A federal court tossed out involuntary manslaughter charges against the U.S. Park Police officers who fatally shot Bijan Ghaisar.
A U.S. District judge said Lucas Vinyard and Alejandro Amaya, who are accused in the death of the unarmed McLean, Virginia, man following a pursuit along the George Washington Parkway in 2017, are entitled to immunity. A Fairfax County grand jury had returned indictments against them on involuntary manslaughter and reckless discharge of a firearm last year, after the Justice Department declined to bring any criminal charges.
Court documents say that the officers acted in accordance with federal law and that their actions were “necessary and proper.”
Both officers had claimed immunity, invoking the Supremacy Clause, which argues that federal officers cannot be prosecuted for state crimes they committed while carrying out their official duties if the officer “reasonably thought” the actions were necessary and proper.
Judge Claude M. Hilton said there was no evidence that the officers acted with “malice, criminal intent, or any improper motivation.”
Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring and Fairfax County Commonwealth’s Attorney Steve Descano said in a statement that they intend to appeal the decision to the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond.
“We believe that a jury should have the opportunity to hear all of the evidence and determine whether these men committed a crime when they shot and killed Bijan Ghaisar.”
Going before the jury, Descano told WTOP, is a big part of what he is fighting for, adding that no one is above the law, regardless of whether they wear a badge.
Descano said that he is disappointed but not surprised at the court’s decision.
“We had always anticipated that this case was going to end up in the 4th Circuit one way or the other; and we remain confident in the merits of our case.”
Descano said there will be an appeal, and his office is partnering with Herring’s office to file a notice of appeal shortly. He said it might take months to get to a hearing and get a decision.
The Ghaisar family said in a statement that a jury should hear the case, and they support the decision to “appeal this shameful ruling.”
Virginia Sen. Mark Warner said that since Ghaisar was killed almost four years ago, his family still does not have justice.
“I will continue to fight to ensure no other family has to experience this kind of pain,” Warner said in a statement.
The FBI closed its 16th-month investigation into Ghaisar’s death in 2019, almost two years to the day he was killed, finding insufficient evidence beyond a reasonable doubt that the officers “willfully committed a violation” and could not disprove a claim of self-defense.
The court documents revealed more details about what happened on Nov. 17, 2017.
Vinyard and Amaya believed that Ghaisar was under the influence after he failed to pull over and continued speeding, and when he did not acknowledge the officers when they pulled alongside him despite lights, sirens and verbal commands, documents say.
Park Police requested assistance from Fairfax County during the pursuit, and a Fairfax County police officer recorded the chase on his dash camera, which was released in 2018.
While on Tulane Drive in the Belle Haven area, Amaya pulled alongside Ghaisar and got out of the patrol vehicle. With his gun drawn, he told Ghaisar to exit his vehicle. The document said Ghaisar put his hands over his face when the officers pulled up next to him. Amaya tried to open Ghaisar’s car door to arrest him but it was locked, so he ordered Ghaisar to unlock it.
But Ghaisar took off while Amaya’s hands were still on Ghaisar’s door, court documents said. That’s when a Fairfax County police officer asked for assistance from the police helicopter.
Vinyard then pulled Ghaisar over in a residential neighborhood off the GW Parkway. Amaya again got out of his vehicle with his gun drawn and yelling commands at Ghaisar, who put his hands over his face. When Amaya tried to open Ghaisar’s car door, Ghaisar again took off.
At the intersection of Fort Hunt Road and Alexandria Avenue, the officers again pulled Ghaisar over. Vinyard and Amaya exited the patrol car with guns drawn. Vinyard stood to the left of Ghaisar’s driver-side window, while Amaya was between the patrol car and Ghaisar’s Jeep. Both were shouting commands at Ghaisar.
The document said that Ghasar’s vehicle lurched forward toward Amaya. Fearing for his life, Amaya fired his gun through the windshield of Ghaisar’s car, which initially stopped but moved forward again. That’s when both officers fired at Ghaisar.
The Ghaisar family said that the court’s ruling affirms that the “system is built to cover up wrongdoing by police in our country.”
“This ruling ignores that it was Bijan’s car that was struck, it was Bijan who was chased by these officers without committing a crime and it was Bijan who these officers charged at with their guns drawn — twice — for being the victim of a fender bender. These officers shot at Bijan 10 times, including several times as his car rolled away from them into a ditch. That’s not fearing for their lives, that’s murder,” the Ghaisar family said.