By Eric Tucker
WASHINGTON — A Florida prosecutor has cleared an FBI agent of any criminal wrongdoing in the fatal shooting of a Chechen man as he was being questioned about a Boston Marathon bombing suspect, two law enforcement officials with knowledge of the investigation said Friday.
The officials, speaking on condition of anonymity Friday because they weren't authorized to speak publicly about the case, said State Attorney Jeff Ashton won't bring charges against the agent who shot Ibragim Todashev, a 27-year-old mixed martial arts fighter.
The circumstances surrounding Todashev's death have remained mysterious: Officials initially said the man had lunged at an agent with a knife while FBI agents and Massachusetts state troopers were questioning him about his friendship with suspected Boston Marathon bomber Tamerlan Tsarnaev. Later, they said it was no longer clear what happened.
Todashev's father, Abdul-Baki Todashev, insisted during a May news conference that his son was unarmed and has maintained his son's innocence. He presented photographs, which The Associated Press could not authenticate, showing his son was shot six times in the torso and once in the back of the head.
The Washington Post first reported the prosecutor's decision. Ashton's office said in an emailed statement that he has not made a final decision regarding the investigation into Todashev's death and denied sharing any such decision with federal officials.
The Justice Department also has been investigating but has not yet released its findings. A third law enforcement official said the Justice Department is expected to reach the same conclusion, based on a recommendation from the FBI.
Federal prosecutors have said in court filings that Todashev named Tsarnaev as a participant in an earlier triple homicide in Massachusetts. The filings were made in the case against Tsarnaev's brother, surviving bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev.
According to the filings, Todashev told investigators Tamerlan Tsarnaev participated in a triple slaying in Waltham on Sept. 11, 2011.
In that case, three men were found in an apartment with their necks slit and their bodies reportedly covered with marijuana. One of the victims was a boxer and friend of Tamerlan Tsarnaev.
The filing was prosecutors' attempt to block Dzhokhar Tsarnaev from getting certain information from authorities, including investigative documents associated with the Waltham slayings.
Authorities allege that Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, 20, and 26-year-old Tamerlan Tsarnaev, ethnic Chechens from Russia, planned and carried out the twin bombings near the finish of the marathon on April 15. Three people were killed and more than 260 were injured.
Dzhokhar Tsarnaev faces 30 federal charges, including using a weapon of mass destruction and 16 other charges that carry the possibility of the death penalty.
Tamerlan Tsarnaev died in a gunbattle with police as authorities closed in on the brothers several days after the bombings.
Shootings by FBI agents are almost never deemed unjustified, and the internal investigations into those shootings are typically not reviewed by outside agencies, said Samuel Walker, a criminal justice professor at the University of Nebraska at Omaha who specializes in police accountability and use of force. Walker pointed to FBI documents obtained by The New York Times under a Freedom of Information Act request last year showing that no FBI agents were found at fault in about 150 shootings between 1993 and 2011.
Most major police departments have several layers of review of officer shootings to improve tactics, training and policies, Walker said.
"It is my opinion that the FBI is still an insular organization. It's not part of the municipal police. There has been some real progress there in terms of post-incident review in shootings. That's what doesn't happen with the FBI, and that's what I think needs to happen," he said. "The FBI is not a part of that world. They think they're better, they are above that."
It's also very rare for any law enforcement officer to be charged with a crime in the shooting of a suspect, Walker added.
"The standard is so high in terms of proving criminal intent," he said.
The executive director for the Council on American-Islamic Relations-Florida, which has been working with Todashev's family and conducting its own investigation, said he wants to see the details of Ashton's report. Hassan Shibly pointed out that Todashev's live-in girlfriend and others connected to the case have been deported since the shooting.
"The DOJ's and the State Attorney's investigations relied on evidence gathered by the FBI, and the only person who can contradict first-hand their narrative is dead," Shibly said.
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Copyright 2014 The Associated Press