Exclusive: Father of Slain Chechen Plans to Sue FBI for Son’s Wrongful Death

Abdulbaki Todashev, whose 27-year-old son Ibragim was killed in May during an FBI interrogation, landed in the U.S. on Aug. 5 to seek answers from U.S. authorities to questions surrounding his son's death

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Maxim Shemetov / REUTERS

Abdulbaki Todashev, the father of Ibragim Todashev, attends a news conference in Moscow on May 30, 2013

A grudge against the FBI is never an easy thing to act upon, especially for a man as foreign to the U.S. legal system as Abdulbaki Todashev, a municipal official from the Russian region of Chechnya. But on Monday, Aug. 5, Todashev arrived in Tampa, in Florida, with a black briefcase of photographs — the evidence he plans to use in suing the FBI for the wrongful death of his son. The case would be a long shot, in part because Todashev speaks little English, cannot afford a lawyer and only has a U.S. tourist visa glued into his Russian passport. What he does have is the help of two U.S. rights organizations — including the American Civil Liberties Union, or ACLU — and the determination of a grieving father from a region where blood feuds run deep.

Todashev’s eldest son, Ibragim, was killed during an FBI interrogation in his home in Orlando on May 22, two days before he was due to fly home to his native Chechnya. The FBI, along with several officers from the Orlando and Boston police forces, had arrived at his one-bedroom apartment that evening to interrogate him in connection with the Boston Marathon bombing. One of the bombing suspects, Tamerlan Tsarnaev, who was also an ethnic Chechen, had been a friend of the younger Todashev when they both lived in Massachusetts. The FBI was trying to learn more about their relationship, so the officers questioned him for several hours that night at a table in his living room. But soon after midnight, under circumstances that remain unexplained, Ibragim was fatally shot.

The photographs in his father’s briefcase seem to raise more questions about the death than they answer. On a recent afternoon in Moscow, Todashev laid them out across the table of a diner, starting with the family photos he had taken of his son with his 11 siblings in Chechnya. In one of the frames, Ibragim stands with several of his younger brothers at a boxing club in Grozny, the regional capital, where he began his training to become a mixed-martial-arts fighter. In another, he grapples during a professional cage fight in Florida, surrounded by rows of American fight fans. Then his father shows the photos of his body, rent with wounds, that his friends in Florida had taken while preparing him for burial. One closeup of the top of his head appears to show two bullet holes about half an inch apart from each other. “He was shot seven times,” his father says. “In the heart and in the head. What is that if not murder?”

The FBI, which has opened an internal investigation into the killing, has done little to explain how it went down. In a statement on the day of Ibragim’s death, the FBI’s Boston division said he had “initiated a violent confrontation” with the officers who had been questioning him. A week later, the FBI said in another statement that the death would be investigated by the Shooting Incident Review Group, which includes officials from the FBI and the Department of Justice. While that probe is ongoing, the bureau said, it cannot comment on the details of the case. On July 16, a Florida medical examiner said the FBI had blocked the release of Ibragim’s autopsy report pending the agency’s investigation.

U.S. media reports have meanwhile painted a confused and sometimes contradictory narrative. The most detailed account came from John Miller, a former deputy director of the FBI who now works as a correspondent for CBS News. On May 31, he said that right before Ibragim was killed, he had been writing out a confession to a triple homicide allegedly committed with Tsarnaev in Waltham, Mass., in 2011. Citing unnamed sources, Miller said that Ibragim then overturned the table, knocking the FBI agent back and charging at him with “a metal broom handle or some object like that.” Other media reports, also citing unnamed officials, have said Ibragim was wielding a knife or was unarmed.

The photos that his father showed TIME in Moscow seem to corroborate at least part of Miller’s account. In June, the elder Todashev received a U.S. tourist visa and traveled to Florida to make inquiries about his son’s death. There he met with the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), an advocacy group based in Washington, D.C., and with their help, he hired a private detective to question his son’s neighbors and access his apartment.

In the living room where the interrogation took place, the elder Todashev took several photographs, one of which shows a table lying on its side. “Apparently he knocked it over,” Todashev says, referring to his son. “You can see the things that were on the table are scattered on the floor.” A large pool of blood can be seen on the other side of the room, in the doorway leading to the kitchen. Citing a police document he says he saw in Florida listing the items seized from his son’s apartment, Todashev also said the FBI had confiscated “some kind of stick,” possibly a broom handle or the leg of a chair, along with a computer and other possessions.

But he denies that his son could have posed any serious threat to the officers interrogating him. “He had just had surgery on his knee and was still walking with crutches,” Todashev says, pointing to a photograph of his son’s dead body — over the right knee there is a long, neat row of stitches. He also denies that his son could have been involved in the triple homicide in Waltham or in the Boston Marathon bombings. Had Ibragim felt at risk of prosecution, his father reasons, he would have fled to Chechnya. Instead, he underwent numerous interrogations in Florida, and on the advice of the FBI, he canceled a trip he had planned to Chechnya in May. “I told him to come home,” his father says. “But he said he’d better stay, because the FBI asked him to.”

Ibragim, who was 27 when he died, first went to the U.S. in 2008 to study English as part of a student-exchange program. Earlier this year, he received a green card, making him a legal permanent resident of the U.S., where he married an Armenian American, Reni Manukyan. Although the couple was estranged, Manukyan has also been campaigning for justice in Ibragim’s death. The family has received some moral support from authorities in Russia, but little else. Ramzan Kadyrov, the Kremlin-backed leader of Chechnya, has claimed that Ibragim was killed “for no reason,” possibly as a “reprisal” by U.S. special services. But Ibragim’s father, a senior official in the city government of Grozny, told TIME that he had not discussed his son’s case with Kadyrov and was not receiving any assistance from the Russian state.

For now, Todashev says his best hope for clarity in his son’s death lies with the ACLU, which called for an independent investigation into the case on July 22. “The FBI has offered completely incompatible explanations, they have failed to explain how these inconsistent stories found their way into newspaper accounts of the shootings, and have not offered any clarifying comment about what really happened, ” said Howard Simon, the Florida executive director of the ACLU.

That statement also cited a June 18 report from the New York Times, which found that from 1993 to 2011, FBI agents shot about 70 “subjects” to death and wounded about 80 others; in every one of those cases, the agency’s internal investigations found its agents’ actions to be “justified.” That report has raised “public skepticism in the FBI’s ability to investigate itself,” said the ACLU, which sent requests to the Massachusetts attorney general and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement asking them to investigate Ibragim’s death independently.

Both those requests have been denied, leaving a wrongful-death suit against the FBI as the Todashev family’s only legal recourse. “They really don’t leave any other option than for the Todashevs and his survivors to go ahead with their civil claim,” says Yvette Acosta MacMillan, a staff attorney for the ACLU in Florida. “They would be able to obtain the records and the information through discovery in a lawsuit because right now, none of the information, none of the documents are being released.”

Two days before departing for Florida, where Todashev was due to meet with CAIR and the ACLU, he told TIME that he planned to file a wrongful-death suit, not to seek financial compensation, but to force the FBI to reveal the facts of his son’s death and, if they are damning, to accept responsibility. “At least once they must be made to admit they were wrong,” he said. “What, is the FBI infallible?”

51 comments
Jokhoe
Jokhoe

Today's America's is changed because there is the jewish influence everywhere and in every corner of the american society. So when you are a muslim you wil be handled differently and mostly negatively. It's going to be hard to find real justice for the muslims in the USA and in ISRAEL. So the American people is now brainwashed trough the Newsmedium which most of them ouwned or influenced by the Jews. So that's the way it is for now, nothing can be changed onless the Jews change first and accept equalty for all culture in this world.  

DeanSmith1
DeanSmith1

Good luck.  He is going to need it.

MichaelLederman
MichaelLederman

Wrongful death? He was in a gunfight with the FBI who was attempting to arrest a terrorist (did you conveniently forget that part) The moment you so much as aim a weapon at an agent your life is forfeited. So good luck with the lawsuit I'm sure it will end up costing you for legal fees while gaining you nothing. 

Next I want to see each victim  including the city itself suing your family for damage and destruction. Not to mention several cases of wrongful death like the cop your son shot to death.

张超
张超

And people of other religions don't lie?

Deborah Pedersen
Deborah Pedersen

That dumb kid was supposedly confessing to a triple homicide. All islamic idiots are suspect and you cannot trust a single thing they say because their religion allows them to lie to non believers or in defense of their religion.

Shola Adeshina Hassan
Shola Adeshina Hassan

He escalated the situation?!!! which of the dumb planets are you from, Shelley Farrey!

Sue Duhaime Van Scoy
Sue Duhaime Van Scoy

Great, usually I'm liberal but this ticks me off, millions of impoverished kids in this country whose families are trying to make a decent life and this idiot is going to be rewarded because his kid was a violent sociopath.

Shelley Farrell
Shelley Farrell

the dumb kid escalated the situation and lunged at the officers.

张超
张超

He's an official in Russia here on a tourist Visa. And you are racist scum.

张超
张超

His son was friends with Tsarnaev, but was not involved with the Boston bombing...

Dennis Coolhand Tillman
Dennis Coolhand Tillman

People all over the world think suing the U.S. government is an easy way to get rich. Why?

Samsudin Bin Surya
Samsudin Bin Surya

apa sih hal yang benar yang pernah dilakukan intelejen amerika? bahkan buat rakyatnya sendiri

James Haney
James Haney

why did they let him back into the country ? did they bring his shoplifting wife with him ? Where does he get his money to travel and live on ?

Alaadin İnan
Alaadin İnan

I am teaching you 'how to be a good journalist': Do not ignore the Kurdish mass kill by terrorist Al-qaeda in North-West Syria.

Denesius
Denesius

First of all- I'm not Chechen. Second of all, I'm frightened & saddened to be living in a country, billing itself as the seat of democracy on the planet, that: locks up the evidence in the killing of an unarmed presumed innocent individual during interrogation; listens in on all of my communications; and has to reassure Russia that if an espionage suspect is extradited he won't be tortured.....  Am I in the minority here? No one else sees anything wrong??

JasonRahall
JasonRahall

Simon: Good on you for following up on a very mysterious connection of events. One might reasonably be skeptical about much of the info and version of events previously provided re: the Tsarnaevs, Todashev, the Waltham triple homicide and the Boston homicide bombing because CBS News reporter John Miller - a former FBI spokesman - has been largely writing the narrative.

Christian Eliassen
Christian Eliassen

Someones father was killed during FBI interrogation... oh, he plans to sue. got it.

Wendy Price
Wendy Price

Good, he should sue. I still remember this story because when I first read it, could hardly believe it.

Jen Holtz
Jen Holtz

Maybe the victims families should sue him

Marc Lassiter
Marc Lassiter

how does someone die being interrogated in the usa? sounds like a 3rd world country

benyaminshaker
benyaminshaker

what arrogant herd animals below, his son was shot in cold blood for no reason whatsoever, no court, no evidence against him. Yes, surely that must be the american way. Go democray woot! woot!, idiots

duncan347
duncan347

@TIME it is very common today to go on the offense, but this guy should be apologizing. Maybe we should hold him accountable

guikubivan
guikubivan

@MichaelLederman Are you thinking of  Dzhokhar and Tamerlan Tsarnaev? I think you seem to be confusing them with Abdulbaki Todashev, who this article is about.

benyaminshaker
benyaminshaker

@MichaelLederman There was no proof of his co operation, he was not arrested, there was no trial and his basic human rights were not respected. 

MichaelLederman
MichaelLederman

@Denesius No your not in the minority, yes I also see things wrong. But rest assured this is indeed a democracy and just as we're doing here we have the right to disucss it, get our questions answered (eventually) and to vote in a completely new administration soon. We can be the change we need. The only thing that can hurt us is losing faith in the system. 

KhoiNguyen
KhoiNguyen

@Denesius You conveniently forget 911 and all the extra security we have to go through when we fly.  We don't do that because we like the extra hassle.  We do that as a nation to keep a plan from exploding.

The same reasons can be said here.  I doubt we can all the two brothers innocent given all the evidences found.  If you don't like this country, you are welcome to go to another.  This way you won't be frighten.  

eram
eram

@Denesius Something has gone very, very wrong in America.

benyaminshaker
benyaminshaker

@sranney1 @TIME american idiotic, bafoonlike, redneck, evangelical scum

benyaminshaker
benyaminshaker

@duncan347 @TIME what a stupid and ignorant comment. He had nothing to do with it, his son was killed for no reason. No court , no proof against him, shot for no reason whatsoever, and he is the bad guy. Shame, you clearly dont have any dignity or sense of honour

Sibir_Russia
Sibir_Russia

The NATO operation in Libya was accompanied by a large-scale propaganda campaign to support the Alliance’s mission to protect the civilians. At the official level, the NATO leadership has completely denied civilian casualties in the aftermath of missile and bomber strikes of the coalition forces coordinated by the Alliance’s military command structures, indirect victims resulting from the blockade of the Western regions of Libya as well as the destruction of civilian infrastructure.

 According to the Libyan society of the Red cross from 03.08.2011, more than 1100 only peace citizens it was killed, including 400 women and children. More than 6 thousand Libyan civilians got wounds as a result of the bombings, many of them serious. Let's add to them thousands victims Libyan the policeman and military.

Sibir_Russia
Sibir_Russia

@Bernard_Samson@TIME 

 Announcement of the secretary of NATO Anders Fog Rasmussen concerning bombings in Libya: During bombings "any representative of the civilian population" didn't suffer. 

MichaelLederman
MichaelLederman

@KhoiNguyen @Denesius I have to disagree with you, we go through that extra security because we're forced to. If you think all that showboating really makes us safe then you're not paying attention. Each time the terrorists try something even when it fails, security is increased. So they don't even have to blow a plane up to win. To make us live in the same type of totalitarian state as they do. To live under the same fear they live under. To make us more like they are.

eram
eram

@benyaminshaker  Please don't "shame on all of us" Americans.  Many Americans are saddened and disgusted by what is happening in our govt these days.  Personally, as a law abiding, tax paying citizen,  I still fear my government. Something has gone very wrong in America.

ronhat10
ronhat10

@benyaminshaker @TIME So you where there, in the room, the whole time? Wow, world exclusive here, we have an eye witness. You clearly have no sense of reason.

benyaminshaker
benyaminshaker

@eram @benyaminshaker Ofcourse, There are some americans who use reason, but in general, it seems as if the inferior minded idiots are taking over, I apologize for my bad wording.