FALLS CHURCH, Va. (AP) — A judge on Thursday set a November trial date for a civil lawsuit in the 2017 fatal shooting by U.S. Park Police of a northern Virginia motorist, but government lawyers say the trial should be delayed because the officers involved in the shooting aren’t talking about what happened.
The parents of Bijan Ghaisar filed a federal lawsuit last year, naming the United States of America as defendant for the shooting death of their son.
Ghaisar, 25, of McLean, died after he was shot multiple times by two Park Police officers, Lucas Vinyard and Alejandro Amaya, at the conclusion of a stop-and-go chase on the George Washington Memorial Parkway in November 2017. Ghaisar was unarmed, and his family says the officers were guilty of excessive force. Federal prosecutors declined to bring criminal charges against the officers, but a local prosecutor in Fairfax County says he is conducting a criminal investigation.
The family has accused federal authorities of stonewalling the investigation, and members of Congress including U.S. Rep. Don Beyer, D-Va.; Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va.; Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va.; and Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, also have found fault with the government’s handling of the investigation.
It is the Fairfax County criminal investigation that necessitates a delay in the civil trial, lawyers for the federal government say. In a motion filed Wednesday, the government lawyers say they cannot mount a credible defense while the two officers are invoking their Fifth Amendment right not to incriminate themselves.
“The United States itself has no privilege against self-incrimination, and has no control over the officers’ decisions to assert their constitutional rights,” government lawyers wrote in their motion. “Yet the United States is faced with defending the actions of these two officers without the benefit of their testimony.”
The Ghaisar family’s lawyers are opposing any delay. A hearing on whether to delay the trial is scheduled for Aug. 28.
Also on Thursday, the two sides in the civil case submitted a stipulation of uncontested facts in the case. The items are offered without explanation but indicate that Amaya and Vinyard were each subject of three separate complaints and investigations, stretching back to 2008 in the case of Vinyard and 2013 in the case of Amaya. The stipulation gives no indication of the nature of the complaints or their resolution.
The stipulation of facts also indicates that marijuana and a pipe were recovered from Ghaisar’s Jeep the night of the shooting.
Federal authorities have said little about the case, but details of the shooting emerged in January 2018 when Fairfax County Police, which played a supporting role in the chase, released dashcam video of what occurred in an effort to promote transparency.
The four-minute nighttime video shows a chase beginning on the parkway a few miles south of the nation’s capital, then turning into a residential neighborhood. It shows the car driven by Ghaisar stopping twice during the chase, and officers approaching the car with guns drawn. In both cases, Ghaisar drives off.
At the third and final stop, officers with guns drawn approach the car at the driver-side door. When the car starts to move again, five gunshots are heard. The car starts to drift into a ditch, and two more sets of two gunshots are heard.
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