Two U.S. Park Police officers who fatally shot Bijan Ghaisar just outside Washington after a brief car chase two years ago will not be charged with any crimes, federal prosecutors said Thursday, marking the end of their lengthy investigation into the controversial case.
Ghaisar, 25, was shot on the evening of Nov. 17, 2017, after he drove away from a minor traffic accident in Alexandria, Virginia. Officers Alejandro Amaya and Lucas Vinyard pursued him on the George Washington Memorial Parkway and, on the third time that Ghaisar had stopped but then started his car, fired nine rounds into the vehicle. Four of the shots struck the unarmed motorist in the head.
The Department of Justice said in a statement that prosecutors “cannot prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, that the two USPP officers committed willful violations of the applicable federal criminal civil rights statute when they shot Mr. Ghaisar.”
Ghaisar’s family decried the decision, saying in a statement it was “a cowardly act by a Department of Justice that is afraid to hold law enforcement, especially federal law enforcement, accountable when it commits murder.”
Calling the decision not to prosecute Amaya and Vinyard “another betrayal in this nightmare that began for us almost two years ago to the day,” statement added: “Let’s be clear about what happened here: Two people executed an American citizen who they were sworn to protect and serve, and the only reason they’re escaping justice is because they wear badges.”
The family said it has not given up in their pursuit for justice for their son and plan to pursue criminal charges through the Commonwealth of Virginia
Members of Congress had joined the family in pressing for details about the federal investigation, which increasingly came under criticism for a lack of transparency. The case has prompted legislation to require federal officers to wear body cameras.
“The Justice Department failed our community for two years by withholding answers about why police killed Bijan Ghaisar, but this final failure is the worst of all,” Rep. Don Beyer (D-Va.) said in a statement on Thursday. Beyer represents the district where the police pursuit and shooting of Ghaisar occurred.
For several weeks after the shooting, authorities refused to offer any explanation as to why officers shot Ghaisar. It wasn’t until after the release of five-minutes of dashcam footage in early 2018 that documented the pursuit and deadly encounter that the FBI announced it would investigate the case. The bureau initially opposed release of the footage.
The incident began when Ghaisar’s car was rear-ended by a vehicle operated by an Uber driver. Ghaisar left the scene and the Uber driver –– who was later ticketed for failing to maintain proper control –– called 911. Meanwhile, the two Park Police officers had spotted Ghaisar’s car and pursued it, joined by a local officer who provided the dashcam footage.
In the video, the Park Police officers are seen approaching Ghaisar’s car with guns drawn as the vehicle stopped twice and then drove away. The shooting occurred after the car stopped a third time but again began to pull away.
The Park Police never explained why the officers shot Ghaisar nor did they publicly identify the officers. It wasn’t until after the Ghaisar family filed a civil lawsuit in federal court in Alexandria that the names were released. The officers contested the suit and said they fired in self-defense.
A first-generation Iranian-American, Ghaisar was born in Virginia where friends and family described him as an avid fan of pro football’s New England Patriots fan and an upbeat individual. He graduated from Virginia Commonwealth University in 2015 before working for his father’s accounting firm in McLean, Virginia.