The officers Alejandro Amaya (41) and Lucas W. Vinyard (39) have been working for the park police shortly after the shooting. The park police have not yet opened an internal investigation and are instead waiting for the prosecutor and local prosecutors to take criminal decisions. The officers were not taken into custody Thursday and prosecutors expected them to make arrangements for the surrender.
Officials have alleged that Ghaisar was driving his Jeep Grand Cherokee in Amaya when he tried to withdraw from them and that they shot him both in self-defense and to protect public safety.
The fatal shots of Ghaisar, a 25-year-old accountant and native Northern Virginia American, were recorded by cameras in two Fairfax County police cruisers that followed the park officers to the intersection of Fort Hunt Road and Alexandria Avenue. The video showed Ghaisar slowly driving around the Park Police sport utility vehicle and officers firing at Ghaisar̵
After an FBI investigation, the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division and the US attorney in Washington concluded two years later that Vinyard and Amaya had not committed federal civil rights violations by shooting. The case then shifted to Fairfax, where then Commonwealth attorney Raymond F. Morrogh tried last December to indict the officers, only to be blocked by the Justice Department’s refusal to testify FBI agents before the Fairfax grand jury allow.
Newly elected Fairfax prosecutor Steve Descano took the case in January, continued seeking federal support, and was also turned down. He then recruited the Fairfax Police to assist with the investigation and presented the case to a special grand jury from September. The officers were also charged with reckless use of firearms, prosecutors said. The manslaughter charge is a maximum of 10 years and the firearms charge is a maximum of five years.
Descano met with the Ghaisar family before announcing the charges Thursday night. “Justice has not yet come for the Ghaisar family,” said Descano. “But today is a big step forward on this path.”
“Our heavy hearts are a little lighter tonight,” said the Ghaisar family in a statement, “knowing that the police who murdered our son and brother are closer to being accountable for what they did to be drawn. ” Too many of the people who are sworn to protect and serve our communities commit heinous acts of violence and go unpunished. With these allegations, we are reminded that officers Alejandro Amaya and Lucas Vinyard, at least here in Fairfax County, are not above the law. “
Amaya and Vinyard’s lawyers did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Although the charges were brought in the Fairfax County Circuit Court, the case was still open to trial in federal court in Alexandria. Federal officials are largely immune to charges by state agencies, and Descano said he expected the officials’ attorneys to try to take the case to federal court, arguing that the supremacy clause prohibits state action. Descano said he had recruited attorneys from Attorney General Mark Herring’s Virginia office to argue against the supremacy clause argument.
If the case ends in federal court, experts will say that whether or not the officials reasonably believed their actions were necessary and appropriate to the performance of their duties will likely determine whether a criminal prosecution of Vinyard and Amaya can continue.
Despite the video of both officers firing at a vehicle that was slowly moving away from them, Ghaisar’s murder did not spark widespread protests, as has other police killings. But from the beginning, Ghaisar’s family put constant pressure on the park police and federal authorities, holding well-attended vigils at the Lincoln Memorial on each anniversary of the shooting, and protesting in front of the park police, where the officers work, march and sing at Judicial and Justice headquarters Ministries of the Interior and finally filing civil suits against the officials and the park police. The case against the officers was recently dismissed, and the case against the park police is due to go on trial next month.
A popular fan of sports, junk food, social media, and non-violence, Ghaisar, a graduate of Langley High School and Virginia Commonwealth University, was the second child of James and Kelly Ghaisar. He lived alone at Tysons Corner and worked for his father’s accounting firm in McLean. On November 17, 2017, he and his father planned to have dinner together at 8 p.m.
However, around 7:30 that night, he was driving south on the George Washington Memorial Parkway in Alexandria, away from McLean. According to a police report and the other driver, Ghaisar suddenly stopped his jeep in a lane and was hit from behind by a Toyota Corolla driven by Atif Rehman.
Rehman was an Uber driver and had a passenger in the back seat. The passenger called 911 and Rehman said the jeep had driven off and Ghaisar did not speak to or acknowledge Rehman. While Ghaisar was not legally to blame for the collision, he was ordered to stay at the scene. Rehman was charged with failing to pay full-time and attention, the usual charge for a rear fender, though federal prosecutors dropped the charges two months later.
Either the Uber driver or the passenger could report that the jeep had a “BIJAN” license plate. A lookout for the vehicle was broadcast, and a few minutes later Vinyard and Amaya spotted it in old town Alexandria.
Vinyard, a park policeman since 2007, drove. Amaya, with the park police since 2009, was the passenger. Vinyard told the FBI in a 2019 statement that the two drove together due to an issue with Park Police radios and not in separate cars as usual, according to court records in the lawsuit. Vinyard said officials first spotted Amaya in Old City, then pulled up next to him on the park path south of Alexandria and told him to drive by, but he didn’t.
Vinyard and Amaya followed Ghaisar with the police lights and siren on, and Dan Gohn, the Fairfax Police Commissioner, followed the chase in his cruiser with the camera on in the car. The park police do not use cameras in the car or on body-worn cameras.
Ghaisar had no shoulder to stop and stayed in the right lane, as the Fairfax lieutenant’s video shows. Amaya jumped out, gun drawn, went straight to Ghaisar’s door and pointed his gun at Ghaisar’s head, as the video shows. Ghaisar drove off and Amaya struck the butt of his pistol against the jeep, the magazine of which dropped to the floor, as the video shows.
The chase continued and the Fairfax lieutenant followed Ghaisar until the park police could take the lead. Ghaisar stayed on his trail and the park police announced by radio that they were driving 90 km / h on the parkway, where the speed limit is 45 mph.
At the West Boulevard Drive exit, Ghaisar made a right turn, then turned off the park and stopped. Vinyard and Amaya both ran towards Ghaisar’s jeep with guns drawn, as the video shows. Ghaisar drove away again. Amaya kicked the jeep as it drove away, as the video shows.
The persecution continued on Alexandria Avenue in the Fort Hunt neighborhood. At the junction with Fort Hunt Road, Ghaisar stopped a third time. He waited while Vinyard pulled the park police car right in front of his jeep, as the video shows, to prevent the jeep from driving away. Ghaisar is never seen in the video.
Then Amaya gets out of the parking police vehicle with his gun drawn. Ghaisar activates his right turn signal and slowly begins to maneuver around the parking police vehicle with Amaya behind him. The video shows Amaya fire a shot. The jeep stops briefly and then starts moving again.
Vinyard appears with guns drawn and both officers shoot the jeep as it moves away from them, as the video shows. Amaya then picks up his gun and moves towards the front of both vehicles. The jeep rolls forward and Vinyard fires two more shots, as the video shows. The jeep stops. Then it rolls away from Vinyard again and he shoots two more shots, as the video shows.
The Justice Department said the two officers fired 10 shots each, and Vinyard fired the four shots that hit Ghaisar in the head. Ghaisar was taken to Inova Fairfax Hospital, where park police initially didn’t tell his parents what had happened and only allowed them to see their son 10 minutes an hour, the Ghaisars said because he was a “suspect”. Ghaisar lived 10 days and died on November 27, 2017.
After three days, the park police turned the case over to the FBI. Park’s then Police Chief Robert MacLean later said he wanted an impartial investigation but did not respond to numerous inquiries about the case. Park police usually do not disclose the names of officers involved in shootings. MacLean was promoted to head of all law enforcement in the Home Office last year.
The FBI would not comment on the investigation or disclose the identity of the officers. After the Ghaisars sued park police in 2018, Fairfax police forwarded their reports to the family’s lawyers, and Vinyard and Amaya were named in lawsuits filed in March 2019. The officers declined to comment when contacted by the Post.
Last November, the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division and the US attorney in Washington, who joined the case when the US law firm in Alexandria was dismissed for its close relationship with park police, dismissed charges against the officers.
In a statement, the Justice Department said it had to “prove not only that the officials used violence that was constitutionally inappropriate, but that they did it” deliberately, “which the Supreme Court has interpreted as being for a bad purpose acted in violation of the law … Evidence that an officer acted out of fear, error, panic, misperception, negligence, or even poor judgment cannot demonstrate the high level of intent required. “
Descano, who was elected in November, took the case in January. He said the Fairfax investigation took nine months