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Fairfax prosecutor will not seek charges in Bijan Ghaisar case before he leaves office

A letter from Sens. Warner and Grassley seeking information from the Justice Department reveals the case will not be heard again in Fairfax this year

Fairfax County Commonwealth's Attorney Raymond F. Morrogh tried to present a case about the fatal shooting of Bijan Ghaisar to a Fairfax grand jury before he left office, but federal officials declined to allow FBI agents to testify. (Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP)
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Longtime Fairfax County prosecutor Raymond F. Morrogh, who sought twice last week to present the U.S. Park Police killing of Bijan Ghaisar to a Fairfax grand jury, will not do so again before he leaves office next week, a letter from Sens. Mark R. Warner (D-Va.) and Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa) revealed Monday.

Morrogh confirmed the information in the letter, saying there is not enough time to summon the grand jury again before he leaves office next week. It was unclear Monday whether his successor, Steven Descano, who takes office Jan. 1, will seek to charge the officers.

Ghaisar, 25, was shot and killed as he sat unarmed behind the wheel of his Jeep Grand Cherokee in November 2017 by U.S. Park Police officers Lucas Vinyard and Alejandro Amaya. The investigation was handled by the FBI because the Park Police is a federal agency with jurisdiction in Northern Virginia. Following Ghaisar’s involvement in a fender bender, the officers pursued him into a residential neighborhood in the Fort Hunt area of Fairfax County, then fired 10 shots into his Jeep as it slowly pulled away from them, a video shot from a Fairfax police lieutenant’s car showed.

The civil rights division of the Justice Department and U.S. Attorney Jessie K. Liu of Washington decided last month not to charge Vinyard and Amaya but said their decision did not preclude other jurisdictions from taking the case. So Morrogh and his chief deputy, Casey Lingan, reviewed the FBI’s investigative file and sought twice last week to present the case to a Fairfax grand jury for possible criminal charges, The Washington Post reported.

Fairfax prosecutors seeking indictments against Park Police officers in fatal shooting of Bijan Ghaisar

Although Liu’s office had approved allowing the FBI to share its investigative files, it did not allow the lead agents in the case to appear before the Fairfax grand jury last Monday or on a special reconvening of the grand jury on Wednesday, Lingan told a Fairfax judge in a hearing that day. A Justice Department rule known as a Touhy regulation requires a U.S. attorney to approve the participation of any federal agents in nonfederal proceedings.

A spokeswoman for Liu said a letter from Fairfax prosecutors seeking the FBI agents’ testimony was sent on Dec. 13, which wasn’t enough time to be approved by either Dec. 16 or Dec. 18, the dates the county grand jury met for the final time in 2019. Defense and prosecution attorneys in Fairfax said such requests had previously been approved within a day. Fairfax prosecutors said Monday that Liu had not yet responded to the request.

“This is not the type of request that can be resolved over the weekend or in just three business days,” Liu spokeswoman Kadia Koroma said last week and again Monday. “It is important to note that the request is still under consideration by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia.”

After learning that the agents had not been allowed to appear in Fairfax last week, Warner and Grassley sent a letter Monday to Deputy Attorney General Jeffrey A. Rosen. The senators wrote that “despite cooperation by the FBI, Fairfax County will now be unable to move forward before the end of the year. We would like to better understand how U.S. Attorney Liu’s office will work with the Fairfax County Commonwealth’s Attorney moving forward.”

Read the full letter from Warner and Grassley to the Justice Department

The senators also noted that their request last month for a briefing from the FBI and Justice Department, following the federal declination of charges, had been denied. “Our staff will be in touch to follow up on both of these matters,” the senators wrote.

Morrogh served 36 years in the Fairfax prosecutor’s office, including 19 years as chief deputy and the past 12 years as commonwealth’s attorney before he was defeated by Descano in the Democratic primary. Descano, who served as a federal tax prosecutor but has not previously tried a case in Fairfax, has declined to say how he will handle the case and said he had not spoken to Morrogh about it. He declined to comment Monday.

The first part of a 911 call that prompted Park Police to confront Bijan Ghaisar’s vehicle was released Dec. 6. Ghaisar was shot and killed by on Nov. 17, 2017. (Video: Arlington County)

Morrogh confirmed Monday that he would not be able to present the case to a grand jury before he leaves office on Dec. 31. County grand juries meet on regularly scheduled dates, typically the third Monday of each month in Fairfax, and there would not be enough time to summon the grand jury again before the end of the year, Morrogh said.

Park Police officers in Bijan Ghaisar slaying deny wrongdoing, say it was self-defense

“We appreciate the continued support and aid from the senators,” Morrogh and Lingan said in a statement, “and hope that this helps progress this matter further for the Ghaisar family. We have provided all of the files to our successor’s deputy so that there is no further delay. We hope that a decision can be finalized and made by the January 21, 2020, grand jury.”

The Ghaisar family responded to the senators’ letter, saying that, “During yet another very difficult holiday season without our son and brother, we are heartened by the fact that Senators Chuck Grassley and Mark Warner have not forgotten about us. We appreciate their continued efforts to get us and the public the information that we are owed to prevent anything like this from ever happening to another family.”