Serious Problems with the FBI’s Story about Killing of a Witness in Florida

In the voluminous report issued by Florida State’s Attorney Jeff Ashton’s Office on the killing in Orlando last May 22 of a witness/suspect under interrogation by the FBI — an investigation that concluded that the shooting was “justified” — there is not a single mention of the bruise and contusion found on the left side of Boston Marathon witness Ibragim Todashev’s head.

That together with the lack of explanation for three shots in the center of the back raise a suspicion that Todashev may have been shot while trying to flee a brutal interrogation, and then killed, possibly while trying to surrender.

First about the bruise wound, which Orange County/Orlando Deputy Chief Medical Examiner Gary Utz told me, in an exclusive interview conducted in the week before the release of Ashton’s report on the case appeared to be the result of Todashev’s having been “forcibly struck,” blows out of the water the entire story of this case, as “reconstructed” by both Ashton’s office and the FBI and US Justice Department.


Note the bruise and contusion on the left side of Todashev’s head, indicating, according to the coroner who examined the body, that he was “forcibly struck”.

These agencies all have Todashev sitting at 11:30 pm in his apartment at the end of a four-and-a-half hour grilling, calmly “confessing” to participation, along with Boston Marathon bombing suspect Tamerlan Tsarnaev, in a vicious 2011 triple murder of three small-time drug dealers in Waltham, Mass., and starting to write down his confession on a couple of sheets of lined white paper. Out of the blue, they claim he “suddenly” upends the coffee table in front of the bed where he is sitting, tossing it at the head of the FBI agent sitting across from him, runs for the front of the apartment, and then turns and charges towards the FBI agent and Massachusetts State Trooper who have been interrogating him. As he attacks, the agent fires three rounds, causing him to stumble forward, but he “incredibly” rises and continues his attack, at which point he’s shot four more times and falls to the floor dead.

As I wrote this past week, there’s a major problem with this account: It’s not the one provided by either of the two lawmen on the scene, but rather is an FBI composite that merges two wildly divergent accounts — one by the trooper that Todashev him running straight to the front door, grabbing a metal broomstick or rod leaning there, turning and brandishing it, and the other that has him running first into the kitchenette area, that is separated by a waist-high counter from the rest of the room, rifling through a drawer of kitchen implements, then running out of the kitchenette and rounding towards the agents in the living room before being shot. Clearly one or both of those conflicting accounts is untrue. He can’t have done both, as the merged “account” has him doing (State’s Attorney Ashton lamely insists the two accounts are “basically consistent”)

Furthermore, particularly in the case of the agent’s story, there is seemingly too little distance between the kitchenette opening into the foyer, and the beginning of the living room, for Todashev to have been shot, recover, and continue running into the room and then still end up falling with most of his body winding up in the foyer and only his head and shoulders in the living room area, as shown in photos and this diagram from the coroner’s report.

coroner's room drawing

Note the limited distance between the egress from the kitchenette and the junction of foyer and livingroom, where the body lies.

Three shots to the back while fleeing?

But there’s a major problem with the official actual shooting story, too. As I wrote yesterday, three of the agent’s seven shots were into Todashev’s back, near the centerline of his body (not towards the side but square in the upper back). Two are in the left arm (Todashev, a mixed martial arts fighting expert, was right-handed). Two other shots, both deadly, were to the chest just below the left nipple, and to the top of the head, towards the back of the head.

The deadly shots would both have caused almost immediate collapse. According to the coroner’s report, the head shot, which went through the center of the brain and the cerebellum, lodging at the base of the brain, would have caused immediate incapacitation, dropping Todashev to the floor. The shot to the chest pierced his aorta, the main artery carrying blood out of the heart to the body, a rupture of which, like an aneurism, would have caused a rapid collapse in blood pressure and unconsciousness also almost immediately. So we know those two shots had to have been in the second round of four shots. Otherwise there would have been no “renewed attack” by Todashev.

So that leaves us with five more shots to explain.

Two of these were to the left arm, entering the front bicep area and the outer side of the upper arm. That is not the arm that a martial arts fighter who was right-handed would have raised to attack. It would, however be raised for defense or as a natural effort at protection from a threat like an aimed gun, but let’s, for the sake of argument, say that Todashev raised that arm in his initial run towards the officers. In that case, he could have been shot in the arm. Now if somehow those hits on the arm caused him to involuntarily or voluntarily turn, exposing his back, that could at most even then only explain one more shot to the back, as the first volley was just three shots altogether.

That would leave the other two shots to the back unexplained. Not to mention that if there were two more shots out of the next volley of four again into the back, how would there have been time for him to spin around during that volley so as to get hit in the chest and the top of the head?

Far simpler and more credible theory, never entertained as a possible scenario for these seven bullets by any of the agencies looking at this killing, is this one:

Todashev runs for the front door to escape his two armed captors, and is shot three times in the back as he is fleeing through the long foyer towards the door. Seriously wounded, but not immobilized (the bullets pierced lung and liver, but did not hit anything that would have dropped him instantly), and perhaps realizing he was doomed if he kept heading out the door, Todashev turned to confront his attackers and was hit first two times in the arm.

Shot while surrendering?

Here there are two different possibilities. Experts in criminal investigation suggest that one possibility is that either he raised his arms in a protective fashion or perhaps even a sign of surrender, and was shot twice in the left arm at the start of the second volley, or possibly he instinctively raised his left arm to protect against the gun aimed at him and was shot then in the arm two times. Then as part of that same four-shot volley, he was shot in the chest, and finally, either as he was falling towards the floor, or after he had fallen face first to the floor from that shot, with his feet towards the front door, and the top of his head, crown upwards, pointing towards the agent, who was standing by his own description, “five to ten feet” into the room, the agent fires into the top of his head (if was after he was down, it would have been a kill shot or coup-de-grace).

All of Todashev’s blood is located at the junction of the living room of the apartment and the beginning of the foyer leading to the front door. This would be consistent with the shots to the back having been in the foyer, as none of those bullets left his body, and it would have taken some time for blood to have been spilling out of the entry wounds. Most would have drained from his head wound and the chest wound, where he was lying and where he died.

Now to that unexplained and conveniently unmentioned head wound cited by Utz.

If, as the FBI agent and the state trooper claim, Todashev had orally confessed to being an at least an accessory to murder, and if he had agreed to write out a confession, why would Todashev have suddenly changed course and gone on the attack against two armed men?

Todashev’s mother-in-law, Elena Teyer, a Russian immigrant and US citizen just retired today from six and a half years in the US Army, makes a good point. She, her daughter Reni Manukyan, who was married to but separated from Todashev, her young son, and many of Todashev’s close friends, were all subjected to FBI questioning, harassment and interrogation — some like his girlfriend Tatyana Gruzdeva and friend Ashur Miraliev, to arrest and deportation on no grounds or on trumped-up and never proven minor criminal charges — and all say they were pressured to make false statements offered up by the FBI. So, says Teyer, it seems likely that Todashev too was put under pressure in that lengthy night-time interrogation in his apartment to make a false confession put to him by his interrogators. (There were certainly many avenues the FBI could have used: leaving his motherin-law alone, and/or his wife, who had left the US for Russia in fear of their continues harassment, allowing his girlfriend to return to the US, or his other friends, or making him a state’s witness, for example.)

At the time of the confession, he had only written a few sentences (and only about a “robbery,” not a murder), not getting to the presumably important part where the three young dealers were slain. Here’s what he allegedly wrote, but never completed or signed:

My name is IBRAGIM TODASHEV I wanna tell the story about the robbery me and Tam did in Waltham in September of 2011. That was [illegible] by Tamerlan [illegible] he [illegible] to me to rob the drug dealers. We went to their house we got in there and Tam had a gun he pointed it [illegible two words] the guy that opened the door for us and the (sic?) we went upstairs into the house with 3 guys in there [Crossout] we put them on the ground and then we [Crossout?] taped their hands up.

Fleeing a beating?

Did he balk at writing the confession at that point, and then get brutally hit on left side of his head, perhaps by the agent’s fist or a gun butt? If so, suggests Teyer, his martial arts training could easily have led him to react instinctively to defend himself by lifting up the table in front of him into his attacker, and then trying to flee, leading to the shots into his back.

The aborted written “confession” document certainly could suggest something like that.

The reason this is important is that the FBI admits it was never interested in that murder, which is a local Massachusetts case, long under investigation by the Middlesex County District Attorney. What drew the FBI to Todashev, and to a first interview of him back on April 21 of last year, was his friendship with the elder suspect in the Marathon bombing, Tamerlan Tsarnaev. Significantly, among the documents reviewed by the Florida State’s Attorney and released with his report, is a statement from the Supervising Agent overseeing the Todashev investigation. He describes himself as the Supervising Agent of the Florida Joint Terrorism Task Force, making it clear that the agency’s investigation was not about a three-year-old Waltham murder case, but about “terrorism.”

Not that Todashev was suspected in that bombing, but as many have pointed out, as a friend of the elder Tsarnaev he could have known something about how the bombing was planned.

Under the best of circumstances, the FBI could have thought that getting Todashev hit with a murder rap could loosen his tongue about what he knew about Tsarnaev and who, if anyone, he had worked with in planning that bombing.

If that is the case, why did the agent react in such deadly fashion when Todashev tried to flee, or alternately, attack. If the FBI account of the shooting is correct, Todashev was pretty gravely wounded by the first three bullets fired, and surely could have been controlled and defended against by two fit and armed lawmen, both of whom say they were trained themselves in martial arts. Wasn’t preserving the life of a key Boston Marathon witness a key objective of the FBI in this case?

Why wasn’t Todashev restrained once he was a suspect?

Many observers have wondered why, once Todashev had signed a Miranda waiver, agreeing to talk without an attorney present, which he allegedly did at about 10:30 in the evening, at which point there is a text indicating that the interrogators felt they had enough evidence to justify arresting Todashev, didn’t they cuff or restrain him, or even bring him to a controlled environment like the Orlando Police station where they had interviewed him before. After all, they have stated that they all knew and were impressed by his prowess as a fighter, having previously watched videos of his public fights.

As Boston reporter David Boeri stated two days ago on Rachel Maddow’s MSNBC program, the killing of Todashev, from the point of view of the Boston bombing, was “a catastrophe.”

Which leads to another speculation: Did the FBI ever really want to have Todashev testifying in court?

Let’s face it. The FBI’s record on fighting “terrorism” is pretty dismal. Not only did it fail to prevent the Boston bombing, despite having been warned a year earlier about Tamerlan Tsarnaev, and even having interviewed him the prior January on suspicions that he had been in contact with Islamic jihadists on a visit to Dagestan. It has also been found to have been actively involved in suggesting, assisting and even orchestrating all but one of the terror plots that it has boasted of “disrupting” or “preventing” since September 11, 2001.

Could the bureau have decided, as Teyer suggests, that Todashev “knew too much” about Tsarnaev and that he could be an embarrassment to the FBI?

Could that “too much” that he knew have included knowledge of some kind of a working relationship Tsarnaev had with the Bureau?

There are two more reason to justify suspicion about the official story of this agent killing of a witness or suspect. Curiously, the state trooper in the room, who says he had been taping Todashev’s oral statements right up to about 11:53 pm on his cell phone, suddenly at that point turned off the recording and so he could start texting boastful texts to colleagues, like “Who’s your daddy.” So there is no recording of what happened from that point on through 12:04 when Todashev was shot. All we have is what the agent and the trooper say happened — and they couldn’t even get their two stories to line up.

Peculiar FBI behavior

The other reason for suspicion is the odd behavior of a second FBI agent, the partner of the agent doing the interrogation, who was not present for any of the interrogation in a strange violation of FBI procedure. As we reported earlier, the FBI always has two agents conduct interrogations or interviews of suspects or witnesses. It does this because the Bureau, controversially, does not tape interviews, preferring instead to have the interrogating agent write up an account of any interview on what is called a Form 302, with the partner agent signing it to verify its accuracy.

Agent “Chris,” as he was known to Todashev and to his friends, all of whom were being investigated by the FBI, was the local agent for the Bureau in Orlando. He remained outside the apartment the whole four and a half hours of Todashev’s interrogation, even when he allegedly began confessing. This means there can be no Form 302 for Todashev’s statement.

So why was Agent “Chris” outside? He says he was tasked with keeping away from the house a friend of Todashev’s, Khusen Taramov, whom Todashev had asked to come along to his house to be present during his interview session with the FBI (Todashev has said he was worried that “something bad” might happen to him).

Curiously, Taramov, a Green Card-holding legal immigrant from Russia who later went to Russia to attend Todashev’s funeral and found himself banned by the FBI from returning to the US, says that at 11:30 pm, Agent “Chris” suddenly told him he had to leave the area, instructing him to drive to a restaurant far from the residential area where the apartment was located,. Taramov says the agent, after denying his request to be allowed to remain in the parking lot outside the apartment, even rode in Todashev’s car with him to the restaurant, later calling for another car to bring him back to the scene, where Agent “Chris” inexplicably remained outside the apartment by his own account.

Did the agent get a message telling him to take Taramov out of eye and earshot of the apartment to remove a witness to a witness killing? We won’t know because Agent Chris says that FBI’s Bureau-issued cell phones “automatically” erase all phone records and text records after 30 days.

The American Civil Liberties Union says it still has questions about the fatal shooting. As Baylor Johnson, advocacy coordinator of the ACLU of Florida, says, “Even in light of the information in [the Florida State’s Attorney’s] report, the central question of whether the killing of Mr. Todashev was justified remains frustratingly unanswered.” The national ACLU says it plans to push for further investigation by the Massachusetts State Attorney and the Department of Justice.

There will also be a report released soon by the Florida chapter of the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR), which, together with Todashev’s family, hired lawyers and a licensed private investigator to look into this FBI witness/suspect shooting.

DAVE LINDORFF is a veteran investigative journalist, and is founder of the collectively run news site ThisCantBeHappenig.net

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Dave Lindorff is a founding member of ThisCantBeHappening!, an online newspaper collective, and is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion (AK Press).

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