Each officer faces one count of involuntary manslaughter and one count of reckless discharge of a firearm, Commonwealth’s Attorney Steve Descano said at a news conference. The charges have a combined maximum of 15 years in prison.
“I wish this could have been done in a faster fashion,” Descano said Thursday. “However, there are no shortcuts to justice.”
In a statement, Ghaisar’s family said their hearts were “a little lighter” that the officers are “closer to being held accountable for what they did.”
“Too many of the people who are sworn to protect and serve our communities commit heinous acts of violence and go unpunished,” the statement said. “With these charges we are reminded that, at least here in Fairfax County, Officers Alejandro Amaya and Lucas Vinyard are not above the law.”
Attorneys for the officers did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
He also was a vocal opponent of gun violence, his family says.
On the evening of November 17, 2017, Ghaisar was driving south on the George Washington Memorial Parkway outside Washington when he was rear-ended, according to a collision report obtained by CNN. For some reason, Ghaisar left the scene of collision, which is illegal in Virginia, and the Park Police soon located his vehicle and began a pursuit.
The Park Police officers’ vehicle did not have a dashboard camera, nor were they wearing body cameras. But footage of the encounter was captured by the dashcam of a Fairfax County police officer who joined the pursuit in support of the Park Police.
According to that footage, which was released by Fairfax Police in January 2018, Ghaisar stopped at least three times. Each time, the Park Police officers exited their own SUV and approached Ghaisar’s vehicle with their guns drawn.
The first two stops, Ghaisar maneuvered his vehicle around the police officers and drove away, the footage shows. At no time did the officers appear to be in danger of being hit by Ghaisar’s vehicle.
At the third stop, the Park Police SUV pulls in front of Ghaisar’s vehicle and the officers exit. As Ghaisar’s car inches forward, a series of gunshots ring out. Ghaisar’s Jeep is seen idly rolling into a roadside ditch.
Ghaisar was hospitalized and died 10 days later.
Justice Department did not cooperate with Fairfax probe, prosecutor says
The FBI took over the investigation three days after the shooting, but the Justice Department remained virtually silent until last November, when it announced charges would not be filed against Vinyard and Amaya.
“We have so much anger and we’re fighting so hard and we have so much pain that we don’t even have a minute to process or mourn,” Negeen Ghaisar, Bijan’s sister, told CNN about a year after the shooting.
Descano took over the case from his predecessor following his election last year. On Thursday, he called the case “complex and nuanced,” pointing to the review of 11,000 pieces of documents and interviews conducted in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic.
“Making this more difficult was the US Department of Justice’s refusal to produce witnesses for the benefit of our grand jury or our trial,” Descano said, adding that his case had to rely entirely on evidence compiled by Fairfax County police.
The Justice Department declined to comment Thursday.
Descano said he believes the officers will attempt to move the case to federal court and that the federal government will try to have the case dismissed under the supremacy clause, which says that in the event of conflict between state and federal laws, the latter takes precedence.
Descano’s office is prepared, he said, and his office requested the help of Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring in case there’s any federal litigation.