Two federal police officers have been indicted in connection with the 2017 fatal shooting of a 25-year-old driver following a short chase, Virginia prosecutors said Thursday.
U.S. Park Police officers Alejandro Amaya and Lucas Vinyard were indicted separately. Each faces charges of involuntary manslaughter and reckless discharge of a firearm, Fairfax County Commonwealth Attorney Steve Descano said during a news conference.
Amaya and Vinyard shot Bijan Ghaisar on Nov. 17, 2017, after they attempted to stop him in Alexandria and he pulled away. Earlier, Ghaisar had left the scene of an accident; his vehicle had been struck by another.
“Bijan Ghaisar was an individual that was involved in a minor traffic accident and was shot and killed by law enforcement minutes later,” Descano said. “It left a family with a great loss and a community with a lot of unanswered questions. Today, we move a step closer to answers.”
Dashcam footage of the shooting appears to show Ghaisar stopping after a car chase on the George Washington Parkway. As the car slowly begins to pull out again, several shots are heard.
The officers said they gave Ghaisar, an accountant who was unarmed, multiple chances to stop, and that they feared he would put them and others in danger, WRC-TV reported.
In a statement, Ghaisar’s family said they were grateful authorities decided to file criminal charges.
“Our heavy hearts are a little lighter tonight knowing that the police officers who murdered our son and brother are closer to being held accountable for what they did,” the statement reads.
The indictments come after federal prosecutors declined to pursue charges against the officers after a nearly two-year investigation. Descano said his office was forced to rely on evidence collected by the Fairfax County Police Department after the Justice Department refused to cooperate or produce witnesses.
He said he anticipates motions by the Justice Department to move the case to federal court within 30 days. Federal prosecutors most likely will motion to dismiss the case on the grounds of the Constitution supremacy clause, which says federal law takes precedence over state laws, he said.
Descano said his office partnered with Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring to address matters related to the clause.
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“Because of these unique challenges, we’ve not only prepared for these indictments, we’ve also spent months preparing for trial,” he said. “As I stand before you, I know that we are ready to try this case tomorrow.”
Both officers face up to 15 years in prison. Ghaisar’s family has filed a civil lawsuit in connection with his death.
The Park Police unit is a unit of the National Park Service with jurisdiction in all federal parks.