Seven members of Congress, including six from the D.C. area, are asking the Justice Department to revisit the case of Bijan Ghaisar, the Virginia motorist who was shot and killed by the U.S. Park Police in 2017.
“Nearly five years after the fatal shooting of Bijan, it remains unclear to the Ghaisar family, to us, and to the broader community of the National Capital Region, how a traffic stop escalated to a fatal shooting,” said the letter, signed by seven Democratic members of Congress: Reps. Don Beyer, Jennifer Wexton and Gerry Connolly, all from Virginia, and Raul Grijalva, of Arizona; Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, of D.C., and Sens. Mark Warner and Tim Kaine, of Virginia.
Ghaisar, of McLean, was shot and killed Nov. 17, 2017, after a brief chase on and off the George Washington Parkway.
In 2019, the FBI decided against federal charges against officers Lucas Vinyard and Alejandro Amaya.
The lawmakers ask Attorney General Merrick Garland to revisit the Ghaisar case for possible civil rights violations, and they say the Justice Department has new evidence in the case, uncovered in a civil suit Ghaisar’s family has filed in their son’s death.
Robert MacLean, who was chief of the Park Police at the time of the shooting, was asked in a 2020 deposition, “Did you see anything on the video that would constitute a felony that would justify pursuit?”
MacLean answered, “I did not.” He also confirmed the policy held that “fleeing or eluding the police shall not itself be a pursuable offense.”
Daniel Gohn, who was a Fairfax County police officer at the time and saw the shooting, also testified in 2020 that he didn’t see Ghaisar’s Jeep driving erratically, that it was only going slightly over the speed limit, and that at one point in the chase, Ghaisar stopped at a stop sign. He also said one of the Park Police officers banged on the window of Ghaisar’s Jeep with their guns, and that he, Gohn, later told the FBI, “You don’t do that.”
Vinyard and Amaya were indicted on charges of involuntary manslaughter and reckless discharge of a firearm in 2020 by a Fairfax County grand jury, but a judge last October tossed out the charges, saying they were protected by 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.
Virginia Attorney General Jason Miyares last month said he wouldn’t pursue prosecution of the two officers, saying they faced a “life-or-death situation.”
Evidence released last year shows that the officers knew that Ghaisar was unarmed, and that he wasn’t at fault in the fender-bender they had been originally called to investigate.
The officers that night 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 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. Documents showed 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.
WTOP’s Abigail Constantino and Megan Cloherty contributed to this report.