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

A federal judge in Alexandria agreed with legal arguments for two U.S. Park Police officers after they pursued a 25-year-old motorist in 2017 and fatally shot him in his Jeep.

Judge Claude Hilton dismissed criminal charges against the officers on Friday (Oct. 22), writing in an opinion that McLean resident Bijan Ghaisar was driving erratically after another vehicle hit his Jeep on George Washington Memorial Parkway, leading the officers on a pursuit.

Hilton wrote in his decisions for officers Alejandro Amaya and Lucas Vinyard that they “were authorized by federal law to act as they did” and “the officers did no more than was necessary and proper.”

The officers sought immunity under the Constitution’s Supremacy Clause, which gives federal laws and powers precedence over those of a state.

Fairfax County Commonwealth’s Attorney Steve Descano and Attorney General Mark Herring said in a joint statement that the state plans to appeal the case in the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond.

“[We] do not believe the law allows an individual to circumvent the accountability of the criminal justice system simply because of who their employer is,” the joint statement said. “We believe that a jury should have the opportunity to hear all of the evidence and determine whether these men committed a crime when they shot and killed Bijan Ghaisar.”

According to Hilton’s ruling, a dispatcher initially told police that Ghaisar’s vehicle hit another vehicle but then corrected that information, saying the Jeep was hit. The crash involving a Toyota Corolla occurred in Alexandria just north of Slater’s Lane on Nov. 17, 2017.

The court wrote that Ghaisar ignored officers’ commands to stop and pull over, failed to stop at a stop sign, and repeatedly drove away while Amaya’s hand was placed on Ghasiar’s door handle.

When Amaya approached the vehicle on foot around Tulane Drive and ordered him to open the door, Ghaisar took off while Amaya’s hand was on the door, the court wrote.

Police later pulled him over in a residential neighborhood off the parkway and yelled commands at Ghaisar on foot, but Ghaisar drove away again, according to the court.

When the officers pulled him over at the intersection of Fort Hunt Road and Alexandria Avenue, they exited the patrol car. Amaya shouted commands to Ghaisar when his Jeep lurched forward toward Amaya, prompting him to fire through the Jeep’s windshield.

“The Jeep initially stopped but then moved forward again, causing both officers to fire at Ghaisar,” the court wrote. “The Jeep then rolled over into a ditch.”

Ghaisar placed the officers in a life-or-death situation, the judge found.

“The officers’ decision to discharge their firearms was necessary and proper under the circumstances and there is no evidence that the officers acted with malice, criminal intent, or any improper motivation,” the judge wrote.

It wasn’t immediately clear how a postponed federal wrongful death lawsuit by Ghaisar’s father against the U.S. will proceed.

Ghaisar’s family, the McLean community, and elected officials have criticized the Park Police and FBI over their handling of the investigation into the shooting, including the prolonged withholding of the identities of the officers involved.

Federal prosecutors with the U.S. Department of Justice ultimately announced in November 2019 that they would not pursue charges against Amaya and Vinyard.

Descano put together a grand jury last year, and the officers were indicted in October 2020, both with a charge of manslaughter and another for reckless discharge of a firearm.

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Morning Notes

Fairfax County Police Officer Shoots Woman — A woman was taken to the hospital in critical condition yesterday (Monday) after a Fairfax County police officer fired their weapon and shot her during a confrontation at a group home in Springfield. Police say they responded to the 8000 block of Gosport Lane by a disturbance call about a woman reportedly assaulting people. [The Washington Post]

Bijan Ghaisar’s Family Protests Park Police Task Force Appointment — “The parents of Bijan Ghaisar, a 25-year-old resident of McLean who was shot and killed by U.S. Park Police in November 2017, are protesting Interior Secretary Deb Haaland’s decision to appoint former U.S. Park Police Chief Robert MacLean to head a new task force reviewing law enforcement policies…in the wake of the police’s violent crackdown in Lafayette Park in 2020 during the presidency of Donald Trump.” [Patch]

Falls Church City Seeks School Supplies — “The City of Falls Church Housing and Human Services (HHS) team will help local families with free school supplies. Donations for all ages — and especially middle and high school students — can be delivered to City Hall (300 Park Ave.) through Friday, August 13.” [City of Falls Church]

Falls Church Startup Proposes Automating Tax Appeals — A startup co-founded by Falls Church City Councilmember Ross Litkenhous is looking to raise $2 million to fund a software platform that they say will simplify the property tax appeals process. Launched in February, Calvary Real Estate Advisors would help users fill out the assessment appeal, find ways to save money, and send the form to the right place. [Washington Business Journal]

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Morning Notes

Fairfax County School Board Adopts Budget — The Fairfax County Public Schools fiscal year 2022 budget includes funding for 50 new positions for English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) students, school-based technology specialists, and 18 new social worker and psychologist positions to meet state requirements. It also covers technology support fees previously charged to families and a 2% market rate adjustment for all employees. [FCPS]

Bike to Work Day Is Here — The D.C. area’s annual initiative to encourage people to ride their bicycles to work marks its 20th anniversary today. The Tysons area has pit stops at Tysons Corner Center, the Mosaic District, and the MITRE Corporation headquarters in McLean, where cyclists can pick up a complimentary T-shirt, win giveaways, and in some cases, get a free bicycle tune-up. [Bike to Work Day]

Park Police Chief Calls Ghaisar Shooting “Tragic” — Park Police Chief Pamela Smith called the 2017 shooting of McLean resident Bijan Ghaisar “tragic” yesterday (Thursday) when announcing that the agency will outfit all officers with body-worn cameras by the end of this year. She didn’t comment on Fairfax County and Virginia prosecutors’ recent request that the Justice Department take up the case against the Park Police officers, which is now in federal court. [WTOP]

Scott’s Run Security to Intensify on Memorial Day — The Fairfax County Park Authority will increase the presence of security at Scott’s Run Nature Preserve in McLean starting on Memorial Day (May 31). Security personnel will be on site throughout the week from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. to enforce park rules, including the prohibition of alcohol and glass bottles and safety measures in the waterfall area. [Patch]

Mill Street Building Sold for $5 Million — The 23,000 square-foot building at 319 Mill Street in Vienna was sold last week to a local businessman identified as MITCO Mill Street LLC. Zoned for retail or industrial use and occupied by three long-term tenants, the property is part of an effort to revive Mill Street with new retail businesses, including a Cubesmart that’s now under construction. [Vienna Business Association]

McLean American Legion Post Honored — “It took an extra year because of pandemic-related delays, but American Legion Post 270 in McLean and its former commander, W. Glenn Yarborough, on May 19 finally received ceremonial copies of honorary resolutions passed last year by the General Assembly.” [Sun Gazette]

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