By Fire Tom Friedman Conor Friedersdorf, who's done a decent job of covering the Todashev killing all along, asks some good questions at the Atlantic. I'd like to ask a few of my own, starting with one that Friedersdorf doesn't go far enough on: What's up with the text that Trooper One sent to Trooper Two and FBI Agent right before Todashev allegedly attacked?
Here's a text sent from inside the apartment. "Be on guard. He is in vulnerable position to do something bad. Be on guard now. I see him looking around at times ..." Isn't that a weird text? So needlessly long and repetitive. Who texts like that? Especially when you're nervous about the guy you're supposed to be paying attention to?
Who texts like that, indeed. Well, not the guy sending the text, for one. Check out the other texts sent by this same trooper that same evening (pp. 2-3). "He signed his Miranda. About to tell his involvement." "He will be in custody after interviews." "whos your daddy." (Ewww.) Not one to mince words, this one. Why did he suddenly get so verbose at the very time he was extremely worried about Todashev doing "something bad"? And then there's the fact that the text had no effect on what happened next -- except that it took Trooper One's eyes of Todashev at an absolutely critical moment -- because no one read the text when it was sent. Trooper Two was on the phone and didn't see it until after Todashev was dead. FBI Agent never looked up from his questioning of Todashev to read it. In fact, Trooper One claims FBI Agent's phone never "dinged" to indicate he had a new text, which is why Trooper One looked down at his own phone to see if the text actually sent, which is why his eyes were off Todashev when he launched the coffee table.
A uncharacteristically long, awkward text written at a moment when it was crucial to have eyes on Todashev Since I'm a troll and not a Serious Journalist, I'll ask instead of tiptoeing around.
1. Was the infamous "Be on guard" text sent after Todashev was dead?
This question thing is fun. Here's some more:
2. Why did they interview Todashev in his home?
According to the sworn statements of both Troopers and the FBI Agent (pages 26-48 and 55-57), they wanted to conduct the interview at the police station and were very wary of questioning Todashev in his home. They knew Todashev was prone to violence -- the FBI had watched him beat a man up badly in a parking lot just a few weeks before. (And didn't intervene - cool agency, that FBI.) They'd also spent a lot of time of watching Todashev's MMA YouTube videos so they knew he was really strong and tough.
And yet, when Todashev refused to come to the police station, they agreed to meet at this apartment. Why? Because Todashev was scheduled to fly to Russia two days later and they needed to talk to him before he left the country. So they decided the risk of putting themselves in a dangerous situation was worth it.
Did they not have any way of preventing Todashev from leaving the country? He was supposedly a suspect in a triple homicide. He had outstanding assault charges. Could they not have held him on some pretext? And we haven't even gotten to the fact that Todashev was a Muslim and a friend of Tamerlan Tsarnaev -- at the time Scary Terrorist # 1. Do you really believe the FBI -- an agency that systemically surveills, harasses, and entraps Muslims -- was helpless to stop Todashev from flying out of the country?
If you don't -- and you shouldn't -- then it's really worth asking the reason the interview didn't take place in a secure (for law enforcement, anyway) police station.
3. Why didn't the Troopers or FBI Agent mention their video and audio recordings of that night when they gave their sworn statements the next day?
The day after Todashev was killed, both Troopers and FBI Agents gave sworn statements (pages 29-48 and 55-57) about the events in Todashev's apartment. Their accounts are pretty detailed, with the FBI Agent devoting about a 1/2 page to describing Todashev's final piss (p.46). But one pretty major detail gets left out of all 3 accounts: the fact that they had made video and audio recordings of substantial parts of the evening.
These omissions (or the attendant PR nightmare if discovered) were apparently very concerning to the FBI, which limited its only on-the-record followup interviews (pages 78-94) with the Troopers and FBI Agent to the subject of the recordings. (Guess there wasn't anything else to ask about). Here's what each man said, with my annotations/questions interspersed.:
I did not mention the recordings in the initial interview because I was concentrating on the actual shooting incident itself. [Not true. His account is of the entire evening, not just the shooting incident.]Furthermore, I was never asked. The recordings were made known to other people involved in the handling of this case. [Who? When? There is no evidence that anyone outside of FBI Agent and the two Troopers was told about the recordings for days.]. Also, the recordings were provided to District Attorney’s Office the day after we arrived back in Massachusetts. [When was this?] Nothing was out of the ordinary, as MSP tends to record subject interviews. [Ha! And more Ha! coming.] Had I known the Shooting Incident Review Team was not aware of the recordings, I would have told them. [The very non-threatening FBI's team responsible for investigating the incident -- the one responsible for clearing agents in 150 consecutive shootings -- didn't learn about the recordings for 2 weeks.]
Trooper Two's did not give a sworn statement, but his follow-up interview is summarized by FBI investigators:
[Trooper Two] returned to his department in Boston he checked his audio recorder and found it had recorded a large portion of the interview with Todashev. [Again, when was this? How long were recordings of that night only in the hands of those involved in the shooting? And really, Trooper Two? You weren't at all tempted to check what was on that recorder until you got back to Boston "and found it had recorded a large portion of the interview with Todashev.] He submitted the recorder to his department for retrieval and dissemination to the FBI.”
And the shooter himself? He didn't even know that anything was being recorded!
During most of the interview of Todashev, I was sitting on the stairs and Trooper One was standing to my left and behind me. I did not see any recording devices or video cameras at the time we interviewed Todashev.
… I first learned the interview was recorded on Friday, May 24, 2013 [3 days after shooting!], when I received a message from Trooper One who advised videos were uploaded to the Google cloud. [FBI Agent's claim that he did not know the interview was recorded is contradicted by the fact that both FBI Agent admits -- and Troopers confirm (pages 78-94) -- that he was present for a conversation during the ride to Todashev's whether Florida was a one-party state (meaning they could record without Todashev's consent). They called someone at the Orlando Police Department, who confirmed it was a one-party state. So FBI was involved in a fairly detailed conversation about whether there would be a recording. He also knew that Trooper One had a video camera. And he also acknowledges that he heard Todashev say "Don't do that" to Trooper One when Todashev noticed Trooper One was recording, but FBI Agent claims he didn't know what Todashev was referring to.] Once I located the recordings on the computer I found there were both audio and video recordings of the interview of Todashev. [He "located" the recordings. He doesn't say if he looked at them. But he sure didn't tell anyone!] I found out after the fact, Trooper One had used a high definition recorder which he had placed on the kitchen counter which eventually ran out of battery life, at which point Trooper One switched to his telephone to continue recording. I also found out after returning to Boston that Trooper Two had a recorder in his pocket during the interview. At the time of the interview, I did not know the interview was being recorded by anyone.
Trooper One advised he had passed the videos to other individuals who had a need to know in his department. After this had happened, I did not think about the recording. When I returned to work after being off for the injury I received as a result of the assault on my person by Todashev, I was contacted by REDACTED with some additional questions regarding my initial signed sworn statement. I mentioned to REDACTED something to the effect of, it would be nice if we released the video because it would refute many of the press’ allegations. [What a great idea. I wonder why the FBI didn't do this!] REDACTED was very surprised by this because he did not know about the video’s existence. [It's a couple of weeks into the FBI's most important internal investigation and the internal investigator at the agency doesn't know about the videos.] He advised he would need a copy. I mentioned to REDACTED that I had only learned of the videos after the incident. …”
These accounts seem very implausible and lead to more questions:
3a) How long were the three law enforcement involved in questioning the only people in the world that knew of the existence of these recordings. Did Trooper One or Two watch/listen to the recordings after the shooting before they turned the recordings over?
3b) Did the FBI or any law enforcement agency examine the camcorder or phones that were used to record for signs that any video or audio recordings had been deleted? There's no evidence that they did.
3c) Why were only portions of the evening recorded?
Here's a summary of what Trooper One told the FBI (pages 84-87):
He retrieved his video camera and began recording about 20 minutes in. A while later he noticed the camera had stopped because the video card was full. He deleted some family videos stored on the camera and began recording again. Again the recorder stop because of lack of space. He deleted some more family videos, along with the first part of the Todashev meeting which he deemed unimportant. A while later he noticed his camera battery died, so he began recording on his phone. He recorded on his phone until he needed to use it to text. Drat! He missed Todashev's attack and the shooting.
Here's what Trooper Two told the Florida Investigator about his partial recording:
When asked why an audio recording was not collected for the entire length of the interview Trooper Two informed, “The um, my recorder died. It ah, shut off and I, I think there was another part, I may have went to pause it, inside my pocket and then restart it when he came down from the bathroom, I think is maybe when I paused it. Ah, I don’t recall, but ah, I tried to turn it back on and it died again. I didn’t realize it was not working, until after everything was said and done and realized it had…”
Double drat! He missed the attack and shooting too.
A few things stand out. One, even if you accept the Troopers' explanation, the bumbling and fumbling and casualness with which the evening was recorded certainly doesn't read like a critical interrogation of someone who is suspected of committing three murders with the Boston Bomber. Two, the starting and stopping of the video camera would make it easier to delete selected files/moments, were one inclined to so. And, of course, all that on and off action begs the question:
3d) Were the recording devices deliberately shut off at various times because the law enforcement present did not want those moments recorded?
In addition to the questions raised in this post, there's also The Mystery of the Flying Coffee Table.
I'm not claiming that every single one of these questions has a nefarious answer, but I think they are all reasonable questions to ask and ask aggressively. And one gets the impression that the investigator for the Florida AG's office didn't ask any of these questions. Which, of course, isn't surprising because investigations of killer cops and FBI agents are almost always just for show.
Which is all the more reason we shouldn't accept their answers.
This article was originally published at Fire Tom Friedman's blog.