Fairfax Co. prosecutor explains decision against murder charges in Bijan Ghaisar case

After an almost three year investigation and cries for justice in the 2017 shooting of unarmed driver Bijan Ghaisar, Fairfax County Commonwealth’s Attorney Steve Descano said Thursday’s indictments of two U.S. Park Police officers for manslaughter and reckless use of a firearm fit the crimes in the Virginia county.

“They’re responsible for killing another person, but the intent that they had, when they did it, doesn’t rise to the malice level that is required for murder,” Descano told WTOP.

Descano — and any prosecutor — is precluded from discussing specific evidence before trial, but said the elements of the crimes led to the charges sought, and granted, by a special grand jury against officers Alejandro Amaya and Lucas Vinyard.

“The intent for manslaughter is recklessness — so reckless that it would show a wanton and callous disregard for human life,” Descano said. “And that’s what I felt the evidence showed, as it related to their intent.”

Dashcam video released by Fairfax County police showed a medium-speed chase of Ghaisar down George Washington Parkway before turning into a residential neighborhood. It shows the Jeep driven by Ghaisar stopping twice during the chase and officers approaching the car with guns drawn, until Ghaisar drove away.

At the third and final stop, officers with guns drawn approached the driver’s side door. When the car started to move forward, five gunshots were heard. As the Jeep drifted into a ditch, four more shots were fired.

In motions related to an ongoing civil lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Alexandria, filed by Ghaisar’s family, the officers said they fired in self-defense.

“A murder charge would have required us to prove malice, which is hatred, anger, vengeance, driven by bad thoughts and evil intent,” Descano said. “And, the evidence did not show malice.”

The charges carry a maximum penalty of 15 years for each officer — 10 years for manslaughter and 5 for the firearms charge.

Federal prosecutors declined to pursue criminal charges against the officers last year, saying their actions didn’t rise to the level of a federal crime.

Supporters of the Ghaisar family, including local lawmakers, have referred to Ghaisar’s killing as a murder.

They have voiced anger about the pace of the investigation, which has been slowed by the Justice Department’s unwillingness to produce witnesses.

Descano thanked the Fairfax County Police Department for its independent investigative work that led to the indictments.

“I have great faith that the justice system will work, and justice will be done in this case,” Descano said, despite its high visibility.

“I have every confidence that individuals who would get picked for a jury in this case will be able to follow their charge, and will be able to make the right choice, based on the evidence.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report. 

Neal Augenstein

Neal Augenstein has been a reporter at WTOP since 1997. Through the years, Neal has covered many of the crimes and trials that have gripped the region. Neal's been pleased to receive awards over the years for hard news, feature reporting, use of sound and sports.

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