Orange County Sheriff's Office via Getty Images

How did Ibragim Todashev die?

Florida investigation reports how an FBI agent fatally shot a friend of a Boston Marathon bombing suspect

Nearly a year ago, 27-year-old mixed martial arts fighter Ibragim Todashev was killed by an agent from the Federal Bureau of Investigation while under interrogation inside his Orlando, Fla., apartment.

Although he's one of dozens of suspects fatally shot by FBI agents since 1993, Todashev's case was special: He was a friend of Tamerlan Tsarnaev, the older of two brothers accused of carrying out the Boston Marathon bombings in 2013.

The FBI and Massachusetts authorities suspected that Tsarnaev, who was killed during the manhunt for the brothers last April, had been involved in a September 2011 triple murder in nearby Waltham. They believed Todashev, who had lived in Boston and trained in a mixed martial arts gym with Tsarnaev, knew about it.

Todashev's killing prompted an outpouring of public interest and skepticism, particularly from his family, who alleged wrongdoing. Federal authorities claimed that Todashev had lunged at his interrogators with a weapon, which compelled them to use deadly force.

Abdulbaki Todashev, the father of Ibragim Todashev, shows pictures of his son's bullet-riddled body during a press conference in Moscow on May 30, 2013
Andrey Smirnov/AFP/Getty Images

On Tuesday, State Attorney Jeffrey Ashton, who has jurisdiction over two Florida counties — Orange, home of Orlando, and Osceola — released the results of perhaps the most comprehensive law enforcement investigation into Todashev's death. A separate report by the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division, also released on Tuesday, concluded that the FBI agent was justified in fatally shooting Todashev. 

Ashton reached the same conclusion, but the trove of documents published alongside his report illuminates details of an interrogation that did not go according to plan.

Already under surveillance

Four law enforcement officers were involved in Todashev's interrogation on the night of May 21, 2013: two Massachusetts state police troopers, one FBI agent and one police officer assigned to a federal joint terrorism task force. They had all been assigned to investigate the 2011 Waltham murders and to explore their connection to the marathon bombings.

The names of all law enforcement officers were redacted from Ashton's report, and they were not named in the report by the Justice Department.

For at least several weeks prior to the interrogation, Todashev had been under FBI surveillance, and it appears that he knew it, according to the documents.

On May 4, after being arrested for fighting with a father and son over an Orlando-area mall parking spot — Todashev dislocated some of the son's teeth — he told Orange County sheriff's deputies that he was being followed by the FBI.

According to an incident report from Orange County (Fla.) sheriff's deputies, Ibragim Todashev was aware that federal authorities were following him.
Office of State Attorney Jeffrey Ashton

The four men who would later interrogate Todashev were aware of the parking lot fight and had seen surveillance video shot by FBI agents observing it. They also had extensive knowledge of Todashev's mixed martial arts abilities, having viewed YouTube videos of his matches.

Furthermore, the agents had spoken to contacts from the Orlando area, who told them about Todashev's seemingly superhuman stamina.

"They thought that he might be retarded ah, because of the level of force and, and ah, injuries that he was taking and he wouldn't submit," the lead state trooper investigating the Waltham murders told Ashton's office, according to the report.

The FBI agent who shot and killed Todashev told a subsequent internal FBI investigation that on a scale of one to 10, "I believe Todashev was an eight as far as his inclination and ability for physical violence."

Primed for an outburst

Besides his martial arts training, there were other reasons for the agents to be concerned about interviewing Todashev.

A week earlier, after he had consented to FBI questioning at a local police station, his live-in girlfriend — who had accompanied him — had been arrested on immigration charges. According to the Boston Globe, Tatiana Igorevna Gruzdeva was a Russian citizen who had overstayed her visa.

The police officer from the joint terrorism task force (the official name was redacted), who was the group's primary liaison with Todashev, persuaded him to participate in a second round of questioning, but this time Todashev agreed to talk only at his apartment, a duplex in Orlando.

The police officer told the Florida investigators that Todashev had refused to meet again at the police station because of his girlfriend's arrest, which he was angry about, according to Ashton's report. 

"Yeah, he was upset," one of the Massachusetts state troopers said. "He felt that it was connected to the fact that he came in voluntarily to speak with agents and ah, subsequently she was removed and placed in immigration custody, I, I think he felt slighted about that." 

Change of plans

Nonetheless, the four law enforcement officers agreed to interview Todashev in his apartment. According to Ashton's report, citing an interview with a top agent in the FBI's Tampa office, Todashev "had the interest" of FBI Director Robert Mueller. 

But several aspects of the interrogation did not go according to plan.

Todashev had promised to be alone at his apartment the night of the interrogation, and he was.

But Khusen Tamarov, a friend of his, waited outside the apartment in a parking lot, where he met the police officer from the task force. Tamarov told the officer that his friend was "very upset" with what seemed to be his girlfriend's imminent deportation and that Todashev blamed the FBI. 

The officer decided to stay in the parking lot to watch Tamarov, according to the report, even though the questioning went on longer than the waiting police officer expected.

"I remember looking down at my watch. It was like around midnight. I basically said, 'Man, this is a long time,'" the officer told the investigators from Ashton's office.

Inside the apartment, the two Massachusetts troopers began recording the questioning using, at separate times, a digital video recorder, an audio recorder and a mobile phone. The FBI agent told the state attorney's investigators he didn't know they were doing so.

The Massachusetts troopers made four video recordings and one audio recording of the questioning, none of which recorded the shooting, according to Ashton's report. But they did reveal some of the final images of Todashev while he was still alive.

An image taken from a Massachusetts state trooper's video shows Todashev about 20 minutes before he was killed, speaking to law enforcement officers while sitting on a mattress on the ground floor of his apartment.
Office of State Attorney Jeffrey Ashton
A second image shows Todashev about 10 minutes before he was killed. The white table he would use to attack the FBI agent, who is seated at the right of the frame, has been moved between him and the agent for support as he writes a statement.
Office of State Attorney Jeffrey Ashton

In the first-floor living room, one of the troopers recorded Todashev with a JVC camera, at points deleting his family videos to make more space. But when the camera ran out of batteries, he switched to a Droid Razor mobile phone.

At one point in one of the video recordings, which show Todashev sitting on a mattress on the floor of his apartment, he states, "Don't video anymore," according to Ashton's report. The trooper, in a sworn statement to the FBI, said Todashev asked him twice to stop recording him with his mobile phone. Each time, the trooper began recording again.

At around 11:40 p.m., Todashev decided to make a written statement about the Waltham murders, according to the report. Neither his short written statement, which is redacted in photos but appears to take up a quarter of a page from a legal notepad, nor the transcription of his spoken statement, which is also redacted in Ashton's report but occupies 12 pages, implicated Todashev as a killer.

As Todashev was writing his statement, the FBI agent and a state trooper in the living room with Todashev said he began to act strangely and ask questions about jail, such as how much time he might serve, whether he could make a plea deal with prosecutors and whether he could smoke cigarettes behind bars.

For the third or fourth time since they arrived at the apartment, Todashev asked to use the bathroom upstairs, the FBI agent told investigators from Ashton's office. The trooper whistled to the FBI agent and made a motion to keep his eyes open.

Todashev moved "slowly and methodically," according to the FBI agent. After urinating, Todashev ran water over his hands, then let it drip off into the toilet.

Something about Todashev's behavior was unusual enough that "my senses was very heightened at that point because I wasn't sure what was going on," said the trooper. "... My indication was that we should be on heightened awareness because his demeanor had changed. ... I saw him looking around and now, he's moving extremely slow, um, as if he's calculating in his mind."

Only the FBI agent and one trooper were left in the apartment. The second trooper had gone outside to call the Middlesex County district attorney in Massachusetts, who was in charge of the Waltham investigation, to report Todashev's statement.

As the three men walked downstairs from the bathroom, the trooper went ahead to remove a sword that was hanging from screws in Todashev's wall. Todashev likely saw him do so in a mirror at the bottom of the staircase, the trooper later told Florida investigators.

A sword that was hanging on the wall of Todashev's apartment.
Office of State Attorney Jeffrey Ashton

Todashev sat down again on a mattress in the living room, while the trooper stood by the stairs and the FBI agent sat, just a few feet away on the other side of a white coffee table, in a folding chair.

At 12:03 a.m., the trooper sent a text message to the FBI agent and the other state police officer outside:

"Be on guard, He is in a vulnerable position to do something bad. Be on guard now. I see him looking around at time.”

A minute passed. The FBI agent was reviewing his notes, looking down as Todashev wrote. The trooper, having not heard the usual sound of the FBI agent receiving his text, looked down to see if the message had gone through.

In the next moment, both men later told Florida investigators, they heard a loud "roar." The trooper saw the coffee table fly through the air.

Todashev's apartment after the shooting, from the perspective of the mattress where he wrote his statement. The coffee table lies overturned about 10 feet away. His body has been obscured with a black box.
Office of State Attorney Jeffrey Ashton

Neither the trooper nor the FBI agent knew exactly how the table struck the agent, but it left a deep cut in his head that soaked the left side of his dress shirt in blood and later required metal stitches.

The agent grabbed at Todashev as he ran but missed. The trooper pulled his handgun, but lowered it when Todashev ran into the kitchen, according to the report. 

Rather than trying to escape through the door, Todashev seemed to be frantically looking for something, according to Ashton's report. The trooper believed he was trying to find the sword that had been moved. The FBI agent said he heard the sound of metal banging, according to the report, and the trooper thought Todashev was looking for a weapon.

The FBI agent told Florida investigators that he repeatedly yelled for Todashev to show his hands.

Suddenly, Todashev sprinted back into the room, like "something you'd see in a movie," the trooper said to investigators.

Todashev, the mixed martial arts student, was holding a pole and looked — according to the trooper's testimony — as if he intended to "impale" the trooper. 

The trooper didn't move, but a volley of gunshots from the FBI agent rang out on his right. According to the medical examiner's report included in Ashton's documents, Todashev was shot three times in the left side, penetrating his lungs and heart. 

Todashev was wielding a broom handle; the FBI agent, a .40-caliber Glock 23 pistol.

Todashev stumbled to his hands and knees but almost instantaneously launched himself again toward the trooper, the officer said. 

The FBI agent fired again. One bullet went down through the top of Todashev's head, and the other three entered his back, likely because of his twisting body, according to the medical examiner.

"There was no doubt in my mind that Todashev intended to kill both of us," the agent stated.

A pole that Todashev seized was a broom handle, above.
Office of State Attorney Jeffrey Ashton

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