It's standard operating procedure for the FBI to conduct an internal investigation when an agent shoots a suspect. Questions are being raised, though, after a report found that every single intentional shooting in the past 20 years was deemed 'justified.'
Between 1993 and early 2011 FBI agents fatally shot 70 people and wounded approximately 80 others. In no incident, including one that led to a $1.3 million payout for a victim wrongfully identified as a bank robber, was an agent wrong to fire their weapon. The records were obtained by The New York Times through a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit.
“The FBI takes very seriously any shooting incidents involving our agents, and as such we have an effective, time-tested process for addressing them internally,” an FBI spokesman said, adding that there have been no improper intentional shootings since 2011.
The FBI investigation into the death of Ibragim Todashev a Chechen man connected to Boston Marathon bombing suspect Tamerlan Tsarnaev, is still ongoing. Todashev was fatally shot during an interview with FBI agents. Since the May 22 incident, unnamed agents have told media outlets Todashev threatened them with a knife, broomstick or metal pipe before the bureau admitted he was unarmed after all.
Tim Murphy, a former deputy director of the FBI, told the Times that agents are generally older with more experience than the average police officer. He said officials plan to go into a situation with an “overwhelming presence,” which may help cut down on the number of shots fired.
Critics simply do not believe it. Samuel Walker, who teaches criminal justice at the University of Nebraska at Omaha, said the FBI’s number of admitted mistakes is “suspiciously low.”
Agents were disciplined in at least five cases since 1993, though, for so-called “bad shoots,” deemed so because they did not conform to FBI policy. The “bad shoots” came when an agent fired her weapon into the air to fend off a group of threatening men, when an agent shot at a gun lying on the ground in an attempt to disable it, twice when agents were pursuing fleeing suspects, and the fifth in a demonstration when an agent shot at a safe, the bullet ricocheting into a crowd and causing minor injuries.
Independent analysis of the 289 deliberate shootings is nearly impossible because, in nearly every case, no alternative review of the incident was held.
Perhaps the most suspicious case came when police pulled over a car in Maryland thought to be carrying a bank robber. Agents surrounded the vehicle, raised their weapons, and later claimed they shouted “show me your hands.” The passenger, a 20-year-old innocent, unarmed man, reached down at his face – at which point he was shot in the jaw.
An independent review was conducted in this case and contained multiple differences with the FBI files, bringing into question the legitimacy of the other reports. One discrepancy, for instance, said the car was traveling at a mere 12 miles per hour, while the FBI file described a fleeing pursuit. The victim later filed suit and the bureau, and while a court found no evidence of wrongdoing, he was able to settle for $1.3 million.