a drawer in the kitchen and evidently finds a weapon, presumably a knife — it’s a red flag that something’s amiss.
And when the only two eye-witnesses to this killing, only a week after the event, cannot get their stories straight, we have to assume that something is badly wrong with the whole scene.
Fixing the evidence?
It’s also worth noting that an expert from the Medical Examiner’s Office, who arrived only at about 2 am on May 22 almost two hours after the shooting, was prevented from entering the room until an FBI unit, which had arrived at 12:30 am, shortly after the agent shooting of the suspect, had finished “documenting the room.”
If the FBI’s agent were telling the truth, there would be no broom handle lying under Todashev’s dead body. Perhaps “documenting the room” meant slipping that rod under Todashev’s body?
On the other hand, if the Massachusetts State Trooper was telling the truth, how did Todashev get shot three times in the back and once in the top back of the head — a shot that the Medical Examiner says would have immobilized him instantly?
It is agreed by most witnesses, including those outside the apartment, that the sequence of shots was three and then four. According the Medical Examiner’s report, two shots hit Todashev in the arm. One hit him in the chest near the right nipple, which perforated the left ventricle of the heart and the aorta. And two hit his left upper arm, also from the front — one a bullet that re-entered the chest cavity and also perforated the left ventricle.
The head shot was clearly among the last or the last shot to hit Todashev, as it would have caused his total collapse instantly, according to the Medical Examiner. Yet if Todashev were first shot as he was charging the trooper, running through the foyer from the direction of the door with his arms raised holding a broomstick, the shots hitting him would have had to come from the front. That would necessarily be the one shot to the chest, which perforated not just his heart, but his aorta and esophagus, plus the two shots to the left arm, one bullet of which also ricocheted hitting his left ventricle. That would explain Todashev dropping to his knees, but makes the claim that he rose again and attacked hard to imagine. The aorta, remember, is the main artery out of the heart carrying blood to the body under maximum pressure. Ruptured, it causes an almost instant precipitous and debilitating drop in blood pressure. But even if Todashev somehow managed through sheer will to rise from his hands and knees and charge his antagonists again after those grievous wounds, how did the three subsequent shots end up hitting his back?
We could imagine the head shot if he were charging low down, but not the other three bullets to the back in that scenario.
Meanwhile, back to the agent’s quite different account. He claims Todashev, not armed with a five-foot pole, but with whatever he succeeded in finding in a kitchen drawer, was shot as he ran at the agent and staggered backwards, clearly indicating that he had been hit from the front. Again we had three shots, so it had to be the chest and the left arm. Now he “rights himself” and charges forward again, taking four more shots. But these, remember, are all either into the back, near the centerline of the body, or into the top of the head. The head shot couldn’t have been number one in the second volley, because that would have been the shot that dropped him. So what would have caused his body to turn around exposing his back?
Fixing the story
Never mind. The FBI investigators (who have managed to exonerate 150 out of 150 agent shootings of suspects and witnesses over the last 18 years) managed to conflate the two accounts, subtly shifting each, and changing some of the witness statements, to create one smooth “alternative reality” in which the shots all fit together nicely.
Here’s the FBI’s summary of what happened, in a document provided to the Medical Examiner and the State’s Attorney’s Office by the Bureau:
“When Todaschev ran to the kitchen he frantically grabbed at the counter but came out empty handed and instead grabbed a long metal pole, similar to a mop handle next to the kitchen.”
And the shooting itself? From the FBI internal investigation, as provided to the State’s Attorney on a “do not share” basis:
“He flipped the table he was writing on which was believed to have struck BS SA [the Boston Special Agent] in the head and ran to the kitchen. Todaschev was heard frantically grabbing items in the kitchen and reappeared in the doorway wielding a long metal handle of a mop or broom. He took an attack stance with the weapon, [Special Agent BLANK] issued verbal commands, to which Todaschev did not comply, and violently lunged towards SA and MSP Trooper . Having already been wounded and fearing for his safety, [Special Agent] fired 3-4 rounds striking Todaschev. Todaschev went down on his knees momentarily then “sprang” to his feet and launched to attack again. [Special Agent] fired another 3-4 rounds dropping Todaschev to the floor. SA fired seven shots in total, Todaschev was hit seven times with fatal shots to his head and piercing his heart. He was instantly incapacitated and died on the scene.”
There are so many things wrong with this merged and massaged account it is hard to see how Florida State’s Attorney Ashton could have accepted them, but he apparently has. Firstly, Todashev wasn’t just “heard” grabbing items in the kitchen, he was visible over the countertop, according to the agent’s initial report of the incident. And in that initial account he never grabbed that broom handle, which the trooper said had been leaned against the front door jamb, not “next to the kitchen.” In any case, the trooper never said anything about Todashev going into the kitchen area, but rather had him running straight to the front door for the stick. He also claimed Todashev had fallen on hands and knees, not just his knees, while the agent had him staggering backwards, not falling forward.
State’s Attorney Ashton’s office declined to take a call asking for a chance to ask questions about his report.
Missing key witness
A key witness in this case was never questioned. That is Khusen Taramov, who even the two agents and two state troopers who went to Todashev’s home to interrogate him agree was there for most of the evening, being kept at bay from the interview by a local Orlando FBI agent known to Todashev and his friends as agent “Chris.” Taramov had said on several video interviews including one with a local television station, that he had gone to the apartment at the request of Todashev, who wanted him around when the agents came, as he suspected “something bad” might happen to him.
He reported that Agent “Chris” had kept him in the parking lot from 7:30 to 11:30, talking about meaningless things (a claim the agent supports in his own interview). Then, according to Taramov, “Chris” told him he had to leave, and, as I wrote earlier, accompanied him in his car to a remote restaurant, then calling another car to return to the scene. When Taramov himself, concerned about his friend, drove back, arriving after midnight, he found a crime scene and Todashev dead.
He wasn’t questioned by Ashton because when he went back to Russia to attend Todashev’s funeral he found upon trying to return to Orlando that the FBI had gotten him barred from re-entry to the US, despite his having a valid Green Card and no criminal record. He is only one of many Todashev friends and family members who were driven out or deported from the the US by the FBI and ICE following Todashev’s slaying, rendering them all unavailable for questioning.
Taramov’s unavailability to Ashton, assuming the State’s Attorney really wanted to conduct an independent inquiry, is a critical issue. This is because it gets to the question of why, if the FBI was investigating Todashev, who was a close friend of Tamerlan Tsarnaev, one of the Boston bombing suspects, only one agent was in that apartment doing the questioning, along with a state trooper. The FBI always works interviews and interrogations in pairs because the agency doesn’t tape interviews. It has the interrogating agent fill out a Form 302 report, and the second agent witnesses the interview and signs the first agent’s write-up verifying it as accurate.
Perhaps, as the troopers claim, this was all about their case — a three-year-old unsolved triple murder of three small-time drug dealers in Waltham in which Tsarnaev, and possibly Todashev, was a suspect. But if that was the case, why was the FBI doing the questioning and not a trooper? The FBI had been investigating Todashev as at least a witness in the Boston Marathon bombing. Indeed one document sent to Ashton’s office by the FBI is from the Supervising Agent for the case, who is listed as being the supervisor of the Tampa Joint Terrorism Task Force.
Suspiciously, the troopers too didn’t seem too concerned about documenting their interview of Todashev. They say they brought along a JVC recorder, but its battery ran out of juice well before the confession, and just when they claim Todashev was getting to the good stuff in his alleged “confession” prior to allegedly writing it down, one of the two troopers in the room, who said he had been recording the session on his cell phone as a backup, turned off the recording function and went outside to use his phone to call the Massachusetts Assistant Attorney on the murder case “for instructions.”
So there is no confession, oral or written, except for the word of the trooper and the FBI agent who witnessed and participated in Todashev’s slaying.
As for that fatal head-shot, the FBI claims, in its investigation into its agent’s shooting of Todashev, that everything comports with the official merged story of how the shooting went down. Indeed, they write:
“The Chief ME advised the trajectory of the head and shoulder
wounds, the combination of the seven entrance wounds to include the paths
of the bullets, were inconsistent with other possible scenarios. First,
due to the extreme downward trajectory of the wounds to the head and
upper shoulder were inconsistent with the shooter being behind
Todashev as if Todashev .was running away. Rather, those extreme downward
trajectories could have occurred when Todashev had his back to the shooter,
1.) Todashev leaned backwards at a severe angle toward the shooter; or
2.) Todashev was standing below a shooter who was above him; or
3.) Todashev was shot while both he and the shooter were prone on the floor.”
They left out one other possibility, though: namely that Todashev, who fell face forward in the foyer, with his head and shoulders ending up protruding inside the living room, was shot by the FBI agent one more time, with the agent firing that final shot from his position five to 10 feet into the living room, straight into the back of Todashev’s head.