The family of Ibragim Todashev, an associate of alleged marathon bomber Tamerlan Tsarnaev who was shot dead by an FBI agent, filed a wrongful-death claim today demanding $30 million.
The 27-year-old Chechnyan national was killed by agent Aaron McFarlane in Todashev’s Orlando, Florida, apartment on May 22, 2013. The agent, along with Massachusetts state troopers Joel Gagne and Curtis Cinelli, had been questioning Todashev about an unsolved triple murder in Waltham, Massachusetts, in which someone slit the throats of three drug dealers.
The murder took place on the 10th anniversary of 9/11; the killers had lain their victims with heads turned to one side, and dumped a pound and a half of marijuana on two of the bodies, leaving $5,000 at the scene of the crime. The victims were Raphael Teken, Erik Weissman, and Tsarnaev’s friend and sparring partner Brendan Mess. Tsarnaev, a Golden Gloves boxing champion, trained at the same gym with both Mess and Todahsev, an MMA fighter.
Todashev was said to be midway through writing out a confession that implicated himself and the elder bombing suspect when something went wrong.
According to the officers in the room, Todashev hit McFarlane on the head with a coffee table and then proceeded to charge Cinelli with a metal broomstick. Gagne was outside at the time, making calls to the Middlesex district attorney. McFarlane shot Todashev seven times in two bursts, including once in the top of the head and three times in the back. Todashev was allegedly on the ground preparing to lunge, when McFarlane shot the second time. Investigations conducted by the Department of Justice and Florida State Attorney Jeffery Ashton cleared McFarlane of any wrongdoing, arguing he shot in self-defense.
Hassan Shibly, the director of the Florida chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, is filing the “notice of claim” on behalf of Todashev’s family today. Under the Federal Torts Claims Act they must submit this document to the FBI before they can formally sue. In the claim they cite McFarlane’s checkered past as a police officer in Oakland, California; the bureau’s negligence in hiring him; and the undue pressure placed on Todashev as well as his friends and family after the marathon bombings.
McFarlane was the subject of two police brutality lawsuits and four internal affairs investigations. He pleaded the fifth during one of the most high-profile trials against Oakland police when officers were charged with beating, kidnapping, and planting false evidence. The department settled out of court. McFarlane was still receiving a pension from the Oakland police department when he shot Todashev.
“The FBI was negligent in hiring McFarlane,” lawyers acting for Todashev’s parents argue in the claim. They also criticize the Department of Justice for not having a “disinterested investigator” question McFarlane about the shooting. The FBI has been scrutinized for their internal investigations, after a New York Times report found that the agency cleared every single agent in more than 150 investigations into shootings or deaths since 1993. McFarlane declined requests to be interviewed by the state attorney who conducted an independent investigation.
Nowhere in the claim is it denied that Todashev attacked an agent; his parents say law enforcement officers breached a duty to keep their son safe by interviewing him in his home, and leaving him alone with only one agent and one officer in the room. According to Ashton’s report, the agent, the troopers, and a Joint Terrorism Task Force officer, originally agreed to keep four members of law enforcement in the room at all times. They also argue that threatening Todashev’s friends to become informants or face immigration problems caused him to act out and led him to “falsely confessing to crimes he did not commit.”
“I want justice first and foremost,” Todashev’s father, Abdul-Baki Todashev, told the Daily Beast from Moscow. “I never thought that things like this happen outside of the movies. I never realized law enforcement could ever do this, walk in and shoot somebody. I want to shine some light on this situation.”
Agents began to question Todashev about his relationship to Tsarnaev on April 21, 2013, shortly after the Tsarnaev brothers were identified as the suspects in the Boston Marathon attacks. Todashev’s girlfriend, Tatiana Gruzdeva, and his friend Ashurmamad Miraliev, say they were asked to become FBI informants before they were detained and deported. Todashev’s friend Khusen Taramov says that despite having a Green Card he was denied re-entry into the United States after Todashev’s death.
Tamerlan died shortly after the bombing in a shootout with police. Opening statements in the case against Dzhokhar are set for this Wednesday. He’s charged with killing four people and injuring hundreds of others in the bombing and its aftermath. If he’s found guilty, he’ll face the death penalty.
William Weinreb, a prosecutor in Dzhokhar’s case, recently stated that the government has no evidence connecting Todashev and Tamerlan to the Waltham murders other than Todashev’s confession. The case is still officially open.
FBI spokesperson Paul Bresson said it was against policy to comment on pending litigation.
Susan Zalkind was a friend of Erik Weissman. Her father, defense attorney Norman Zalkind, was representing him for a drug charge at the time of his death.