Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa) took to the floor of the U.S. Senate on Thursday afternoon to demand answers from the FBI about its investigation into the death of Bijan Ghaisar. Ghaisar, 25, was shot to death by two U.S. Park Police officers in Fairfax County, Va., in November 2017 as he sat behind the wheel of his Jeep Grand Cherokee after a short chase. The officers’ names have not been released, and no decision has been made on whether they should be charged.
In December, more than a year after the fatal shooting, Grassley sent a letter to the FBI asking whether the investigation was complete. The senator also asked whether the FBI would commit to providing its report to the Senate Judiciary Committee when the investigation was concluded. Grassley was then chairman of the committee and remains a member.
The FBI has not responded to the letter, despite about six follow-up inquiries, Grassley spokesman Taylor Foy said.
On Thursday Grassley began by asking “why I can’t get answers for citizens of the United States for the murder of a son.” He noted that Ghaisar’s family “has been looking for answers but they have only encountered silence. The FBI took over the investigation but has not shared any findings or even an update with the family.”
Grassley noted that after he sent his letter in December, “even this senator got silence from the FBI. Investigations into the use of deadly force should be handled in a manner that reinforces accountability and public confidence in law enforcement. The FBI’s silence treatment is concerning. The Ghaisar family, Congress, this senator and the public shouldn’t have to wait years to get an answer from the FBI.”
An FBI spokeswoman said the investigation was ongoing and that the bureau could not comment on it or Grassley’s statement.
“When a seven-term U.S. senator cannot get answers,” Ghaisar family attorney Roy L. Austin Jr. said, “I guess it should not be surprising that an ordinary American family cannot get answers. The lengths that the U.S. government, our government, has gone to hide the complete truth from a grieving family is nothing short of shameless. But, there is one truth we know from the video — there was no reason for those officers to shoot and kill Bijan.”
On Nov. 17, 2017, Ghaisar was driving south on the George Washington Memorial Parkway when he suddenly stopped in a lane of traffic in Alexandria, according to a Park Police traffic report. His Jeep was struck from behind by a Toyota Corolla driven by an Uber driver, who reported that the Jeep’s driver did not acknowledge him and instead drove off.
Park Police spotted the Jeep, with the vanity license plate “BIJAN,” on the parkway south of Alexandria and pursued it with lights and siren on. Ghaisar stopped once in the right lane, then drove off as the officers ran at his vehicle with guns drawn, according to a video later released by Fairfax County police. Ghaisar drove about 59 miles per hour as he headed farther south on the parkway, according to a Park Police officer reporting the pursuit to dispatchers, then pulled off the exit at West Boulevard Drive and stopped again. Again the officers ran at his Jeep with guns drawn, the video shows, and again Ghaisar drove away.
A short distance away, in a residential neighborhood in the Fort Hunt area, Ghaisar stopped at the intersection of Fort Hunt Road and Alexandria Avenue. As the officers approached the Jeep a third time with guns drawn, Ghaisar started to slowly drive off, and the officers fired nine times into the Jeep, the Fairfax video shows. Ghaisar was struck four times in the head, his family said. He was not armed, and no drugs were found in the car, a Fairfax police report states. Ghaisar lived for 10 days before he died on Nov. 27, 2017.
The two officers involved have been placed on administrative duty with pay, the Park Police said. Ghaisar’s parents filed a civil suit against the Park Police and the unidentified officers, which is pending in federal court in Alexandria. The U.S. attorney’s office in Washington is handling the prosecution of the case along with the Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department. A Washington Post study of dozens of recent cases involving police misconduct found that the Justice Department takes an average of three years to file charges in such cases. The Justice Department announced last week it would not charge a Tulsa police officer who killed an unarmed man in September 2016.
In 2014, Grassley sent a similar letter to the Justice Department after the shooting of another unarmed man in Fairfax County, John Geer. Geer had been killed by an unidentified Fairfax officer in August 2013, and by November 2014 there had been no movement in the case. The Justice Department’s response to Grassley’s letter prompted a Fairfax judge to order the Fairfax police to release information to Geer’s family, ultimately leading to the release of the police case file and prosecution of the officer on a murder charge. The officer, Adam Torres, later pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter, and Fairfax paid a $2.95 million settlement to Geer’s family.