The Killing of Ibragim Todashev: An Ongoing Mystery

A thorough review of his unexplained death by an FBI agent's gun raises even more questions than already existed.

The FBI has yet to explain why law enforcement shot and killed Ibragim Todashev last May. He was shot several times while being questioned in his Orlando apartment. An autopsy was conducted, but the FBI blocked its public release. An internal investigation has been completed, but it is being kept secret too. 

Interest in the case persists for several reasons.

The FBI alleges that Todashev played a role in a triple murder. Those who knew the victims in that killing would like to know what actually happened to their loved ones.

Todashev also knew Tamerlan Tsarnaev, one of the Boston bombers.

Most intriguing of all is the suspicious behavior of law enforcement. Anonymous police sources have given wildly conflicting accounts of what happened just before Todashev's death: Some said he was unarmed but agitated; others said he was armed, but disagreed about the weapon. Did he reach for a gun? A samurai sword? A knife? A metal pole? A broomstick? Every news report seemed to tell a different story. The FBI wouldn't go on the record with an official version of events, and was unusually tight-lipped about the case, even as the dead man's grieving father speculated that his son was murdered. The ACLU, the Council on American-Islamic Relations, and various newspaper editorial boards called for an independent investigation, in part because when the FBI investigates itself, its agents are basically always found blameless for fatal shootings.

I've noted all those red flags before.

Now Boston Magazine has published a major feature on Todashev that highlights other law-enforcement acts that warrant more scrutiny. More specifically, following Todashev's death, the FBI seems to have found various pretexts to arrest, intimidate, and/or deport his girlfriend and several of his acquaintances. 

There is also this mysterious happening:

On May 4, according to an arrest report, Ibragim got into a fistfight over a parking space, beating a man unconscious. He fled the scene in his white Mercedes, pursued by Orange County Sheriff’s deputies. When they caught him, Officer Anthony Riccaboni got out of the car and drew his gun. Ibragim put his hands up, and Riccaboni got a good look at him. “I could see the features of the suspect’s ears. I immediately recognized the marks on his ears as a cage fighter/jujitsu fighter,” Riccaboni later wrote in his report. “I told this suspect if he tried to fight with us I would shoot him.”

He made the suspect lie on the ground, but when he got up, he told Riccaboni something unexpected.

“Once on his feet, the suspect commented that the vehicles behind us are FBI agents that have been following him,” Riccaboni wrote. “I noticed 3 (three) vehicles with dark tint. These vehicles began to leave the area. I noticed one vehicle was driven by a male, had a computer stand and appeared to be talking on a radio.”If Ibragim was right, FBI agents had just watched him beat a man bloody without intervening.

I don't have any grand theory of Ibragim Todashev's death, and I have no idea what to make of this tidbit, except that it is yet another bit of information that suggests independent investigators outside the FBI should be looking at this case to determine what happened and why. In fact, the State of Florida has conducted an investigation, and according to the latest news reports, "Orange-Osceola State Attorney Jeff Ashton expects to release his report by the end of next month." We'll see if the public actually gets the report by the end of March, and if it explains details that are, at the very least, suspicious enough to warrant demands for answers.

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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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