Search for details in Justice Dept. decision to not charge Park Police officers in shooting of Bijan Ghaisar

Almost two years since unarmed motorist Bijan Ghaisar was shot and killed by U.S. Park Police, the Justice Department’s decision to not charge the two officers with federal criminal civil rights violations has lawmakers and family members asking for a more specific explanation.

The news release from the office of Jessie Liu, U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia, said prosecutors cannot prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, that officers Alejandro Amaya and Lucas Vinyard willfully violated civil rights law — specifically that he not be subjected to unreasonable seizure.

“The Department is unable to disprove a claim of self-defense or defense of others by the officers,” according to the release.

The news release doesn’t address the issue of why Amaya and Vinyard felt the need to fire nine times at Ghaisar, who was in the driver seat of his Jeep, at a stop sign.

In a federal lawsuit against the officers and government, lawyers for the officers said they fired in self-defense.

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.

A Fairfax County police dash camera captured part of the pursuit and the shooting.

In the two years since the shooting, Liu has never answered reporters’ questions about the Ghaisar investigation. She will likely be asked questions about it during an unrelated news conference Friday morning.

Virginia Sen. Mark Warner and Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley issued a joint statement: “The Ghaisars deserve to understand what happened. To that end, we will be formally requesting a briefing within the next 30 days from the Department of Justice to understand what went into the decision.”

Warner and Grassley said they will watch with interest to see whether state or local criminal charges are filed against the officers, or whether the U.S. Park Police will open an internal investigation.

Ghaisar family attorney Roy Austin said he received a short phone call informing him of the Justice Department’s conclusion, followed by a hand-delivered letter to him. He said the Justice Department did not contact the family directly.

In its statement, the family called the decision a “cowardly act by a Department of Justice that is afraid to hold law enforcement, especially federal law enforcement, accountable when it commits murder.”

While the possibility of state or local charges exists, according to the family, “at the very least these rogue officers should be fired.”

Lawyers for the officers have not commented since the Justice conclusion was announced.

In its statement, U.S. Park Police said they are reviewing the findings of the FBI investigation, but did not mention whether the agency will open an internal investigation.

Neal Augenstein

Neal Augenstein has been a general assignment reporter with WTOP since 1997. He says he looks forward to coming to work every day, even though that means waking up at 3:30 a.m.

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