Fairfax County Commonwealth’s Attorney Steve Descano said on Thursday that he has secured indictments that include manslaughter against the two U.S. Park Police officers who shot and killed Bijan Ghaisar, an accountant from McLean, Virginia.
Each officer has been charged with one count of manslaughter (punishable by up to 10 years) and one count of reckless discharge of a firearm (punishable by up to five years).
“Our heavy hearts are a little lighter tonight knowing that the police officers who murdered our son and brother are closer to being held accountable for what they did,” the Ghaisar family said in a statement Thursday.
The officers are not in custody, but they are charged and there are bench warrants issued for their arrest, Descano told WTOP.
Ghaisar, 25, was shot by officers Alejandro Amaya and Lucas Vinyard on Nov. 17, 2017, in the Fort Hunt area of Fairfax County. The shooting followed a police chase on the George Washington Parkway, during which the officers repeatedly tried to pull Ghaisar over without success.
After a third stop, the officers fired multiple shots as his vehicle moved forward.
Ghaisar, who was unarmed and sitting in the driver’s seat, was shot four times in the head and once in his right wrist, according to his family. He died in a hospital 10 days later.
Weeks after Descano assumed office earlier this year, he released a statement saying his office would investigate the killing following a meeting with the Ghaisar family.
Descano said his office has spent months preparing and reviewing over 11,000 pieces of documentary evidence.
“As I stand before you, I know we are ready to try this case tomorrow,” he said.
Descano said that he was deeply distraught by the images he saw in the video of the shooting released by Fairfax County police.
Descano said that he expects that the officers, as federal employees, will ask that the case be moved to federal court, and that the feds will invoke the supremacy clause. Descano has asked Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring’s office to take the lead in federal issues, and it has agreed to do so.
The supremacy clause in the U.S. Constitution states that the Constitution and federal law take precedence over state laws.
“We anticipate that (the defendants) will seek to remove this to the federal court. I also anticipate that the federal government will make supremacy clause arguments on immunity. Those are all things that we need to tackle before we even get to trial,” Descano said.
He said that his office is ready to go with the evidence for those arguments, and hopes the partnership with the Virginia Attorney General’s Office will “improve our probability of success in that litigation at federal court.”
The Justice Department announced last year that it would not pursue federal charges against the two Park Police officers and that they were closing the case. The department said that it could not prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Amaya and Vinyard willfully violated Ghaisar’s civil rights, and that it would not have been able to disprove the officers’ claims that they acted in self-defense.
The Park Police officers said that they gave Ghaisar “chance after chance” before firing 10 shots at him.
Descano said that the Justice Department’s refusal to produce witnesses for the benefit of the county’s grand jury and trial made the case more difficult, and his office had to rely on evidence collected by Fairfax County police to move the case forward.
The case has drawn the attention of lawmakers, who are frustrated at the lack of information that has been released during a lengthy investigation.
In July, D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton and Virginia Reps. Don Beyer and Jennifer Wexton expressed frustration that it took eight months for them to receive a response from U.S. Park Police, after seeking an update on the case last November.
“After nearly three years of stonewalling, lies, and cover up, this is a major leap forward towards the justice that the Ghaisar family deserves,” they said in a joint statement Thursday.
Virginia Sen. Mark Warner — who along with Iowa Sen. Charles Grassley sent a letter last year to FBI Director Christopher Wray asking for an update on the investigation — said in a statement that it is “long past past time for the Ghaisars to receive answers about what happened to their son and brother that night.”
Descano said that Ghaisar’s death shook the community, and with these indictments, “the community can now start to get answers.”
“We will not stop demanding justice for Bijan until we get it – today was a first step,” the Ghaisar family said.
Ghaisar’s parents filed a federal lawsuit last year, naming the United States of America as defendant for the shooting death of their son. The trial date for the civil lawsuit has been set for November, The Associated Press reported.