Bijan Ghaisar, the motorist who was fatally wounded by two U.S. Park Police officers in Fairfax County last November, did not have a weapon “in plain view or reach of the driver” when the officers fired nine times into his Jeep Grand Cherokee, according to reports released by county police.
Both the Park Police and the FBI, who took over the investigation shortly after the Nov. 17 shooting, have declined to say whether Ghaisar was armed or posed a threat to the officers. The reports released Friday by Fairfax County police, in response to a Freedom of Information Act request from The Washington Post, said the Park Police officers had to smash open Ghaisar’s driver’s side window to free him from his vehicle after they shot him.
The two officers remain on the job and have not been publicly identified by the Park Police or the FBI. In response to a Freedom of Information Act request from The Post in August, Park Police Chief Robert D. MacLean last week declined even to confirm that two men, identified to The Post by one law enforcement official as the officers involved in the incident, were employed by the Park Police.
Ghaisar, a 25-year-old accountant who lived in Tysons Corner, was driving his green Jeep south on the George Washington Memorial Parkway shortly before 7:30 p.m. on Nov. 17 when he apparently stopped in the left lane of traffic and was rear-ended by a Toyota Corolla driven by an Uber driver. The driver reported that Ghaisar did not stop to exchange information but instead drove off. The driver called police.
The Park Police officers spotted Ghaisar’s Jeep a few minutes later on the parkway south of Alexandria, in Fairfax County. They signaled for Ghaisar to pull over, which he did twice, a video shows. Each time, an officer darted to Ghaisar’s Jeep with his pistol drawn, and each time Ghaisar drove off. The third time Ghaisar stopped, the Park Police parked their marked sport-utility vehicle in front of the Jeep, a video shot from a Fairfax County police car shows. When Ghaisar tried to slowly maneuver around the Park Police vehicle, both officers opened fire. Fairfax County Police Chief Edwin C. Roessler Jr. released the video of the shooting in January over federal investigators' objections.
When the FBI and the Justice Department took over the case, they stopped releasing information about it. Ghaisar’s family said he was shot four times in the head and that he was unarmed, but federal authorities have refused to comment.
The reports released by Roessler on Friday revealed that three Fairfax officers witnessed the episode. Their names were redacted from the reports, as were those of the Park Police officers and investigators involved.
Roessler also released the reports to the Ghaisar family. “The police reports continue to tell a story,” the Ghaisars' attorney, Roy L. Austin Jr., said, “of a young man who should never have been confronted by the police in the way he was, and certainly should never have been killed by police officers. The fact that the family has waited almost a year to get these police reports, which in no way hinder the criminal investigation, is a continuation of the cruelty that the federal government is showing to the families of the victims of police violence.”
The first Fairfax County officer followed the pursuit along the parkway and into the Fort Hunt neighborhood of Fairfax County with his video camera on, capturing all three stops and the gunfire. When the pursuit came to a halt at Alexandria Avenue and Fort Hunt Road, “I saw the Park Police officer standing on the driver’s side of the Jeep start to shoot,” the officer wrote. He said he then watched the rear of the Jeep in case any passengers bailed out of it. “I heard multiple shots being fired rapidly,” the officer wrote. “I believed both officers were firing.”
After Ghaisar’s Jeep slowly toppled into a ditch, the officer wrote he saw a “second Park Police officer standing at the front, driver’s side corner of the Jeep with [redacted] weapon drawn and saw, I believed, three bullet strikes to the windshield.” The reports indicate this Fairfax officer is a veteran second lieutenant. He wrote that he has been a member of the county police Peer Support Team who has worked on other officer-involved shooting cases. About half of his 23-line report is redacted.
A second county officer, who heard reports of the pursuit on his police radio, wrote that he drove to Alexandria Avenue and tried to place spiked “stop sticks” across the road to flatten the Jeep’s tires, but the pursuit went past before he could get them placed. He got back in his cruiser and drove to the intersection at Fort Hunt Road, where he saw at least one Park Police officer fire shots. “One Park PD officer was seen at the vehicle’s driver door” the officer wrote, “and one was seen in front of the vehicle, both with guns drawn and giving commands. … As the vehicle attempted to drive around the [Park Police] cruiser, the Park PD officer fired into the vehicle.”
As Ghaisar’s Jeep rolled over into the ditch, this officer watched a Park Police officer trying to break the driver’s side window to open the locked door. The county officer wrote that he and another officer pulled Ghaisar from the Jeep “in an effort to render aid.” He added, “I patted the subject down for safety and nothing was found.”
A third Fairfax officer who was in the Fort Hunt area when he heard about the pursuit on the radio drove to the scene and arrived shortly after the shooting. He watched a Park Police officer break Ghaisar’s window, then approached. “The inside of the vehicle was viewed,” the third officer wrote, “and determined that there were no weapons in plain view or reach of the driver. The rear of the vehicle was also checked with no weapons seen.” This officer also noted, “There were no drugs or narcotics visible to from [sic] plain view but I did not search the vehicle.”
Roessler also had disclosed that Ghaisar was not armed at a police chiefs' conference in Orlando earlier this month.
All three Fairfax officers were then taken to the Mount Vernon district station, where their equipment and uniforms were inventoried and photographed, the reports indicate. None had fired a weapon.
The reports indicate Fairfax crime scene detectives soon arrived at the scene but were waved off the case by Park Police investigators. Under state law, the Park Police have arrest authority in Northern Virginia outside of the parks.
While the Park Police headed the investigation, they treated the mortally wounded Ghaisar as a suspect, his family said, not allowing family members to touch him and to spend 10 minutes per hour with him. They did not notify the Ghaisars of the shooting until more than five hours after it happened, the Ghaisars said. After three days, the Park Police turned the case over to the FBI, which allowed the Ghaisars to spend time with Bijan until he died on Nov. 27.
In August, The Post asked Park Police spokesman Sgt. James Dingeldein to confirm that two specific men were officers of the department. An official familiar with the shooting investigation provided the names to The Post. It is standard procedure for a police department, or virtually any government agency, to confirm the employment status of a government worker. Dingeldein required that The Post submit its request in writing.
The Post submitted a Freedom of Information Act request on Aug. 31 seeking the men’s employment status and current duty assignment. The request did not mention the Ghaisar case. In a letter dated Oct. 18, MacLean refused to confirm whether the men work for the Park Police. “We have determined,” MacLean wrote, “that the individuals to whom this information pertains have a substantial privacy interest in withholding it. Additionally, we have determined that the disclosure of this information would shed little or no light on the performance of the agency’s statutory duties.”
The two men declined to speak to a reporter from The Post. Both appear in an online directory of National Park Service employees, which includes all divisions of the Park Service. The head of the Park Police officers' union, Mike Shalton, has repeatedly declined to speak about the case. Dingeldein said the officers involved are on administrative duty with pay.
No decision has been announced on whether the two officers will be charged with a federal civil rights violation, and it is unclear whether any witnesses have been called to testify before a grand jury, as is the normal practice of the Justice Department’s civil rights division. Two people who witnessed parts of the pursuit and shooting said they had not spoken to investigators since last year. The Ghaisars have filed a lawsuit against the Park Police, which is pending in federal court in Alexandria. No internal investigation of the shooting by Park Police will begin until after a decision has been made on criminal charges, Dingeldein said.