It has been five years since U.S. Park Police officers pursued and shot McLean resident Bijan Ghaisar in Fort Hunt, ultimately killing him.
Still seeking closure and accountability for the officers involved, Ghaisar’s family will mark the five-year anniversary of the shooting with a candlelight vigil at the Lincoln Memorial in D.C. at 7 p.m. today.
The vigil is being organized by the Bijan Ghaisar Foundation, which was formed by the family to honor their loved one and advocate for victims of police brutality and gun violence.
“The pain, anger, and frustration never diminishes,” the organization said on Facebook. “…We hope you can join us and help keep [Bijan’s] spirit and memories alive, and to continue to demand accountability. We have not and will not stop fighting.”
Ghaisar died in a hospital on Nov. 27, 2017 — 10 days after two Park Police officers shot him nine times, concluding an extended chase from George Washington Parkway to the Fort Hunt Road and Alexandria Avenue intersection. He was 25 years old.
A criminal case against the officers, identified as Alejandro Amaya and Lucas Vinyard, was dismissed last year by a judge who said they “were authorized by federal law to act as they did.” A dispatcher initially said Ghaisar was responsible for a hit-and-run, but later clarified that his vehicle was in fact the one that had been hit, court documents said.
Mark Herring, Virginia’s attorney general at the time, appealed the ruling with backing from Fairfax County Commonwealth’s Attorney Steve Descano, but Attorney General Jason Miyares dropped the manslaughter charges against the officers in April after he took office.
After previously suggesting it would help with the prosecution, the Justice Department said in June that it won’t pursue federal charges against Amaya and Vinyard after all, stating that it “does not have an adequate basis to reopen its prior investigation.”
Ghaisar’s family still has a civil personal injury lawsuit against the Park Police pending in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia in Alexandria.
According to The Washington Post, Amaya and Vinyard declined to answer questions about their actions at depositions last month, prompting Ghaisar’s family to file a motion asking the judge to compel them to provide testimony. A hearing on that motion has been scheduled for Dec. 9.
In a joint statement released this morning, Virginia Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine along with Reps. Don Beyer and Jennifer Wexton said the Department of the Interior, which includes the Park Police, “has taken several positive steps” in response to Ghaisar’s shooting, including a new requirement that officers wear body cameras.
However, reiterating sentiments voiced by elected officials over the past half-decade, the legislators expressed frustration with the lack of accountability and transparency around the federal investigations into the shooting:
Today marks five years since Bijan was shot and killed by U.S. Park Police. While we appreciate that the current leadership of the Department of the Interior has taken several positive steps to ensure that the failures that led to the tragic death of this young man don’t happen again, we remain deeply disappointed that the Ghaisar family’s pleas for justice and closure have not yet been answered. Bijan’s friends and family deserve closure for the killing of Bijan, which includes making sure that the individuals responsible for his death are finally held accountable.
Investigations involving use of force should be handled in a timely manner and include constant information sharing with the families involved and the public. Failure to do so undermines public trust in law enforcement and our institutions. It is our sincere hope that through increased transparency and communication, the Ghaisar family will finally receive the closure they need.
Per the Post, Vinyard and Amaya are on paid administrative leave and haven’t returned to active duty since the shooting. The Interior Department moved to fire them last year, but they filed a challenge that is still pending.
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.