WASHINGTON — It has been more than two years since 25-year-old Bijan Ghaisar was shot to death by two U.S. Park Police officers.
Since that moment, the Ghaisar family has been campaigning for justice through multiple channels: federal criminal charges, a wrongful-death civil suit and criminal charges through Fairfax County, where the incident took place.
On Friday, the new Fairfax County Commonwealth's Attorney, Steve Descano, released a letter from the Department of Justice (DOJ). It says the DOJ would not allow an FBI agent who had helped with the original investigation to testify in any Fairfax County proceedings that take place in connection to Ghaisar.
The letter is dated February 6, a week after Descano announced he would be continuing the investigation his predecessor, Raymond F. Morrogh, had begun in December 2019.
That decision was met with praise from the Ghaisar family, who has complained about a lack of transparency and responsiveness throughout the process:
"Importantly and unlike past experience, Mr. Descano made it clear that he would keep us regularly informed and he would make sure to contact the family about any significant developments to ensure that they would not first learn what is happening from the media," the Ghaisar family's lawyer shared in a statement on January 30.
Officials said 25-year-old Bijan Ghaisar had gotten into a fender-bender on the George Washington Parkway in Alexandria the night of November 17, 2017. They said he was not at fault for the accident, but he left the scene.
Police said two U.S. Park Police officers followed Ghaisar, and pulled him over. Video released by the Fairfax County Police Department shows that Ghaisar took off and stopped two more times before the officers fired nine shots into his car.
The DOJ said those shots ended up killing him.
Police said Ghaisar was unarmed and had no drugs in his car.
The two officers, Alejandro Amaya and Lucas Vinyard, have claimed self-defense in response to the family's wrongful death lawsuit.
For two years, the Department of Justice had been investigating whether or not to file federal criminal charges against the officers. Days before the two-year anniversary of Ghaisar's death, the DOJ announced that it would not be pursuing the charges, because it could not disprove the officers' claim of self-defense with the standard of proof necessary.
At a vigil days later, the family expressed anger and frustration at the decision.
“In my optimistic mind, and in respect for the law and how the justice should work, this was a slap on my face," said Bijan's father, James Ghaisar, in November 2019.
In defense of the Justice Department's latest decision to deny FBI testimony, the Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division, Eric Dreiband, said in a letter that it would be a conflict of interest to allow the FBI to testify.
Dreiband said the U.S. Park Police officers requested legal representation from the DOJ in the family's impending civil suit.
"Should the Department undertake to represent the U.S. Park Police officers, it will be ethically bound to advocate zealously on their behalf, consistent with its long-standing guidelines and practices regarding the representation of federal agents by the Department," he wrote.
However, the Justice Department offered an alternative to share the FBI's findings in a state grand jury hearing.
"Nothing prevents Fairfax County from having its own detectives now review those same case files, conduct their own investigation and testify before the Fairfax County grand jury," Dreiband said in the letter.
Descano released his own letter in response, saying in part, "I will continue to pursue this investigation as well as continue to request and expect the Department's future cooperation when necessary."
The Ghaisar family also has a pending wrongful death lawsuit.
Attorney for the family, Roy L. Austin, Jr. sent WUSA 9 the following statement in response to the DOJ's decision:
"This letter comes from an unrecognizable U.S. Department of Justice and Civil Rights Division. DOJ once wanted to fully cooperate with local law enforcement. But this unsolicited letter is clearly meant as a warning to Fairfax County and all other local prosecutors to not prosecute federal officers, no matter how egregious the conduct. Hopefully, Fairfax County is steadfast in its apparent desire to conduct a fair and thorough investigation, and where appropriate, seek justice for those impacted by unlawful police violence."