Earlier today, we blogged about how State Attorney Jeff Ashton issued a report
that cleared an FBI agent of any wrongdoing in the May 2013 shooting of Ibragim Todashev, a Chechen man suspected by law enforcement of having ties to the Boston Marathon bombing suspect Tamarlan Tsarnaev. We read the report – it's long – and while it certainly is thorough and it does shed some light on what may have happened in Todashev's Orlando apartment the day he was shot to death by an FBI agent during the course of an hours-long questioning session, it leaves us feeling ... well, let's just say we're a little baffled as to how the situation was allowed to get so out of hand so quickly, when the officers allegedly knew what Todashev was capable of and supposedly took lots of precautions to make sure everyone stayed safe.
The narrative goes something like this: Two Massachusetts State Troopers, an FBI agent and a special task force agent all went to meet Todashev at his apartment for a pre-arranged interview, which they told him would last approximately an hour. Todashev's girlfriend had been arrested last time he was interviewed, so he wasn't really excited to talk to officials again. To set him at ease, they offered to meet him somewhere he felt "comfortable." He told them to meet him at his apartment. The law-enforcement officers started out thinking Todashev was maybe a person of interest in an unsolved triple-murder that took place in Waltham, Mass., on Sept. 11, 2011. They'd somehow connected Tamarlan Tsarnaev to the case, and since Todashev was acquainted with Tsarnaev, they thought he might be connected as well. During the course of the way-more-than-one-hour-long interview, Todashev shifts gears and goes from insisting he wasn't involved in the murders to allegedly making a confession, willingly signing away his Miranda rights and writing out a confession. Then he gets angry, throws a table at the FBI agent, runs to the kitchen and rummages around, finds a broomstick and goes apeshit on the officers, who now fear for their lives. The FBI agent shoots Todashev seven times in total – he hits Todashev with the first round of bullets, but Todashev springs to his feet like he's in a movie, and he lunges at them in what the report describes as a possible attempt to do a "double leg takedown" MMA move, which then results in the FBI agent releasing another round of bullets that takes Todashev down for good.
Here are the things that are baffling about the report:
According to the statement made the FBI agent questioning Todashev, he studied his suspect's background, fighting style and abilities, and he determined that he was a very dangerous man.
"I studied the background of Todashev and had a very good understanding of how much training he had in Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) and wrestling," the FBI agent says in the report. "During our investigation, I personally viewed several of Todashev’s MMA fights on YouTube. Various interviews of Todashev’s associates also indicated that he was an adept wrestler, and had competed in the sport for many years. ... On a scale of one to 10, I believe Todashev was an eight as far as his inclination and ability for physical violence."
Yet, he somehow let his guard down during the interview, turned his back on Todashev and got hit in the back of the head
by a flying coffee table, while the armed trooper in the room was also not paying attention
. The two ended up in a compromised position that allowed Todashev to leap up and make a break for ... the kitchen, apparently, where they figured he was rummaging around for weapons. Although the front door to the apartment was right there, too, they determined that he was more interested in fighting than escaping.
But if these guys took such great pains to familiarize themselves with Todashev's cage-fighting abilities, and felt it was important that they send four armed men to question him, how did they manage to turn their backs on him long enough for him to freak out and catch them off guard?
Carelessness, maybe. But there were also two other guys who were supposed to be there to have their backs – where were they during the altercation that put the lives of two law-enforcement officers at risk? Outside. Duh. Despite the fact that the agencies felt it was necessary to send four armed men – three to be inside the apartment with Todashev at all times, and one to stand at the ready outside – during the questioning, things are going so swimmingly with Todashev's questioning that one of the state troopers goes outside
to make a phone call to a district attorney in Massachusetts. Because he just could not wait
to tell the DA the good news that they'd gotten Todashev to agree to sign a confession after hours of questioning. While he's chatting, the trooper left inside the apartment event texts him to give him a heads-up that Todashev is acting squirrely and they may need backup. But the trooper doesn't notice the text message
because he's, you know, on the phone with the DA. "After the shooting incident ... [Trooper Two] read the text message sent just prior to the shooting incident by ... [Trooper One] which read, ‘He is in vulnerable position to do something bad. Be on guard now. I see him looking around at times.’ The text message was time stamped at 12:04 AM.”
How were the officers in the apartment bested by Todashev in the first place? Well, that's easy – they just weren't paying attention to what he was doing. One was looking at his notebook. The other was looking at his phone.
In the report, the FBI agent says he and the remaining trooper in the apartment noticed that Todashev's demeanor had changed – he was fidgeting and asked to go to the bathroom and was moving very deliberately. The two gestured to watch him closely because of his behavior. And then: "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. I shouted ‘Show me your hands!’ I saw ... [Trooper One] to my left, but don’t know if he had his weapon drawn. I stood in the middle of the room and saw Todashev partially in the kitchen. I continuously 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 directly towards me ... It was obvious to me that Todashev was in an attacking posture. 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 ... [Trooper One]."
Trooper One, meanwhile, had sent that text to Trooper Two. "Be on guard, he is in a vulnerable position to do something bad," the text read. "Be on guard now. I see him looking around at time." He didn't get a response, so he was checking his phone to see if his text went through. Then, all hell broke loose: "I heard a roaring noise, looked up and saw the table between Todaschev and ... [FBI Agent] rise up and fly toward ... [FBI Agent]. I immediately yelled ... [for Trooper Two] to alert ... [Trooper Two] there was trouble inside the residence. Todaschev ran from the bed toward the door near the kitchen area [where Trooper One had recently placed a Samurai sword] and began quickly scanning left to right as if looking for something. He then darted toward the door, I thought he was trying to flee and began to give chase. As Todaschev reached the door he grabbed a red approximately five-foot long pole that was leaning against the wall near the door. Todaschev moved incredibly quickly, almost like something in a movie. There was no doubt in my mind that Todashev intended to kill both of us."
Police were videotaping and audiotaping their interactions with Todashev: "Three recording devices were used by the MSP at various times during the interview due to battery life. This resulted in a total of four video recordings with audio and one audio only recording," the report says. "The recordings captured the majority of the interview and confession of Todashev, none captured the shooting incident."
How on earth did they miss that part? Batteries died. Oops.
State Attorney Jeff Ashton concludes in his letter to the FBI director James Comey: "For reasons we will never know, Mr. Todashev's response to his impending arrest and probable incarceration was not to flee the residence from the easily accessible rear door that was right behind him. We learned much about Mr. Todashev during our investigation. I find the statements from those who knew him from his fighting career most illuminating. ... The one common thread among all is 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."