ACLU calls for inquiry into death of friend of Boston bomber
Nearly two months after an alleged friend of purported Boston Marathon bomber Tamerlan Tsarnaev was fatally shot by an FBI special agent while being questioned by the FBI and the Massachusetts State Police in his Orlando, Fla., apartment, few details have emerged about the circumstances of his death and his connection to Tsarnaev.
That’s part of the reason the ACLU has called on state officials in Massachusetts and Florida to conduct their own investigations into the May 22 death of Ibragim Todashev.
“When something goes wrong during an operation involving Massachusetts law enforcement officers, Massachusetts residents deserve a thorough and transparent investigation by Massachusetts officials,” said Carol Rose, the executive director of the ACLU of Massachusetts, in a letter to Massachusetts Atty. Gen. Martha Coakley.
Todashev’s death was a strange coda to the Boston Marathon bombings and the citywide manhunt that shut down much of Boston and ended in the arrest of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev and the death of his brother, Tamerlan.
Federal officials have said Todashev was being asked primarily about an unsolved Sept. 11, 2011, triple slaying in Waltham, Mass. Officials believe he and Tsarnaev may have had a role in the slayings, in which three men were found with their throats cut and marijuana sprinkled over their bodies.
The officials also had questions about Todashev’s relationship with Tamerlan Tsarnaev. One of the three Waltham victims, Brendan H. Mess, was described as a close friend of Tsarnaev’s. They also believed Todashev had visited Tsarnaev in Boston before the bombings.
Shortly after the Boston manhunt, the Middlesex County district attorney had said that it was investigating Tamerlan Tsarnaev’s potential links to the homicide case as well. While Tsarnaev had spoken of his friendship with one of the men killed in the homicide, families of the victims disputed whether the two were ever very close.
Just what Todashev’s potential role might have been in the triple homicide is unclear. He, like Tsarnaev, was Chechen, and was also a mixed martial arts fighter.
Also unclear is just what happend on May 22 in Orlando. The FBI has barred the medical examiner in Florida from releasing Todashev’s cause of death, and has detained Todashev’s roommate on immigration violations.
Initially, the FBI said Todashev attacked an agent with a knife. But his family and supporters said he was unarmed when he was shot multiple times.
The FBI has stated that the shooting is under investigation by a review group that includes members of the FBI and the Department of Justice.
Rose, in her letter, cited a recent report by the New York Times that found that the FBI deemed its agents justified in all 150 instances in which they fatally shot or injured subjects between 1993 and 2011.
“These disclosures, and the secrecy surrounding the FBI’s investigation of the Todashev shooting, have shaken the public’s faith in the agency’s ability to review itself,” the letter said.
The letter to Coakley also called for more disclosures about the federal Joint Terrorism Task Force, which at least one of the Massachusetts state troopers had been assigned to. While the number of task force members quadrupled over the last 10 years, there is little supervision of the members funded by Massachusetts taxpayers.
“If Massachusetts state troopers assigned to the JTTF are supervised by and accountable to state officials, then this shooting would seem to warrant an investigation and report from your office,” wrote Rose, who also called on more disclosure about the JTTF and how its officers are supervised.
Brad Puffer, a spokesman for Coakley’s office, said that the attorney general has reviewed the ACLU letter, and that “while the use of deadly force by law enforcement should be appropriately investigated, this particular incident happened in another state which is outside our jurisdiction.”
The ACLU of Florida sent a similar letter to Gerald Bailey, commissioner of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, calling for an investigation into the death, and for more information about the state’s Joint Terrorism Task Force.
“When a resident of Florida is shot and killed during an operation involving Florida law enforcement officers, the people of our state should be able to expect a thorough and transparent investigation by Florida officials,” said the letter, signed by Howard Simon, director of Florida’s ACLU.
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