Judge orders FBI, Ortiz to turn over documents on Mass. Joint Terrorism Task Forces

A U.S. District judge has ordered the FBI to turn over documents about the state’s Joint Terrorism Task Forces.

Judge Allison D. Burroughs ruled in favor of the Massachusetts Chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union on most counts in their suit against the FBI and the U.S. Attorney for the District of Massachusetts, Carmen Ortiz, for failing for comply with Freedom of Information Act requests.

The FOIA request was filed in the wake of the 2013 fatal shooting of Ibragim Todashev, 27, in his Florida apartment by an FBI agent who was part of a federal task force that included Massachusetts state troopers. At the time, Todashev was being interviewed about a 2011 triple murder in Waltham and his relationship to Tamerlan Tsarnaev, one of the Boston Marathon bombers who died in a shootout with police in 2013.

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Ortiz’s office will also have to comply with the FOIA request and conduct a search of her office for relevant material.

Joint Terrorism Task Forces are comprised of federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies.

The information is “desperately needed to ensure that the public can hold law enforcement accountable,” said Jessie Rossman, a staff attorney for the state ACLU. “The public has the right to know how their tax dollars are being spent.”

“By and large there has been a cone of silence in talking about the JTTF,” she said.

In the initial FOIA request filed in December 2013, the ACLU sought information about the number of terrorism investigations and open cases in Massachusetts and how those investigations were structured. The nonprofit group also wanted details on the task force’s staffing, budget, and overtime. In addition, it demanded “information about how the Massachusetts JTTF functions, how its authority is divided and shared, what safeguards are in place to ensure the civil liberties of those whom it targets, and the number and type of investigations conducted out of Massachusetts.”

The FBI had previously released some of that information to the ACLU, but left much of the documents redacted. Ortiz’s office previously declined to conduct a search, arguing that the request would be repetitive since her office owns the same documents as the FBI.

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Burroughs ruled that the FBI and Ortiz’s office will not have to release information about what kind of cases were open at the time of their complaint in 2014, just the quantity.

The ACLU has also requested information from the FBI and Ortiz’s office about the shooting of Todashev. That part lawsuit has been placed on a different schedule and a decision is still pending.

The FBI and Ortiz’s office declined to comment for this story.

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