Yet Another Explanation for the Killing of Ibragim Todashev

The latest law enforcement account has him charging an FBI agent with a pole -- or was it a broomstick? -- even after being shot.
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Abdulbaki Todashev, the father of Ibragim Todashev, shows photographs of his son's body at a mortuary during a news conference in Moscow May 30, 2013. / Reuters

Why was Ibragim Todashev, 27, killed as he was being questioned by the FBI in his Orlando apartment? Yesterday I pulled together numerous news reports documenting the contradictory explanations offered by law enforcement officials, many of them quoted on the condition of anonymity. Everyone seems to agree that Todashev had been questioned for at least several hours when an altercation took place. But early reports had him attacking an FBI agent with a knife or blade; at least one suggested he might have been reaching for a gun; others described him as unarmed; and still others suggested that he either wielded or lunged for a nearby samurai sword!

That brings us to a Thursday New York Times article that quotes "a senior law enforcement official briefed on the matter" who offers yet another version of what happened. Here are the details:

  • "The shooting occurred after an F.B.I. agent from Boston and two detectives from the Massachusetts State Police had been interviewing Mr. Todashev for several hours about his possible involvement in a triple homicide in Waltham, Mass., in 2011, according to the law enforcement official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the investigation was continuing."
  • "Mr. Todashev, according to the F.B.I., confessed to his involvement in the deaths and implicated Mr. Tsarnaev. He then started to write a statement admitting his involvement while sitting at a table across from the agent and one of the detectives when the agent briefly looked away."
  • "At that moment, Mr. Todashev picked up the table and threw it at the agent, knocking him to the ground."
  • "While trying to stand up, the agent, who suffered a wound to his face from the table that required stitches, drew his gun and saw Mr. Todashev running at him with a metal pole, according to the official, adding that it might have been a broomstick."
  • "The agent fired several shots at Mr. Todashev, striking him and knocking him backward. But Mr. Todashev again charged at the agent. The agent fired several more shots at Mr. Todashev, killing him." 
  • "The detective in the room did not fire his weapon, the official said."

What really confounds me about this account is the part where Todashev allegedly ran at the agent "with a metal pole" that "might have been a broomstick." If he was running with a large object in his hands when killed, how is there any doubt about what the object is? Anyone could just look at the dead guy and see what was in his hands, right? Or examine the stuff in the evidence locker. Pole or broomstick? This source doesn't know. It's also quite a feat to be shot, struck, knocked backward, and charge again toward a gun, especially for a guy who, according to his friends, was in recovery from leg surgery. And, of course, it's odd that this latest story is so different from the previous ones that have leaked out. A knife, a samurai sword, a metal pole, and a broomstick don't seem like objects that would be confused for one another.

Finally, this account has a police detective who ostensibly sees the table overturned, sees the FBI agent get injured, sees Todashev attacking with a poll, sees the injured agent draw and fire his gun as he tries to get up, sees Todashev knocked back and rushing forward again... but never fires his own weapon.

Why?  

All that said, seeming discrepancies are often explained as investigations wear on, and it's certainly plausible for a strong, physically fit man to seize a moment of inattention during an hours long interrogation, upturn a table, and grab a household object with which to attack his interrogators. Forensics experts can presumably shed light on whether the wounds on Todashev are consistent with being shot, while standing, by an FBI agent in a "while trying to stand up" position. It would be great if the various reporters who've gotten quotes from anonymous law enforcement officials went back to their sources and demanded an explanation. "Why did you tell me x when officials are now saying y happened?" There's also the matter of the alleged confession that, by this latest account, Todashev had already started to write.

I wonder if we'll ever get to see that.

A few thoughts in conclusion. It's important to bear in mind how little we know for sure at this point. It could be that the FBI agent and detective involved in the shooting acted honorably and responsibly. It's also possible that this man was needlessly and wrongfully killed. The need to resolve that uncertainty, insofar as it is possible, is why as independent an investigation as possible is needed. It also seems clear to me that the FBI should assign someone trustworthy to set forth what it knows to be true on the record, in order to reduce misinformation as much as possible. 
 
A timeline of previous law enforcement explanations is here.

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Conor Friedersdorf is a staff writer at The Atlantic, where he focuses on politics and national affairs. He lives in Venice, California, and is the founding editor of The Best of Journalism, a newsletter devoted to exceptional nonfiction.

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