Three years after Bijan Ghaisar was killed by US Park Police, a grieving father is still seeking justice

The 25-year-old was supposed to select his father up from his dwelling in McLean, Virginia, at eight p.m., James remembers. But Bijan by no means confirmed, and James’ calls and textual content messages to his son went unanswered. 

Unbeknownst to James, Bijan had been shot a number of instances by two US Park Police officers after he left the scene of a fender bender and repeatedly drove away as officers tried to drag him over. Bijan was unarmed.

He died 10 days later.

“I wake up with a heavy heart in the morning, asking myself, ‘Why am I here?'” James informed CNN. “Why couldn’t I exchange my place with him? He would be here, and I would be gone instead.”

 James says he can not take into consideration his son with out crying. Every day he wears a black shirt and a pin with a image of Bijan. 

 ”I truly miss him to my core,” James stated. “I only pray that one day, someday, in a different world, maybe we meet again.” 

Three years, no justice

The Ghaisars have spent three years seeking justice for Bijan. They wish to know why he was shot useless by the Park Police, a unit of the National Park Service, which has jurisdiction in all federal parks.

They’ve held candlelit vigils, rallies and protests. They’ve gained allies in Congress. But to at the present time, the household says, no federal official has given them a proof. 

The  household spent two years ready whereas the FBI investigated. Days earlier than the taking pictures’s second anniversary, the Justice Department introduced it would not file federal criminal civil rights charges against the officers. The US Attorney’s Office said in a November 2019 statement there was “insufficient evidence to establish beyond a reasonable doubt” that the officers violated Bijan’s civil rights willfully, and that it could be “unable to disprove a claim of self-defense or defense of others by the officers.” 
But now the household has hope for some solutions. On October 15, Fairfax County Commonwealth’s Attorney Steve Descano announced indictments against the Park Police officers, Lucas Vinyard and Alejandro Amaya, charging them with involuntary manslaughter and reckless discharge of a firearm. The officers haven’t entered a plea. According to Descano, they withstand 15 years in jail.

An lawyer for Vinyard declined to remark when reached by CNN. CNN has additionally reached out to an lawyer for Amaya for remark.

“On a relatively uneventful night in 2017, Bijan was struck by another car, left the scene, and thereafter failed to pull over for US Park Police — none of that should have led to his death,” Descano stated.

“I wish this could have been done in a faster fashion. However, there is no shortcut to justice,” Descano stated, calling the case “very complex and nuanced.” His workplace reviewed 11,000 paperwork and performed interviews over the course of the Covid-19 pandemic.

The Ghaisars have filed a civil lawsuit in opposition to the federal authorities, claiming wrongful dying and the intentional infliction of emotional misery. The US authorities has denied legal responsibility for the taking pictures, arguing in court docket paperwork that “as sad as this case is,” Ghaisar was not shot till “he drove his vehicle at Officer Alejandro Amaya.”

The civil trial was scheduled to start on November 16, however on October 30 a federal decide issued a keep within the case as a result of prison case in opposition to the officers in Fairfax County.

 The authorities’s refusal to supply solutions has drawn condemnation not solely from the Ghaisars and their supporters, but additionally a number of members of Congress, together with Sens. Mark Warner (D-VA) and Chuck Grassley (R-IA), who have issued multiple joint statements calling on the Justice Department to supply extra info. 
“The Ghaisars deserve to understand what happened to Bijan,” the senators said in a statement after the Justice Department introduced it could not cost the officers.  

CNN authorized analyst Joey Jackson agreed, asking, “If this were so clear-cut, why the stonewalling by the federal government for such an elongated period of time?” 

“You want to be fully transparent with the family,” he stated. While he understood authorities may withhold some info to guard an investigation, telling the household nothing “raises suspicion” and is not “humane or really appropriate.”

“Just be transparent,” he stated. “Give your narrative.” 

CNN reached out to the Justice Department to touch upon facets of the case contained on this story and did not obtain a response.

The American dream

The Ghaisar family. From left, James Ghaisar, Negeen Ghaisar, Negeen's husband, Kouros Emami, Bijan Ghaisar and Kelly Ghaisar

James Ghaisar arrived in America from Iran 43 years in the past and earned two grasp’s levels. He and his spouse, Kelly, who additionally emigrated from Iran, grew to become US residents. James began an accounting agency in McLean, and he and his spouse spent 4 a long time constructing a life for Bijan and his older sister, Negeen. 

By his household’s account, Bijan was like any American kid. He cherished rooster wings and video video games, and he was a massive sports activities fan. He grew to become enamored with the New England Patriots after they gained the Super Bowl following 9/11, as a result of, he informed his mother and father, they had been restoring hope. 

He was additionally kindhearted and compassionate. He mediated conflicts between his fraternity brothers at Virginia Commonwealth University, and so they as soon as dubbed him “Brother of the Year,” his sister Negeen informed CNN.

Negeen Ghaisar, left, comforts her father, James Ghaiser, after they tried to talk to someone to at the United States Park Police George Washington Memorial Parkway Station about the death of Bijan Ghaisar on Sunday, December 24, 2017.

And like the remainder of his household, he was strongly against violence, James says. Bijan was vocal about his assist for gun management, and he spoke out on Facebook after the Aurora, Colorado, theater taking pictures in 2012, in line with the household’s civil criticism.  

Bijan graduated from VCU with a diploma in accounting and spent the final two years of his life working for his father.

“Of course, the dream was that one day I would hand him the key, and I would step back,” James stated. “But unfortunately, that dream died on November 17. And I died with him.” 

The taking pictures

On November 17, 2017, round 7:30 p.m., Bijan was driving south on the George Washington Memorial Parkway when he “abruptly” stopped within the highway and was rear-ended by one other driver, in line with an Interior Department incident report. 

Bijan drove away. The second driver was cited for failure to keep up correct management, the report says, noting there was harm to the entrance of the second automobile, however there have been no recognized accidents. It’s unlawful in Virginia to go away the scene of an accident that leads to property harm.

According to court docket paperwork detailing the Park Police officers’ accounts of the taking pictures supplied to the FBI, Amaya and Vinyard situated Bijan’s automobile and started a pursuit, with Vinyard driving and Amaya within the passenger’s seat. Vinyard would later say that on the time they didn’t know Bijan had been driving the automobile that was rear-ended, solely that one had left the scene of the accident.

USPP don’t use bodycams or in-vehicle sprint cams. But a lot of the pursuit was filmed by the dashcam of a Fairfax County police officer who joined the pursuit to assist USPP.

That footage exhibits Bijan cease 3 times through the pursuit. The first time, he pulls into the far-right lane and stops. The USPP SUV pulls up alongside his Jeep Grand Cherokee and an officer will get out on the passenger facet, his weapon drawn and geared toward Bijan. 

The officer, standing on the facet of the automobile, makes an attempt to open the driving force’s door, however Bijan drives away. As the Jeep pulls off, the officer seems to strike the rear driver’s facet window. 

The Fairfax County officer pulls forward and follows Bijan till the USPP catch up. 

An analogous scene performs out a second time after Bijan turns off the George Washington Memorial Parkway and the USPP SUV pulls in entrance of him. He stops and is once more approached by the officers  — a minimum of one among whom has their gun drawn —  earlier than driving across the officers.

The chase briefly continues down residential streets earlier than Bijan involves a third and remaining cease at an intersection, the place the USPP SUV pulls in entrance of his Jeep. 

US Park Police fired 9 times, killing motorist, video shows

The officer within the passenger seat will get out and stands on the driving force’s facet of Bijan’s automobile together with his gun geared toward him. Bijan’s Jeep inches ahead and to the precise, away from the officer. 

Five gunshots ring out. After a temporary pause, the Jeep rolls ahead once more. 

Two extra gunshots. Another pause, and the Jeep rolls, adopted by two extra gunshots. 

Ghaisar’s Jeep is seen rolling into a roadside ditch, with the again wheel on the driving force’s facet aloft. 

Authorities supplied medical therapy on the scene, and Bijan was quickly taken to Inova Fairfax Hospital in Falls Church. 

Vinyard would later inform the FBI they gave Bijan “chance after chance to stop,” in line with court docket paperwork filed by the federal authorities. The officers believed his driving introduced a hazard to different motorists, and Vinyard feared Amaya, closest to Ghaisar’s Jeep, was in peril of being hit because it moved ahead on the third cease.

The video exhibits the officers standing to the facet of Ghaisar’s automobile because it strikes ahead.

However, one skilled witness for the federal government within the civil lawsuit who analyzed the case believed Vinyard’s worry to be cheap and concluded the officers’ use of drive was justified. 

Holding candles and photos, friends and family gathered at the Lincoln Memorial to remember Bijan Ghaisar.

The officers, the skilled witness stated, needed to make split-second selections, and any analysis of whether or not the officers had been in peril primarily based on the velocity and turning radius of Ghaisar’s Jeep got here with the advantage of hindsight. 

Jackson — who stated he understands police should make split-second selections and should not be harm within the line of obligation — would not assume that is an efficient protection. 

The officers could try to justify their actions as a result of a automotive could possibly be thought of a lethal weapon, Jackson stated. “But you have to look at where the officers were standing relative to where the car was.”

“To make the argument the car could have killed me when you’re not in the car’s path,” he stated, “I think that’s quite a stretch.”

According to court docket filings from the US authorities, a toxicology report stated THC — the psychoactive compound in marijuana — was present in Bijan’s system. A bag of marijuana and a pipe had been additionally discovered within the Jeep, the filings say.

But Roy Austin, an lawyer for the Ghaisar household, has condemned these filings, calling them improper and an try to assassinate Bijan’s character. 

“Whether or not Bijan had marijuana in his car is irrelevant. The officers never knew this fact, so it had nothing to do with why they were trying to stop him,” Austin stated. “That’s not a basis to use excessive force.” 

The Fairfax County police officer informed the FBI the chase was not a high-speed pursuit and Bijan wasn’t driving in an alarming method, in line with the court docket paperwork.

The hospital

The Ghaisars discovered Bijan had been shot round 1 a.m., when two USPP detectives knocked on their door and confirmed them a image of a tattoo on Bijan’s torso — a love poem by the 13th century Sufi mystic Jalal al-Din Muhammad Rumi written in Farsi. Their son had been in a “shootout,” the detectives stated, in line with the household, and he was within the hospital. 

Bijan, who was in a coma, was guarded always by USPP, who finally restricted visitation to at least one member of the family for 15 minutes every hour, in line with the household’s lawsuit. They weren’t allowed to the touch Bijan, the household says, and Park Police referred to him as “evidence” and stated he was “under arrest.” 

The Ghaisar family is seen in this undated family photo.

According to the household, at one level, a chaplain wished to wish for Bijan, however USPP officers stated she couldn’t contact him as a result of he was Muslim — he was not — and couldn’t be touched by girls.

CNN has reached out to the US Park Police for remark.

After three days, the investigation was turned over to the FBI, who lessened the restrictions on visiting and who James stated had been “much more human.” 

Still, nobody supplied a proof for what led to the taking pictures, the household says. 

On November 27, 2017, the household determined to take away Bijan from life assist. He died 10 hours later. 

A household requires change

For a very long time, what little was recognized concerning the case was as a consequence of Fairfax County Police, which launched the dashcam footage of the taking pictures in January 2018. And in response to a subpoena filed as a part of the Ghaisars’ lawsuit, it produced paperwork identifying the officers involved as Amaya and Vinyard, 16 months after the shooting.  

In saying prison costs, Commonwealth’s Attorney Descano stated he anticipated the officers would try to have the case moved to federal court docket and for the US to aim to have the case dismissed underneath the supremacy clause of the US Constitution, which says federal legislation takes priority over state legal guidelines. 

Following the prison costs, a US district court docket decide granted the US authorities a keep within the civil case, with a standing listening to scheduled for March 2021.  

Both the Ghaisars and the federal authorities had additionally requested the decide to enter abstract judgment — to make a ruling resolving the case of their favor with out a trial.

The lawsuit seeks $25 million the household says might be put towards the Bijan Ghaisar Foundation, which goals to assist victims of police brutality. Since their son’s dying, the Ghaisars have additionally known as for the USPP to implement physique cams and dashcams.

Bijan Ghaisar's mother, Kelly Ghaisar, speaks as her husband, James (right), daughter, Negeen, and son-in-law, Kouros Emami (left), stand by her during a vigil commemorating the second anniversary of Bijan's death at the Lincoln Memorial on November 17, 2019.
The USPP discovered itself underneath renewed scrutiny following its involvement this summer in clearing protesters from Lafayette Square earlier than President Trump held a photograph op at St. John’s Episcopal Church. The USPP acting chief told a House committee this summer season the company was “not in a position to successfully implement, manage and sustain” a bodycam program on the time.
Kelly Ghaisar testified earlier than a House Oversight and Investigations subcommittee in September at a listening to about the usage of cameras on the Department of the Interior. She pointed to the chief’s latest feedback about not implementing a bodycam program and requested, “Why would they if they can literally get away with murder without them?”

Regardless, James Ghaisar says prison costs had been finally what he wished to see. 

“Because a civil settlement of money, though we were going to use the fund in a charitable way, is not a real answer to me because justice would not be served for Bijan. Bijan’s life has been lost.” 

‘I hope we are able to treatment this wound’

Bijan Ghaisar’s case has not attracted the identical consideration because the latest police killings of Black victims like George Floyd and Breonna Taylor. But this summer season, amid protests in opposition to police brutality nationwide, James says he and Kelly joined demonstrations, too. 

Bijan Ghaisar and his father, James

“I was also in a place to understand how deep this wound is, and unfortunately it is the history of this country,” he stated. “I’m hoping that Black Lives Matter is not taken lightly. I hope we can remedy this wound.” 

While his son was not Black, James believes racial prejudice performed a function in the best way Bijan and the household had been handled by US Park Police on the hospital.

Austin, the household’s lawyer, agrees, pointing partly to Bijan’s vainness plate, which learn “Bijan.”

“If they did not believe Bijan was in some way foreign, either from his vanity plates or what they actually saw, they would not have shot and killed him,” he stated. Austin believes the household’s therapy on the hospital was additionally an indicator of racial bias, pointing to the USPP officers’ assumption that Bijan was Muslim.

James and his household at all times felt fortunate to be a a part of America, he says, and offering a life in America for his son and daughter was the American dream. But that is been taken away, he says. 

“The way I have been treated, the way my family has been treated, this is no different than Russia,” he stated. “This is no different than any dictatorship we have experienced.” 

In James’ workplace hangs a image of Nelson Mandela, who he admires for his capability to forgive, one thing James aspires to. He is keen to forgive anybody of any crime, he says. But with out anybody taking duty for his son’s dying, he struggles. 

“I don’t find myself in a position to forgive them,” he stated. “You want some acknowledgment, at least somebody to acknowledge, that something went wrong here.”

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