Ghaisar, a 25-year-old accountant who lived in Tysons Corner, was shot three times in the head as he sat unarmed behind the wheel of his Jeep Grand Cherokee in a residential neighborhood of Fairfax County, the lawsuit states. Officers Alejandro Amaya and Lucas Vinyard had pursued Ghaisar down the George Washington Memorial Parkway shortly after 7:30 p.m. on Nov. 17, 2017, after he had been involved in a fender bender in Alexandria and left the scene. A video recorded by an in-car police camera shows Amaya and Vinyard firing nine shots into Ghaisar’s Jeep as it slowly rolls away from them.
The FBI handled the criminal investigation into the shooting. More than 22 months later, no decision has been made by the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division and U.S. Attorney Jessie K. Liu on whether to file criminal charges. Amaya, 39, and Vinyard, 38, remain on paid administrative duty, the Park Police said, with no internal investigation beginning until after the criminal ruling is made. MacLean began a new job this week as head of law enforcement agencies within the Interior Department, including the Park Police. Ghaisar’s parents staged a protest outside his office Monday.
After months had passed with no information about the case released by either the Park Police or the Justice Department, Ghaisar’s parents, James and Kelly Ghaisar, sued the federal government and the then-unnamed officers. But to file a civil tort claim against the government, one must first file an administrative claim with the relevant agency, seeking redress before a lawsuit. The Ghaisars did so in January 2018, but they had not yet been formally qualified as executors of their son’s estate in Fairfax County probate court.
The government rejected their claim. When the Ghaisars filed suit in August 2018, the government responded by saying the Ghaisars didn’t have standing when they filed their original administrative claim, thus their lawsuit couldn’t proceed. U.S. District Judge Claude M. Hilton agreed and dismissed the government out of the suit in January but allowed the officers to remain as defendants. The Ghaisars then filed their administrative claim again, as the executors, making a demand for $15 million in damages. The Interior Department rejected the claim, saying the FBI investigation was pending and it had no basis to make a decision.
Amaya and Vinyard have responded to the suit by raising various defenses, including that they were acting in self-defense and that Ghaisar’s actions contributed to his death. They have declined to comment when contacted by The Washington Post.
But pretrial discovery in the case has begun, and the new suit indicates that the Ghaisars’ lawyers have received hospital records and records from the Fairfax County police. A Fairfax lieutenant who followed the Park Police pursuit of Ghaisar reportedly stated that the vehicles were driving “between 50-60 miles per hour” on the parkway, that Ghaisar’s driving behavior was “normal,” that it “wasn’t a high-speed pursuit” and that Ghaisar wasn’t attempting to flee. The speed limit is 45 miles per hour on that stretch of the parkway.
The new suit says video footage shows an ambulance from Alexandria arrived 15 minutes after a call for help from police, not 11 minutes, as reported by Fairfax Fire and Rescue. Hospital records provided to the Ghaisars noted the “extremely difficult situation as patient is under arrest and for this reason the family may not visit the patient.” The Ghaisars previously noted that the Park Police took five hours to notify them of the shooting, did not inform the parents who shot their son and refused to allow them to see their son for more than 15 minutes per hour.
The FBI took over the investigation after three days and loosened the restrictions on visitation, the Ghaisars said. The FBI has declined to comment on the case and has rejected repeated inquiries from Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa) about the status of the case. Rep. Don Beyer (D-Va.) joined the Ghaisars’ protest outside the Interior Department on Monday and said it was “unconscionable that Chief MacLean has been promoted to the top law enforcement officer in the Interior Department” and “that the Department of Justice continues to drag their feet on this.”