New evidence reveals officers knew Bijan Ghaisar was not suspect in 2017 fender bender

New evidence in the case against two U.S. Park Police officers in the death of Bijan Ghaisar reveals that before they shot and killed the 25-year-old Virginia man off the George Washington Parkway, they were alerted that Ghaisar was not the suspect in an earlier fender bender.

Four minutes after issuing a description of a Black Jeep involved in a hit-and-run on the GW Parkway on Nov. 17, 2017, the dispatcher makes clear that the Jeep with the vanity license plate “BIJAN” was not at fault — the black Jeep was the one that was hit.

“Correction on all of this. The black Jeep left the scene, but he is not the striking vehicle. The red Toyota on the scene is the striking vehicle,” the dispatcher said.

The raw radio transmissions are part of a filing against U.S. Park Police Officers Lucas Vinyard and Alejandro Amaya, who prosecutors contend violated multiple department policies.

“The officers’ continued pursuit of Mr. Ghaisar was unnecessary, improper, contrary to police training/standards and the United States Park Police Vehicular Pursuit Policy wherein it states, ‘The act of fleeing and eluding the police shall not in itself be a pursuable offense,'” wrote expert Christopher Chapman in his more than 300-page report for the prosecution on the fatal shooting.

Chapman, a City University of New York criminal justice professor, also wrote that there was no just cause for pursuit by the officers because Ghaisar was not “an imminent threat, in possession of a firearm or had engaged in any criminal conduct.”

Amaya and Vinyard pursued Ghaisar in November 2017, after Ghaisar drove away from the fender bender in Alexandria. The officers followed Ghaisar down the GW Parkway, signaling for him to pull over.

Twice, Ghaisar stopped. In each case, as the officers approached his vehicle with guns drawn, he drove off.

At the third stop, in a residential neighborhood, when Ghaisar’s Jeep moved forward, the Park Police officers shot Ghaisar. Dashcam video from a Fairfax County police cruiser captured the sound of nine shots.

In November 2019, the Justice Department said it could not prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Amaya and Vinyard willfully violated Ghaisar’s civil rights, and that it would have not been able to disprove the officers’ claims that they acted in self-defense.

However, Steve Descano, the Fairfax County commonwealth’s attorney, obtained indictments against Amaya and Vinyard. Each is charged with involuntary manslaughter and reckless discharge of a firearm.

Defense attorneys contend Ghaisar was driving erratically and that a federal judge should consider this when deciding whether the officers will face their charges of involuntary manslaughter. They were indicted by a grand jury on the charges in October 2020, after the Justice Department decided to not file criminal charges against them.

The report also includes diagrams from the FBI’s two-year investigation into Ghaisar’s killing that preceded the Fairfax County Commonwealth’s attorney’s investigation. The diagrams show where the officers were positioned when they shot Ghaisar in the head on the third stop and analysis of those 10 gunshots.

The federal judge in Alexandria could decide to uphold the “supremacy clause” precedent that federal officers cannot be charged in a lower court if they were performing their authorized duty.

Listen to the full raw radio transmissions in the video below.

WTOP’s Jack Moore and Neal Augenstein contributed to this report.

Megan Cloherty

WTOP Investigative Reporter Megan Cloherty primarily covers breaking news, crime and courts.

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