Sixteen months after Bijan Ghaisar was shot to death by two U.S. Park Police officers in Fairfax County, Va., the officers were identified for the first time Friday as Alejandro Amaya and Lucas Vinyard.
No decision has been made by the Justice Department on whether the shooting was legally justified or whether the two officers will be charged with a crime. The shooting of Ghaisar, an unarmed motorist, was witnessed by two Fairfax County police officers and captured on video.
The officers’ names were released to Ghaisar’s family as part of their wrongful death lawsuit over the Nov. 17, 2017, shooting. Amaya and Vinyard were formally named as defendants in an amended complaint filed Friday in federal court in Alexandria.
Amaya and Vinyard remain on administrative duty with pay. Under Park Police policy, no internal investigation of the case will begin until a decision on charges is issued by the Justice Department. The criminal case is being investigated by the FBI, and it is unknown whether Amaya or Vinyard have given statements to the bureau, which has refused to discuss the case.
Both officers declined to comment on the case when contacted in person by The Washington Post in August.
“I don’t have anything to say to you. Talk to the lawyers,” Amaya, 39, said. He did not identify his lawyers. “You know who they are,” Amaya said. “I’ve got nothing to say to you.”
Vinyard, 37, did not wait for a Post reporter to identify himself, or say anything, before asking him to leave. “This is a private street, and you’re on private property,” Vinyard said. “I’m telling you to leave now, and if you don’t I’ll have you arrested.”
Both officers reside in Loudoun County.
A man who answered Amaya’s cellphone Friday hung up without answering any questions. Vinyard did not immediately return a call left at his home.
The Park Police, headed by Chief Robert MacLean, have declined to comment on the case since it happened and did so again Friday. The agency on Friday said Amaya has worked there for nine years and Vinyard has been on the force for 11 years.
The Park Police chapter of the Fraternal Order of Police has declined to defend the officers publicly, refusing all requests for comment since the outset of the case. The president of the chapter, Mike Shalton, did not return a message on Friday.
“After more than 16 excruciating months, we now know the killers of our Bijan,” the Ghaisar family said in a statement issued Friday afternoon. “After almost 500 days of the DOJ and the U.S. Park Police fiercely protecting the privacy of these men so they could live their lives without public account and scrub their pasts, we now know their names.”
Ghaisar, 25, was single and had no children. A Northern Virginia native, he worked as an accountant for his father’s firm in McLean, Va., and had no criminal record. He was shot after a short pursuit down the George Washington Memorial Parkway that moved into a residential neighborhood in the Fort Hunt area of southern Fairfax County.
The incident began when Ghaisar suddenly stopped his Jeep Grand Cherokee in a lane of the parkway in Alexandria City, Va., at about 7:30 p.m., a Park Police traffic report states. His Jeep was struck from behind by a Toyota Corolla driven by an Uber driver, who reported that Ghaisar did not acknowledge him but instead drove away. The Uber driver and passenger reported the incident and the license plate of the Jeep that was struck: “BIJAN.”
Several minutes later, Amaya and Vinyard spotted the Jeep on the parkway south of Alexandria, followed it in a marked sport-utility vehicle and signaled the Jeep to pull over. A Fairfax County police lieutenant, who has not been identified, pulled onto the parkway behind the Park Police’s and Ghaisar’s vehicles, with his in-car video camera on. The Park Police do not have in-car cameras or body cameras. Rep. Don Beyer (D-Va.) and Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) have introduced a bill requiring all federal uniformed police officers to wear body cameras.
The footage shot from the Fairfax officer’s car shows Ghaisar stopping in the right lane of the parkway, where there is no clear shoulder, and both Amaya and Vinyard running to the Jeep with their guns drawn. Fairfax police blurred the officers’ faces before releasing the video. One of the officers pointed his pistol directly at Ghaisar’s head, and Ghaisar quickly drove off, the video shows. The officer slammed the side of the Jeep, and his weapon fell to the ground.
Ghaisar drove south on the parkway, with the Park Police and Fairfax officers in pursuit, at a speed of 59 mph in a 45 mph zone, one of the Park Police officers reported on the radio. Ghaisar pulled off the parkway at West Boulevard Drive, the video shows, and stopped a second time. Again, Amaya and Vinyard ran at the Jeep with guns drawn, and again Ghaisar drove away.
The pursuit moved into Fairfax County, where Park Police have arrest authority, and stopped at the intersection of Fort Hunt Drive and Alexandria Avenue. Amaya and Vinyard positioned their SUV perpendicular to Ghaisar’s Jeep, the video shows. As the officers approached the driver’s side of the Jeep, the Jeep slowly begins to maneuver around the Park Police SUV. Both officers opened fire, ultimately firing nine shots, the video shows. A second Fairfax officer also arrived on the scene and captured some of the shooting on video.
Ghaisar was not armed and was hit four times in the head, his family said. He survived for 10 days before dying at Inova Fairfax Hospital on Nov. 27, 2017.
Park Police investigators immediately took over the investigation, but three days later they handed it to the FBI. The investigation is being handled by the U.S. attorney’s office in Washington, after the U.S. attorney’s office in Alexandria was recused for unexplained reasons, and overseen by the Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department. Spokeswomen for both the U.S. attorney’s office in Washington and the Civil Rights Division declined to discuss the case Friday.
Despite repeated inquiries from the media, the Ghaisar family and Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa), the FBI also has declined to answer any questions about the case or indicate when a ruling may be reached on whether to charge Amaya and Vinyard. Earlier this month, the FBI responded to a December letter from Grassley saying it could not discuss an ongoing investigation. Grassley then sent another letter to the FBI, asking about the time and manpower spent on the case.
A Washington Post study of police misconduct cases handled by the Civil Rights Division found that the division takes an average of three years to issue charges in cases of alleged police misconduct. The Civil Rights Division is still considering whether to file charges in the 2014 death of Eric Garner in New York City. Garner died after being arrested by New York police in an episode also recorded on video.
Ghaisar’s parents, James and Kelly Ghaisar, filed suit against the Park Police and the unnamed officers in August 2018, but they had not yet qualified as executors of their son’s estate. In January, U.S. District Judge Claude M. Hilton dismissed five of the six counts in their suit because of their lack of standing to represent the estate. But he allowed one count, in which the Ghaisars sued the “John Doe” officers on their own behalf, to proceed. In February, U.S. Magistrate Judge Ivan D. Davis granted the Ghaisars’ motion to obtain discovery to determine the officers’ identities. The Ghaisars’ attorneys then subpoenaed the Fairfax police and the U.S. attorney in Alexandria to obtain the officers’ names.
Little information is publicly available about Amaya and Vinyard. They do not appear to have any criminal records or civil litigation.
Records show Amaya is a native of New York and Vinyard is a native of Illinois. Vinyard attended Southern Illinois University for one semester, the registrar there said. Online databases indicate Amaya attended Valparaiso University in Indiana, but the registrar there declined to release information about him.
Amaya was involved in a controversy with cabdrivers at Arlington National Cemetery in 2015, in which he hid behind bushes and then issued tickets to cabdrivers trying to pick up passengers on Memorial Avenue near the cemetery. A federal judge in Alexandria threw out a ticket Amaya issued to a cabdriver for parking illegally, saying the driver was merely “standing,” not “parking.” The Park Police did not allow Amaya to comment on the case in 2016.
“Alejandro Amaya and Lucas Vinyard were the two out-of-control officers who aggressively pursued Bijan that night in November 2017,” the Ghaisars said in their statement, “until they cornered him and shot at him nine times — execution style — as he sat unarmed in his Jeep. Since that night, the DOJ and USPP repeatedly denied our attempts to find out who they were until we convinced a court to order them to provide this information to us. . . . It is not enough to know who pulled the trigger and ended Bijan’s life as it was just beginning. We demand justice for our son and brother — and we will continue to fight for it until we get it.”
This article has been updated.