WASHINGTON — The American Civil Liberties Union on Monday urged local law-enforcement officials in Florida and Massachusetts to open investigations into how an FBI agent killed a man who was being interrogated in his Orlando apartment about the Boston Marathon bombing suspects.
Carol Rose, the executive director of the ACLU of Massachusetts, said in a letter to Martha Coakley, the attorney general of Massachusetts, that secrecy surrounding the FBI’s investigation of the shooting of the Orlando man, Ibragim Todashev, had shaken “the public’s faith in the agency’s ability to review itself.”
In May, Todashev admitted in the interrogation that he and Tamerlan Tsarnaev, the deceased Boston Marathon bombing suspect, were behind a 2011 triple homicide in suburban Boston. The ACLU said that law-enforcement officers from Orlando and Massachusetts were present for the questioning in Orlando.
There have been many accounts about what occurred after Todashev made the admission. Initially, the FBI said the agent had been attacked with a knife, and later there was a report that Todashev was unarmed. Most recently, FBI officials said that Todashev threw a table into the agent and ran at him with a metal pole, and that the agent then fatally wounded him.
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FBI officials have said that their investigation will be thorough, and that many shootings by agents have also been investigated by local law-enforcement officials. But, in fact, there are rarely such investigations. The Orlando authorities have said that they are not independently investigating the episode.
In letters to Coakley and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, the ACLU said the public had little faith in the FBI’s ability to investigate itself. The letters cited a recent article by The New York Times, which said that from 1993 to 2011, the FBI deemed its agents’ use of force justified in the 150 instances in which an FBI agent fatally shot or wounded someone. The Times based its findings on investigation reports obtained through a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit.
The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) has previously called for an independent investigation into the Orlando shooting. The organization wrote a letter on June 1 to the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division to ask it to look into the shooting itself, rather than leaving it up to the FBI to investigate the matter itself.
“While the official version of events changes daily, it appears that an unarmed Mr. Todashev was fatally shot at least seven times, including once in the head,” wrote Thania Diaz Clevenger, the civil-rights director in CAIR’s Tampa office. “Based on several of the reports, it seems unlikely that the agents were justified in using deadly force against a single unarmed suspect. The circumstances surrounding the shooting are at the very least alarming.”
On July 11, the Justice Department wrote back that the Civil Rights Division’s criminal section and the U.S. Attorney’s Office were “coordinating” with the FBI’s Inspection Division in its investigation. A Justice Department official later clarified that that meant the agency was monitoring the FBI’s investigation of itself, as it would with any other shooting episode involving a federal agent, and that it had not made any determination about conducting its own civil-rights investigation.