Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa) sent a letter to FBI Director Christopher A. Wray this week seeking information on the investigation into the November 2017 killing of unarmed motorist Bijan Ghaisar by two U.S. Park Police officers. The FBI has been investigating the shooting for 13 months, but the names of the officers have not been released and no decision has been made on whether criminal charges will be filed.
Grassley sent the letter on Monday, as chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, which has oversight over federal law enforcement agencies, and released it Friday. The FBI has not yet responded and a spokeswoman said Friday the bureau could not comment on an ongoing investigation.
Ghaisar, 25, was pursued by two Park Police officers in a sport-utility vehicle with lights and siren on as they drove down the George Washington Memorial Parkway on Nov. 17, 2017. Ghaisar had been involved in a fender bender with another car on the parkway minutes earlier, in which Ghaisar’s Jeep had been struck from behind, but he drove away from the scene and it’s not clear if the officers knew Ghaisar was the victim in that case.
Ghaisar pulled over twice on the parkway, then drove away twice as the officers ran toward his Jeep Grand Cherokee with pistols drawn. He then drove into the Fort Hunt neighborhood of Fairfax County and stopped again. When Ghaisar’s Jeep started to roll away from the officers, two videos released by Fairfax police show, the officers fired nine shots into the Jeep, killing Ghaisar.
Grassley’s letter has strong echoes of actions he took in 2014, after a Fairfax County police officer shot and killed an unarmed resident named John Geer in August 2013. The Justice Department took over the investigation and more than a year of silence followed. Grassley wrote letters to the Justice Department asking why it was insisting on silence in the case, and the department replied that it was not requiring Fairfax police to withhold the name of the officer or details of the case. A Fairfax judge, citing the Justice Department’s letter, then ordered Fairfax police to turn over the information to Geer’s family, and later to Fairfax prosecutors. Officer Adam Torres eventually was indicted on a charge of murder and pleaded guilty in 2016 to involuntary manslaughter.
“The Ghaisar family,” Grassley wrote to the FBI, “should not have to wait over a year to learn the facts of this case. Both his family and the public are entitled to a complete, credible, and independent accounting of the events surrounding the death of Mr. Ghaisar.” Grassley requested a copy of the FBI’s investigative report of the shooting and to provide an update on the investigation. Grassley is stepping down as judiciary chairman next year, but will remain on the committee.
Roy L. Austin Jr., a lawyer for the Ghaisar family, said, “While the video does not match with all of Senator Grassley’s description, even if his description is correct, this is still an unjustified, illegal and unconstitutional shooting. We certainly appreciate his call for greater transparency.” The Ghaisars have filed a civil suit against the Park Police in federal court in Alexandria which is pending.
Austin said he disagreed with Grassley’s characterization of the pursuit of Ghaisar as “lengthy,” that Ghaisar did not “speed away” from the officers and that the senator omitted “the out-of-control manner that the officers approached Bijan’s car.” He also noted that Grassley did not mention Ghaisar was the victim in the fender-bender, which Austin said was “a crucial fact.”
Here is Grassley’s letter:
Grassley Ghaisar Letter by on Scribd