The family of a Virginia man shot and killed by two U.S. Park Police officers after a minor traffic crash in 2017 said they will use a $5 million settlement to push for changes in laws changing policing standards.
Last week, the family of 25-year-old Bijan Ghaisar reached a $5 million settlement with the U.S. government in the wrongful-death lawsuit against the Park Police. In a brief hearing Friday, U.S. District Court Judge Claude Hilton approved the settlement.
Speaking outside the federal courthouse in Alexandria, James Ghaisar said the settlement largely marks an end to the family’s legal efforts to hold the two officers accountable.
“But it’s just the beginning of a way to spend every penny of this fund to save lives and do justice,” James Ghaisar said. “That is a new chapter in our lives that we never asked for.”
James and Kelly Ghaisar said the money from the settlement would go toward the Bijan Ghaisar Foundation, founded in 2018, and other organizations with an aim toward changing policing standards, as well as loosening restrictions that shield police officers from legal liability.
Under the terms of the settlement, James and Kelly Ghaisar will receive $3.75 million and their lawyers will get $1.25 million.
Bijan Ghaisar was fatally shot Nov. 17 after he drove away from a fender-bender, in which his Jeep was the vehicle that had been struck by another driver.
Two U.S. Park Police officers — Alejandro Amaya and Lucas Vinyard — followed Ghaisar down the George Washington Parkway, signaling for him to pull over, which he did twice before driving off. At the third stop, in a residential neighborhood, as the Jeep drifted forward, the two officers fired their weapons 10 times.
Ghaisar was unarmed, but the officers said they feared for their lives when Ghaisar’s Jeep started going forward with both officers outside the vehicle.
“After years of seeking justice within our legal system, we deeply understand that our system is broken and needs to be fixed,” the Ghaisar family said in a written statement released Friday. “Rather than continue to fight against a broken system that fails to hold most rogue police officers accountable for acts of brutality, we have agreed to a settlement — the proceeds of which will go to The Bijan Ghaisar Foundation and other charitable causes. We plan to continue our fight.”
Speaking outside the courthouse, Kelly Ghaisar said the efforts would include pushing for an end to qualified immunity, which protects police officers from some civil lawsuits.
“For the rest of my life, as long as I live, I will fight to overturn qualified immunity,” she said. “This is my goal in life … There is no space for it in our community anymore.”
Federal prosecutors announced in 2019 they would not prosecute the two Park Police officers following a two-year FBI investigation. Later, Fairfax County Commonwealth’s Attorney Steve Descano filed manslaughter charges in 2020, but the case was moved to federal court where Judge Hilton — the same judge overseeing the civil case — dismissed the charges.
Both officers had claimed immunity, invoking what’s known as the Supremacy Clause, which says federal officers cannot be prosecuted for state crimes while carrying out their official duties if they “reasonably thought” their actions were necessary and proper.
In court documents filed in the case, the officers said they believed that Ghaisar was intoxicated, saying his face appeared “zombie-like” at various points during the chase. An autopsy showed marijuana in Ghaisar’s system, and six grams of marijuana were found in his car.
The officers said they fired their weapons after the third stop because they feared for their safety, according to court papers.
The fatal shooting was captured on the video of a dashcam of a cruiser driven by a Fairfax County police officer, who had also responded to the incident. At the time of the shooting, U.S. Park Police Officers were not equipped with body cameras.
After the shooting, the Ghaisar family implored the Department of the Interior, under which the Park Police falls, to equip officers with body cameras, which the agency initially resisted.
In 2022, the agency announced that all officers would be equipped with body cameras.
Earlier this month, officials released body camera footage showing a U.S. Park Police officer fatally shooting 17-year-old Dalaneo Martin, who drove off with an officer in the back seat in Northeast D.C.
The Justice Department said it had opened a federal civil rights investigation in that case.
Speaking Friday, Kelly Ghaisar said the release of body camera footage in the fatal shooting of Dalaneo Martin was “huge” and that she wished there had been body camera footage in her son’s shooting.
WTOP’s Kyle Cooper and The Associated Press contributed to this report.