Civil rights groups join calls for DOJ to revisit Ghaisar case, citing new evidence

Forty-five organizations, including national civil rights, criminal justice reform and progressive advocacy groups, have joined Capitol Hill lawmakers in asking the U.S. Department of Justice to revisit the case of Bijan Ghaisar, an unarmed motorist killed by the U.S. Park Police in 2017.

A letter sent Thursday to Attorney General Merrick Garland and signed by several prominent groups, including Amnesty International, MoveOn and the Council on American-Islamic Relations, urges the DOJ to grant the Ghaisar case a “full and fair consideration that it did not receive under the Trump Administration.”

The letter follows a similar plea from seven Democratic members of Congress made earlier this month to revisit the case, citing new evidence unavailable when federal prosecutors declined to file civil rights charges against USPP officers Lucas Vinyard and Alejandro Amaya in 2019.

In 2020, a Fairfax County grand jury indicted the two officers on charges of involuntary manslaughter and reckless discharge of a firearm in the shooting death of Ghaisar after a brief chase on the George Washington Parkway on Nov. 17, 2017.

But a U.S. District judge tossed out the charges last October on grounds that as federal officers, Vinyard and Amaya were entitled to immunity from state prosecution under the Supremacy Clause of the U.S. Constitution, establishing that federal law takes precedence over state law.

“A federal prosecution would not be subject to challenge under the Supremacy Clause. Moreover, this administration has expressed a genuine commitment to criminal justice reform, accountability, and racial equity,” the letter reads.

“Few cases touch on these issues as squarely as this case does. We urge you to speak with the individuals who investigated this matter, consider the facts of the case, and act swiftly to take us a step closer to justice.”

The letter argues that the federal judge’s dismissal of charges were based solely on the Supremacy Clause and not on the substance of the case itself. It also said new evidence uncovered in a civil suit brought forward by Ghaisar’s family merit reviving an investigation into possible civil rights violations.

“I appreciate these organizations that have displayed such leadership in advocating for equal justice under the law speaking out to insist that the Justice Department reopen the case,” Fairfax County Commonwealth’s Attorney Steve Descano said in a news release.

“Americans of all stripes understand that the Ghaisar family deserves to know that no stone has gone unturned in seeking answers for the killing of their son. I hope that Attorney General Garland, who has restored integrity to the Department where I started my legal career, will now act.”

Alejandro Alvarez

Alejandro Alvarez joined WTOP as a digital journalist and editor in June 2018. He is a reporter and photographer focusing on politics, political activism and international affairs.

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