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Family of Bijan Ghaisar marks five years since fatal shooting with vigil

Fairfax County Police Department footage of Park Police shooting McLean resident Bijan Ghaisar (via FCPD)

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.

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