The chief of police in Fairfax County, Virginia, is speaking up after the Department of Justice claimed his department didn’t work with federal investigators during its investigation into the police-involved shooting death of a McLean man in 2017.
“That is absolutely not the truth,” Fairfax County Police Chief Col. Edwin Roessler Jr. told WTOP.
After the Department of Justice chose not to prosecute the U.S. Park Police officers who shot and killed Bijan Ghaisar, Fairfax County’s Commonwealth’s Attorney announced plans to open its own investigation into the shooting.
During that investigation came a request to the DOJ for an FBI special agent to appear before a state grand jury to testify on the facts of the federal government’s investigation.
The critical comment against the county came in a letter Assistant Attorney General Eric Dreiband sent to Fairfax County Commonwealth’s Attorney Steve Descano denying the request.
“At the outset of the investigation the department invited Fairfax County to participate in the Department’s investigation. Fairfax declined to do so,” Dreiband wrote in the letter, which both Descano and the police department released.
In November 2017, Roessler’s officers served as support to U.S. Park Police officers who tried to pull Ghaisar over several times, without success, during a chase down the George Washington Parkway.
After the shooting, Roessler said his department assisted not only the U.S. Park Police, but also FBI investigators, turning over in-dash video and making officers available to speak with investigators.
“I treated that matter as my own officer-involved shooting,” Roessler said.
Among the emails Fairfax County police released was correspondence between an unnamed major with the police department and a supervisory special agent with the FBI.
All the emails released were dated several days after the shooting in November 2017.
In one email, the major wrote that he assigned a detective to assist the FBI.
“Detective [name redacted] will coordinate and facilitate interviews with FCPD officers, produce necessary and required police reports and all evidence within the possession of FCPD which is relevant, needed and remain to this OIS [officer involved shooting] incident,” the major wrote.
“Thank you and we look forward to working with your office,” the special agent responded in the following email.
WTOP contacted the Department of Justice for comment.
Roessler also criticized the federal government for not being more transparent during its investigation of the shooting, calling it “unfortunate” that Ghaisar’s family was not kept apprised of the progress of the investigation.
“Unfortunately the federal government has been silent with the Ghaisar family and the community of Fairfax County and this nation and they need to get on board with the 21st century policing principles of transparency,” Roessler said.
Roessler did praise the work of FBI special agents and the federal law enforcement officers his office works with frequently.
“This is beyond the special agents of the FBI, this is legal issues with the U.S. attorney and other high-ranking officials,” Roessler said.
Roessler said he spoke up to set the record straight and mentioned he also supports the Fairfax County Commonwealth’s Attorney’s investigation into what took place.
“I just pray for everyone involved, including the Ghaisar family, that transparency be the paramount issue during the legal proceedings, and I know that will happen in Fairfax County,” Roessler said.
The response to the comment from the police chief comes as the Commonwealth’s Attorney continues his push for federal government cooperation in his office’s investigation.
In the letter, Dreiband also said the Department of the Interior has requested that the DOJ provide legal representation for the U.S. Park Police officers who shot Ghaisar.
Dreiband said it has also been requested that the U.S. support the officers in their anticipated immunity defenses.
As it reviews those requests, Dreiband said it is unable to authorize any DOJ employees to appear before a grand jury.
Dreiband also said the DOJ’s investigative files have been made available to the Commonwealth’s Attorney.
On Twitter, Descano accused the federal government of “denying federal cooperation” with his office’s investigation.
In response to the letter sent to the assistant attorney general, Descano said his investigation will continue regardless.
“I will continue to pursue this investigation as well as continue to request and expect the Department’s future cooperation when necessary,” Descano wrote.
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