Park Police chief cancels meeting about proposed camera requirement

This screenshot shows U.S. Park Police aiming at Bijan Ghaisar after the pursuit on Nov. 17, 2017. (Courtesy YouTube/Fairfax County Police Department)

WASHINGTON — As investigators piece together the events surrounding motorist Bijan Ghaisar’s fatal shooting, D.C.’s delegate and a Virginia congressman are pushing to require that U.S. Park Police use body and dashboard cameras.

But a meeting to discuss the bill with U.S. Park Police Chief Robert MacLean was abruptly canceled Tuesday, and the two lawmakers aren’t satisfied with the reason MacLean gave them.

D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton and Rep. Don Beyer, a Democrat representing Virginia’s 8th District, say they were told that the chief was concerned the meeting might violate such anti-lobbying laws as the Hatch Act.

“It’s just like a made-up excuse,” said Norton.

The delegate, who was astonished by the cancellation, said she and Beyer had no intention of asking specific questions about the investigation into Ghaisar’s death.

Both Norton and Beyer have since sent a letter to MacLean requesting a meeting. (WTOP has reached out to U.S. Park Police to confirm why the meeting was called off.)

“If we didn’t have a pending bill, you could say to us, ‘Well, you just wanted to find out about the accident,’” Norton said. “Not only did we tell them we have a pending bill, they said they’d be willing to talk about it. They agreed to talk about it — and then said they would not come.”

Park Police have been under scrutiny following the Nov. 17 shooting, which began with a hit-and-run crash in Alexandria. Police pursued the 25-year-old McLean resident along the George Washington Parkway. A dashcam video released by Fairfax County police appears to show as many as nine shots were fired into the vehicle. The FBI is investigating.

That cancellation of Tuesday’s meeting left the Ghaisar family “disappointed, though not surprised,” they said in a statement.

“From the very beginning, it has been our experience that the Park Police have tried to avoid transparency and accountability about what happened when they killed our son and brother almost three months ago – what they did today was more of the same,” the statement read.

“What happened to our Bijan should not happen in America. We will not let his death at the hands of the U.S. Park Police be in vain.”

The Virginia congressman said he and his colleague have tried to treat the FBI investigation with respect.

“All of this is in the context of an enormous amount of public frustration so far about what actually happened. … We know they’re being incredibly thorough, but it is taking a long time,” said Beyer.

Both the names of the officers involved in the shooting as well as the 911 tape should be released, Beyer said — as long as doing so doesn’t compromise investigators.

Beyer said he would really like to know what the officers involved in the shooting were thinking at the time.

“Why did they chase him? Why did they shoot? What danger did he present to them or to the community?” he said.

“These are answers we just don’t know.”

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