Florida’s law enforcement commissioner has refused to investigate the fatal shooting of a Chechen man in Orlando by a Boston FBI agent, days after the top prosecutor in Massachusetts also declined to look into the case.
In a letter to the American Civil Liberties Union, which urged the state officials to investigate the shooting last week, the commissioner said the FBI and the Justice Department are handling the inquiry.
“This is an active federal investigation,” said Gerald M. Bailey, commissioner of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, in a brief letter to the ACLU of Florida released today. “It would be inappropriate for FDLE to intervene.”
Bailey’s refusal to investigate leaves only the FBI and its overseeing agency, the Department of Justice, investigating the May 22 shooting of Ibragim Todashev, 27, a friend of suspected Boston Marathon bomber Tamerlan Tsarnaev. The FBI agent shot and killed Todashev in his own apartment after Todashev voluntarily submitted to multiple interviews with agents, according to the Council on American-Islamic Relations in Florida.
Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley declined to investigate the shooting last week, saying it had happened outside of her jurisdiction.
The ACLU chapters in Massachusetts and Florida had argued that the states should investigate because local police officials, including Massachusetts State Police detectives and an Orlando police officer, were also at the scene of the shooting. The ACLU also pointed to the extreme secrecy surrounding the case and the fact that the FBI’s internal investigations of shootings in the past 20 years have almost always cleared agents of wrongdoing.
In its letter, the ACLU had said it seemed “unlikely that the FBI investigation will meaningfully inform Massachusetts residents about what happened.”
Todashev’s family and friends and the Council on American-Islamic Relations have also called for an independent inquiry into his death.
Shootings by FBI agents are typically only investigated by the FBI with the Justice Department, but independent inquiries are not unprecedented. The Michigan attorney general and the Dearborn police conducted their own inquiries into the 2009 shooting of a Detroit imam by the FBI. Both inquiries found no evidence of wrongdoing by the agents.
In contrast to past shootings, however, the FBI has refused to divulge details of the Todashev case.
Instead, conflicting reports have emerged in the media over the past two months. Some said Todashev was armed with a blade. Another said he was unarmed when the agent shot him. Still another said Todashev attacked the FBI agent with a metal pole or perhaps a broomstick, prompting the injured agent to shoot and kill him.
Todashev was allegedly about to sign a confession implicating himself and Tsarnaev in a 2011 triple murder in Waltham, according to media reports. Tsarnaev, 26, died after a police shootout days after the bombings. His younger brother Dzhokhar, now 20, is facing federal charges in the deadly explosions.
In addition to its refusal to provide details on the Todashev case, the FBI has also barred the medical examiner in Florida from revealing the cause of death.
US immigration officials, who report to the Department of Homeland Security, have also detained Todashev’s former roommate and a potential witness in the case, Tatiana Gruzdeva, for immigration violations.
At a hearing in May that was not disclosed to the public, an immigration judge ordered the 19-year-old Gruzdeva jailed and ordered her to return to Russia by July 1. Federal immigration officials later extended her stay 30 days, which expires today.
Gruzdeva has filed a motion to reopen her immigration case in court. “Ms. Gruzdeva will remain in ICE custody while a motion to reopen her case is under review by an immigration court,” said spokeswoman Carissa Cutrell. Gruzdeva has been detained since May 16.
Gruzdeva remained in a Florida jail today, according to a federal database. Maria Sacchetti can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @mariasacchetti