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‘Saddened and dumbfounded’: Case against Park Police officers who shot Bijan Ghaisar dismissed

Fairfax County Police Department footage of Park Police shooting McLean resident Bijan Ghaisar (via FCPD)

The parents of 25-year-old Bijan Ghaisar, the McLean resident killed by U.S. Park Police in 2017, and Fairfax County Commonwealth’s Attorney Steve Descano have voiced their dismay over Virginia’s decision to drop a criminal case against the officers.

At the behest of Virginia Attorney General Jason Miyares, the Commonwealth filed a motion on Friday (April 22) to drop the manslaughter charges against the officers. A federal appeals court officially dismissed the case yesterday (Monday).

“I remain saddened and dumbfounded,” Descano said yesterday (Monday) in a statement. “Not only did they lose their beloved son, but time and again, actors in the criminal justice system treated them with appalling coldness and brutality.”

Three former U.S. attorneys general — William Barr, Edwin Meese and Michael Mukasey, all Republicans — weighed in on the criminal case with an amicus brief a day before the Commonwealth’s motion.

Former Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring, a Democrat, had filed an appeal of the criminal case in January to the Fourth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond. He lost his bid for reelection in November.

Descano, also a Democrat, sought to bring criminal charges against the Park Police officers, identified as Alejandro Amaya and Lucas Vinyard. A grand jury indicted the men in October 2020 on charges of involuntary manslaughter and reckless discharge of a firearm.

But a year later, U.S. District Judge Claude Hilton ruled in favor of the Park Police officers, dismissing the case.

Descano said he’ll now turn his attention to advocating for the Department of Justice to prosecute the case. The DOJ previously declined to pursue charges against the officers in 2019, but the department indicated last summer that it would be open to assisting in a prosecution.

If federal prosecutors pass on the case again, it would allow for the resumption of a civil lawsuit that James and Kelara Ghaisar, Bijan’s parents, filed against the U.S. government. The lawsuit has been on hold since October 2020.

Efforts by the family, community members, and elected officials to hold the Park Police officers accountable for Bijan Ghaisar’s death have now dragged on for more than four years after he was shot at the intersection of Fort Hunt Road and Alexandria Avenue.

U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine said in a joint statement yesterday (Monday) that their “hearts go out to Bijan Ghaisar’s loved ones, who have spent more than four years searching for closure following the fatal shooting of Bijan by two U.S. Park Police officers. We are deeply disappointed by this decision by Attorney General Miyares to end Virginia’s pursuit of justice for Bijan and his family. This decision only stands to cause further harm to the Fairfax County community while preventing a heartbroken family from reaching the closure they desperately need.”

At a federal court hearing in October 2020, an attorney for the family argued that they had been waiting for years and a case shouldn’t be paused indefinitely.

“Almost three years ago Bijan Ghaisar was gunned down by two Park Police officers,” attorney Tom Connolly said at the October 2020 hearing. “His family has waited now three years to get some semblance of justice in this case.”

Hilton agreed and set a status conference for the civil case for March 26, 2021. But three days before that date, the court said the meeting was put on hold with a rescheduling “to be determined.”

The wrongful death and civil rights lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court Eastern District of Virginia in Alexandria, seeks $25 million and other damages and costs, alleging negligence, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and other charges.

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