Even The FBI Not Immune To Swirl Of Bad Info In Tsarnaev Case

In the days since law enforcement agents apprehended the surviving suspect in the Boston Marathon bombing last Friday, officials and news reports have been clarifying and correcting the record on a number of points, large and small, related to the attack and the ensuing search for the suspects.Some misinformation, such as individuals wrongly identified by media outlets as suspects or persons of interest in the case, was easy enough to sort out. (Even if the emotional impact on wrongly-fingered individuals can’t be undone.) Other aspects of the case, like the alleged actions of the Tsarnaev brothers on Thursday night and early Friday morning last week, have proved harder to pin down.

And it turns out even the federal investigators most closely involved in the case were caught in the early swirl of bad or incomplete information: an affidavit written by a FBI agent in support of the initial charges filed against Dzhokhar Tsarnaev now appears to contain a factual error about the events of Thursday night.

“Near midnight on April 18, 2013, an individual carjacked a vehicle at gunpoint in Cambridge, Massachusetts,” Daniel Genck, an FBI special agent in Boston, wrote in the affidavit filed on Monday in federal court in conjunction with the compliant against Dzhokhar Tsarnaev.

It’s a minor point, but it now appears the carjacking occurred in Boston, not across the Charles River in Cambridge. The carjacking victim said so in an interview with the Boston Globe, which published a story on Thursday based on the victim’s harrowing tale. And the Cambridge Police department confirmed as much to TPM.

“The Cambridge Police Department has always maintained that [the carjacking] occurred on Brighton Ave. in Boston,” Dan Riviello, a spokesperson for the Cambridge Police Department, told TPM on Friday.

According to Riviello, a statement published on the department’s website last Friday, which said the carjacking occurred in Cambridge, was actually drafted by the Middlesex County District Attorney’s Office. The statement was later edited to remove a reference to the incident having occurred on Third Street in Cambridge, Riviello said. (Told by TPM that, as of Friday afternoon, the statement still referred to an “armed carjacking in Cambridge,” Riviello said that should probably be edited as well.)

“From the start there was a little bit of confusion because there was a language barrier,” Riviello said, in apparent reference to the victim of the carjacking, a 26-year-old Chinese national whom the Globe identified only by his American nickname, Danny. Riviello said the confusion might have been a mix-up based on the victim’s home address. According to the Globe, Danny lives in Cambridge.

The Cambridge/Boston mistake speaks to just how pervasive bad information can be. But the discrepancy should not have any effect on the case against Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. According to Ronald Sullivan, the director of the Criminal Justice Institute at Harvard Law School, the slip up will have “absolutely no impact on the affidavit or on the validity of a subsequent indictment.”

“A fact of that nature, or a misstatement of that nature, is not consequential for the purposes of the affidavit,” Sullivan told TPM on Friday. “Boston and Cambridge sit right next to each other. That’s something that, even if an indictment listed Cambridge instead of Boston, that could be cured by what’s called a superseding indictment.”

The FBI’s Boston office told TPM on Friday it could not comment on the location of the carjacking. A spokesperson for the Massachusetts U.S. Attorney’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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