Prosecutors appeal dismissal of manslaughter charges against officers in Bijan Ghaisar death

Virginia prosecutors are appealing the decision of a federal judge to throw out manslaughter charges against U.S. Park Police officers Alejandro Amaya and Lucas Vinyard in the 2017 shooting of motorist Bijan Ghaisar.

The notice of appeal, filed by the Virginia Attorney General’s Office and the Fairfax County Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office, states they’ll ask the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit in Richmond to consider last Friday’s rulings made by federal judge Claude Hilton in Alexandria.

After a two-year investigation, the U.S. Justice Department declined to prosecute the officers in the death of Ghaisar, who was 25 when he was killed. Officers pursued Ghaisar’s Jeep on the George Washington Parkway after he left the scene of a fender-bender; Ghaisar was later shot in the Fort Hunt neighborhood of Alexandria.

In October 2020, Fairfax County Commonwealth’s Attorney Steve Descano indicted the officers on charges of involuntary manslaughter and reckless use of a gun, with the expectation that a Fairfax County jury would hear evidence against them.

But in April of this year, the officers’ attorneys were successful in getting the case moved to federal court.

Under the U.S. Constitution, states must defer to federal law, and police officers are often afforded “supremacy clause” immunity from state prosecution if a judge believes their actions were “necessary and proper.”

Hilton said there was no evidence that the officers acted with “malice, criminal intent or any improper motivation.”

The Tuesday filing does not specify the grounds for the appeal, but does include the decision to remove the case from state court and move it to federal court.

A three-judge panel will be assigned to the case, and both sides will file motions, before the case could be heard in the Richmond courtroom.

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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