No federal charges against officers in Va. motorist's death

The family of Bijan Ghaisar, who was shot by officers following a vehicle pursuit in 2017, has filed a lawsuit regarding the shooting


Matthew Barakat
Associated Press

FALLS CHURCH, Va. — Federal prosecutors won’t file criminal charges against two U.S. Park Police officers who fatally shot an unarmed motorist after a chase on a northern Virginia parkway two years ago.

The Justice Department announced Thursday it found insufficient evidence to bring charges in the death of 25-year-old Bijan Ghaisar of McLean.

“The Department would have to prove not only that the officers used force that was constitutionally unreasonable, but that they did so ‘willfully,’ which the Supreme Court has interpreted to mean they acted with a bad purpose to disregard the law,” the Justice Department said in a statement. “As this requirement has been interpreted by the courts, evidence that an officer acted out of fear, mistake, panic, misperception, negligence, or even poor judgment cannot establish the high level of intent required.”

Officers Lucas Vinyard and Alejandro Amaya fired approximately nine shots at Ghaisar after a chase on the George Washington Parkway in November 2017. Dashcam video released by local police shows Ghaisar leading officers on a stop-and-go chase. Officers opened fire after Ghaisar stopped a third time and again began maneuvering past officers who had drawn their weapons.

Ghaisar’s family has criticized the drawn-out investigation. A rally had already been planned for Sunday at the Lincoln Memorial to mark the two-year anniversary of Ghaisar’s shooting.

“Today’s decision was a cowardly act by a Department of Justice that is afraid to hold law enforcement, especially federal law enforcement, accountable when it commits murder,” the family said in a statement. “The Department of Justice’s refusal to prosecute Officers Lucas Vinyard and Alejandro Amaya for killing Bijan after a minor traffic accident is another betrayal in this nightmare that began for us almost two years ago to the day.”

Rep. Don Beyer, D-Va., in whose district Ghaisar was shot, criticized the decision. He was one of several lawmakers in both parties who had prodded the FBI and prosecutors to provide answers about the case as the investigation stalled.

“This is not justice,” he said. “The Justice Department failed our community for two years by withholding answers about why police killed Bijan Ghaisar, but this final failure is the worst of all. ... This will not end here.”

U.S. Sens. Mark Warner, D-Va., and Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, said they will request a briefing from the Justice Department in the next 30 days “to understand what went into the decision not to pursue charges.”

Ghaisar’s family has filed a $25 million civil suit in federal court that has not been resolved.

While the FBI said little about the case in the two years it was under investigation, details about the shooting emerged in January 2018 when Fairfax County Police, which played a supporting role in the chase, released dashcam video of what occurred in an effort to promote transparency.

The four-minute nighttime video shows a chase beginning on the parkway a few miles south of the nation's capital, then turning into a residential neighborhood. It shows the car driven by Ghaisar stopping twice during the chase, and officers approaching the car with guns drawn. In both cases, Ghaisar drives off.

At the third and final stop, officers with guns drawn approach the car at the driver-side door. When the car starts to move again, five gunshots are heard. The car starts to drift into a ditch, and two more sets of two gunshots are heard.

The chase began after authorities say Ghaisar left the scene of an accident in which he had been rear-ended.

Associated Press
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