The federal government has agreed to pay $5 million to settle a civil lawsuit brought by the parents of McLean resident Bijan Ghaisar, who was shot and killed by two U.S. Park Police officers in Fort Hunt more than five years ago.
The settlement will allocate up to 25% of the total — or $1.25 million — to the family’s lawyers with the remaining money going directly to James and Kelly Ghaisar, according to court documents.
Officially approved by U.S. District Judge Claude Hilton after a hearing at the federal courthouse in Alexandria on Friday (April 28), the agreement states that it shouldn’t be interpreted as “an admission of liability or fault on the part of the United States.”
In a statement, the Ghaisars said their proceeds from the settlement will go to The Bijan Ghaisar Foundation — a nonprofit dedicated to addressing police brutality and helping victims of gun violence — “and other charitable causes.”
Despite agreeing to settle, the family said they “do not believe this is justice” and remain disappointed that federal prosecutors declined multiple times to pursue charges against officers Alejandro Amaya and Lucas Vinyard, who were only identified after the family filed the wrongful death lawsuit in 2018.
“We still believe, however, that accountability for Bijan’s murder is possible, somehow, sometime, and some way,” the family said. “We now shift our focus to fighting in Bijan’s name for other victims, and for all Americans, for accountability and prevention of police brutality.”
Statement from The Ghaisar Family on the settlement of the civil suit against the Federal government for Bijan Ghaisar's murder. #WeAreBijan pic.twitter.com/DaR8Kieffd
— Bijan Ghaisar (@WeAreBijan) April 28, 2023
Rep. Don Beyer, who represents Virginia’s 8th Congressional District, including McLean, called the settlement “the clearest admission to date that Bijan Ghaisar did not deserve to be shot and killed.”
“The officers who shot him showed reckless disregard for Bijan Ghaisar’s humanity,” Beyer said in a statement. “Yet, to this day no one has been held accountable for that act that left an unarmed young man dead, or for the unacceptable government stonewalling that compounded the Ghaisar family’s suffering and enraged the community I represent. This lawsuit is ending, but justice has never been done in this case.”
The DOJ settlement is the clearest admission to date that Bijan Ghaisar did not deserve to be shot and killed.
My thoughts go out to Kelly and James Ghaisar and their family. As their fight for reform and justice continues, I will continue to be their friend and ally. pic.twitter.com/hp9jhspZqh
— Rep. Don Beyer (@RepDonBeyer) April 28, 2023
The Department of the Interior, which includes the Park Police, didn’t return a request for comment by press time. The department’s Office of Inspector General is conducting an administrative investigation to determine whether Park Police policies were followed, according to the Washington Post.
The settlement marks the end of a prolonged legal battle for the Ghaisar family, whose efforts to hold police accountable for the Nov. 17, 2017 shooting have frequently been met with dismissals and silence despite support from community members and elected officials.
A Langley High School graduate who worked as an accountant in McLean, Ghaisar was shot five times by Amaya and Vinyard at Fort Hunt Road and Alexandria Avenue after a police pursuit instigated by a hit-and-run crash on the George Washington Memorial Parkway.
Police were initially told that Ghaisar was responsible for the crash before the dispatcher clarified that his vehicle was the one struck, according to court documents. A four-and-a-half-minute video taken by a Fairfax County police officer’s dashboard camera showed the Park Police officers firing nine shots total.
Ghaisar died at a hospital 10 days later. He was 25.
After the Department of Justice opted not to prosecute Amaya and Vinyard in November 2019, the Fairfax County Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office took on the case and got a grand jury to indict the officers on involuntary manslaughter and reckless discharge of a firearm charges in October 2020.
However, a year later, Hilton dismissed the charges, stating that the officers’ actions were “necessary and proper” and they have immunity from local prosecution as federal law enforcement officers. An appeal of the case was dropped by Virginia Attorney General Jason Miyares on April 22, 2022.
Ghaisar’s family said their advocacy work going forward will include a push to end qualified immunity, which shields public officials from liability unless they violate a “clearly established” constitutional or statutory right.
As noted in the statement, in response to Ghaisar’s shooting, Park Police officers are now required to wear body cameras — a policy change that led the agency to release footage from a fatal shooting of a teen in D.C. last month.
“We will fight toward that day when families never have to experience what we have been through these past five years as the current system and process make it impossible to grieve or pursue justice in any meaningful way,” the family said, thanking relatives, friends and other supporters. “…Let us now work together to make police brutality something future generations read about only in history books.”
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