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7 lawmakers urge DOJ to reopen investigation into park police fatal shooting of Bijan Ghaisar

Several national lawmakers representing people in the DMV area are calling on the Justice Department to reopen an investigation into a fatal police shooting in 2017.

WASHINGTON — Seven members of Congress, six of whom are from the DMV area, are calling on U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland to reopen an investigation into a police shooting on Nov. 17, 2017 that left Bijan Ghaisar dead at 25-years-old. 

A federal judge dismissed criminal charges against the two U.S. Park Police officers accused of killing Ghaisar, Alejandro Amaya and Lucas Vinyard, in October 2021. The former Virginia attorney general, Mark Herring, as well as Fairfax County Commonwealth Attorney Steve Descano appealed the decision to the Fourt Circuit Court of Appeals.

On April 22, the criminal investigation into Amaya and Vinyard effectively ended after Virginia Attorney General Jason Miyares announced he had dropped the Commonwealth's appeal of the case. He echoed the sentiment of the federal judge who dropped the case, saying the actions taken by the two officers "were Ghaisar."

On Wednesday, seven Democratic members of Congress — Sens. Tim Kaine and Mark Warner of Virginia, Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton of D.C., Reps. Donald Beyer (Va.), Jennifer Wexton (Va.), Raúl Grijalva (Ariz.) and Gerry Connolly (Va.) signed a bicameral letter to Garland asking that the Department of Justice reopen an investigation into Ghaisar's death, saying, "The decision to escalate to deadly force must be explained."

"Nearly five years after the fatal shooting of Bijan, it remains unclear to the Ghaisar family, to us, and to the broader community of the National Capital Region, how a traffic stop escalated to a fatal shooting," the seven lawmakers wrote. 

On the night of Nov. 17, 2017, Ghaisar got into a fender bender in Alexandria on George Washington Parkway. Officials say Ghaisar was not at fault for the collision, but he left the scene. 

Video released by Fairfax County Police Department shows police following Ghaisar's vehicle. Ghaisar eventually stops in Fairfax County and Amaya and Vinyard are seen aiming their weapons toward his vehicle. 

The two cops fired 10 shots at Ghaisar's vehicle and the Washington Post reports that four of the shots struck his head. Ghaisar was unarmed.

Lawmakers are critical of the DOJ under former Attorney General William Barr for dropping the case and declining to file federal charges in 2019. The lawmakers say the DOJ didn't share evidence it gathered from its investigation with local attorneys and noted that Ghaisar was shot for committing a "low-level offense."

"Taken together, these decisions mean that Ghaisar’s family cannot be confident that the circumstances of Bijan’s death have received the rigorous legal scrutiny they deserve," the lawmakers write. 

After Miyares ended the Commonwealth's investigation, Kelly Ghaisar, mother of Bijan Ghaisar, called on Garland to reopen an investigation in the Justice Department "based on deposition and findings through our civil case and to look into misconduct of Attorney General Miyares."

When addressing reporters on April 23, Kelly Ghaisar said of Miyares and Barr: "You have failed us. You have failed the citizens and people you are supposed to protect. You did not defend the victim, you defended the murderers under the supremacy clause." 

The letter from lawmakers says that Bijan Ghaisar's family has requested DOJ's Civil Rights Division to "revisit its decision declining to prosecute the officers" involved in the fatal shooting. 

"We further understand that the Department is now in possession of sworn deposition testimony taken from briefs submitted in a civil action, which includes testimony from a senior U.S. Park Police officer and a Fairfax County Police officer that may cast new light on the events of that tragic evening," the lawmakers write. 

Lawmakers say their intention is not to pressure the DOJ to arrive at a decision that isn't supported by evidence, but rather to "seek an impartial review of the facts, including the newly adduced evidence from the civil proceeding."

They write, "This case was only dismissed at the district level because of Supremacy Clause immunity, an issue that does not apply if the case is brought by the federal government. Supremacy Clause immunity would also not apply in other cases involving state, not federal, officers, which makes this case unique[.]"

The Ghaisar family will hold a rally on Sept. 17, the date that would have been Bijan Ghaisar's 30th birthday, at the Lincoln Memorial. At the rally, the family will continue calling for the case to be reopened. 

"Bijan’s family, and the public, are entitled to due process and an explanation of why their son is dead that reflects full scrutiny of this situation at all levels of the justice system," lawmakers wrote to Garland. "We hope you will use all resources and personnel at your disposal to give this case a fair, honest look and decide what the proper form of justice for this tragedy should be."

 

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