Every officer faces a number of involuntary manslaughter and a number of reckless gun discharges, Commonwealth attorney Steve Descano said at a news conference. The combined charges amount to a maximum of 15 years in prison.
“I wish this could have happened faster,” said Descano on Thursday. “There are no shortcuts to justice, however.”
In a statement, Ghaisar’s family said their hearts were “a little lighter” that officials are “closer to being held accountable for what they have done”.
“Too many of the people sworn to protect and serve our communities commit heinous acts of violence and go with impunity,” the statement said. “These allegations are a reminder that officers Alejandro Amaya and Lucas Vinyard, at least here in Fairfax County, are not above the law.”
The officers’ lawyers did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
He was also a vocal opponent of gun violence, says his family.
On the evening of November 17, 2017, Ghaisar was driving south on the George Washington Memorial Parkway outside Washington when he was at the end, according to a collision report received from CNN. For some reason, Ghaisar left the Virginia collision site, and park police soon located his vehicle and began a chase.
The park policemen’s vehicle had no dashboard camera or body cameras. However, footage of the encounter was captured on the dashcam of a Fairfax County police officer who joined the chase in support of the park police.
According to this material, released by Fairfax Police in January 2018, Ghaisar stopped at least three times. Each time the park policemen got out of their own SUV and approached Ghaisar’s vehicle with guns drawn.
During the first two stops, Ghaisar maneuvered his vehicle around the police officers and drove away, as the footage shows. At no point did the officers appear in danger of being hit by Ghaisar’s vehicle.
At the third stop, the parking police’s SUV stops in front of Ghaisar’s vehicle and the officers get out. As Ghaisar’s car moves forward only a few centimeters, a series of shots can be heard. Ghaisar’s jeep rolls idly into a ditch.
Ghaisar was hospitalized and died 10 days later.
The Justice Department has not cooperated with the Fairfax probe, according to prosecutors
The FBI took over the investigation three days after the shooting, but the Justice Department was virtually silent until last November when it announced that no charges would be brought against Vinyard and Amaya.
“We have so much anger and we fight so hard and we have so much pain that we don’t even have a minute to process or grieve,” Negeen Ghaisar, Bijan’s sister, told CNN about a year after the shooting.
Descano took over the case from his predecessor after his election last year. On Thursday, he called the case “complex and nuanced,” referring to the review of 11,000 documents and interviews conducted amid the Covid-19 pandemic.
“To make matters worse, the US Department of Justice refused to produce witnesses for our grand jury or trial,” Descano said, adding that his case would have to be based solely on evidence gathered by Fairfax County police.
The Justice Department declined to comment on Thursday.
Descano said he believes officials will try to take the case to federal court and that the federal government will try to dismiss the case under the supremacy clause, which says that if there is a conflict between state and federal laws, the latter takes precedence .
Descano’s office is prepared, he said, and his office has asked Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring for help in the event of a federal dispute.