The Justice Department announced Thursday that it would not pursue federal charges against two U.S. Park Police officers who fatally shot Bijan Ghaisar during a November 2017 traffic stop, and that they are closing the case.
The department said it conducted a lengthy investigation and could not prove beyond a reasonable doubt that officers Alejandro Amaya and Lucas 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 decision was announced in a news release Thursday evening from the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia.
Ghaisar, a 25-year-old accountant from McLean, Virginia, was shot by the two officers on Nov. 17, 2017, in the Fort Hunt area of Fairfax County, Virginia. The shooting followed a police chase on the George Washington Parkway, during which the officers repeatedly tried to pull Ghaisar over without success.
Ghaisar’s death drew outrage from family members and friends after Park Police refused to identify the officers who shot him, or to release other details. The officers involved in the shooting were first identified in a civil suit filed by Ghaisar’s family in March.
Park Police have never publicly said what led to the shooting, or why the officers opened fire.
Ghaisar had been rear-ended in a fender-bender in Old Town Alexandria and then left the scene. As Park Police pursued Ghaisar, he stopped his Jeep twice but drove away.
After a third stop, Officers Amaya and Vinyard approached Ghaisar’s Jeep and then fired nine times as his vehicle moved forward.
Ghaisar, who was not armed and was sitting in the driver’s seat, was struck four times in the head and once in his right wrist, according to his family. He died in a hospital 10 days later.
In response to the civil suit filed by Ghaisar’s family, one of the officers’ lawyers said they fired their weapons in self-defense.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office said the decision not to prosecute came after an extensive FBI investigation that included interviews with 150 people, including Park Police officers, members of the Fairfax County Police Department and other witnesses.
A Fairfax County police dash camera captured part of the pursuit and the shooting.
Roy Austin, an attorney for the Ghaisar family, said they were notified late Thursday afternoon of the department’s decision in a letter. In a statement, the family called the decision “another betrayal in this nightmare” and said they weren’t “giving up on justice.”
“Let’s be clear about what happened here: Two people executed an American citizen who they were sworn to protect and serve, and the only reason they’re escaping justice is because they wear badges,” they said.
The family plans to mark the second anniversary of Ghaisar’s death Sunday afternoon with a vigil at the Lincoln Memorial.
Park Police, too, issued their own statement Thursday evening in response:
The decision announced today was the result of an extensive and independent investigation by the FBI. Any loss of life is tragic, and the loss of Bijan Ghaisar has impacted many people, including his family, friends and our community. At this time, the USPP is reviewing the findings of the FBI’s investigation.
Several members of Congress, meanwhile, condemned the decision.
Sens. Mark Warner and Chuck Grassley said in a joint statement that they would formally request a briefing from the Justice Department “to understand what went into the decision not to pursue charges in this case.” The Virginia Democrat and Iowa Republican have questioned Park Police policies, as well as the handling of the investigation.
Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine said in a statement Thursday evening that the Ghaisar family “deserves justice.”
“The [Department of Justice] has failed Bijan’s family by closing its investigation, depriving the Ghaisars of needed answers as to how this unarmed young man was killed two years ago,” he said. “We’re going to keep pressing [the department] for information on what happened in this heartbreaking tragedy.”
Rep. Don Beyer, a Democrat who represents Virginia’s 8th District, told WTOP that the decision “makes you really afraid of what justice is like in America today,” and that the Justice Department’s statement doesn’t end the matter.
“It took the FBI a full year to investigate, and it took the Department of Justice a year to read the report and decide that it didn’t constitute a willful violation of U.S. civil rights law,” he said. “… Justice delayed is justice denied, and for the family to wait two years for justice, only to be told that incompetence, neglect, panic, insecurity — none of these things violated his civil rights.”
Beyer’s Democratic colleague from Virginia’s 10th District, Rep. Jennifer Wexton, said, “Bijan and his family deserve so much more than this.”
And D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, a Democrat, urged Park Police to begin an internal investigation to determine whether Amaya and Vinyard should be disciplined or fired.
“Bijan did not appear to pose a threat to the officers when they shot him,” Norton said.
WTOP’s Mike Murillo contributed to this report.