On the night that Bjian Ghaisar’s family marked the fourth anniversary of his fatal shooting by U.S. Park Police officers, at a vigil last week at the Lincoln Memorial, the two officers involved received a notice to appear at headquarters two days later. After arriving at headquarters, the officers received letters informing them that the Interior Department was seeking to fire them, even though they had recently been cleared of all criminal charges, union officials said Tuesday.

Officers Lucas Vinyard, 40, and Alejandro Amaya, 42, have been on either paid administrative duty or paid leave since Nov. 17, 2017, when they pursued Ghaisar, 25, down George Washington Memorial Parkway and into a residential neighborhood of Fairfax County. When Ghaisar, driving a Jeep Grand Cherokee, tried to drive away from the officers for a third time, after two prior drive-offs on or near the parkway, video shows that both officers fired five times into the Jeep, fatally wounding the unarmed driver.

Lawyers for the officers did not return messages seeking comment Tuesday, but leaders of the Park Police’s Fraternal Order of Police union lodge said the action by the Interior Department, before any internal investigation or disciplinary process was ever conducted, violated the terms of the union’s contract and would not withstand legal scrutiny.

“It is extremely disappointing,” Park Police union leader Kenneth Spencer said Tuesday, “that the Biden administration has taken such a hard line and illegal anti-labor position.” Spencer and his union predecessor said they had not previously seen Interior or the Park Police seek to circumvent the standard process for disciplining or terminating an officer.

The union “will be initiating a full-scale offensive campaign against the Department of Interior and the National Park Service,” Spencer said in an email to his members Monday. He wrote that the two agencies “arbitrarily proposed removal on two officers based on public opinion, bias [sic] media stories, and political manipulation.”

Video released by Fairfax County Police in January 2018 shows U.S. Park Police chasing, and shooting at Bijan Ghaisar's vehicle in 2017. (Fairfax County Police Dept.)

A spokeswoman for the Interior Department said the officers remain on paid leave but declined to discuss “this ongoing administrative matter.”

Immediately after the shooting, the Park Police placed the officers on paid leave for five months, then moved them to administrative duty while the Justice Department considered whether to file federal criminal civil rights charges. The Park Police said it would not conduct an internal investigation while the criminal case was unresolved, and none has been done four years later.

The FBI investigated the shooting, and in November 2019 the Justice Department declined to file federal civil rights charges against the officers. Fairfax County prosecutors then picked up the case and obtained indictments against Vinyard and Amaya in October 2020 for involuntary manslaughter and reckless use of a firearm. The officers were placed on paid leave again, the Park Police said.

The officers’ lawyers then removed the case to federal court, as allowed under federal law, and asked a judge to rule that state prosecutors could not charge Vinyard and Amaya with crimes if their actions were “necessary and proper” while acting as federal officers. Last month, Senior U.S. District Judge Claude M. Hilton granted that motion and dismissed the case. Virginia prosecutors are appealing the ruling.

The Ghaisar family issued a statement Tuesday saying that for four years, Amaya and Vinyard “have escaped accountability.”

“Even after a grand jury indicted these officers, to date, they have avoided any accountability through the legal system for violently and needlessly taking Bijan from us,” the family statement said. “We strongly support this modest measure of accountability that will remove these dangerous officers from the United States Park Police and prevent them from patrolling the streets of our community, and hopefully, avoid another tragedy.”

On Nov. 17 of this year, the Ghaisars gathered again at the Lincoln Memorial for a candlelight vigil in remembrance of Bijan Ghaisar, as they had the previous three years. While they were doing that, Spencer said, “both officers received a letter by courier to their residences, telling them to report to Interior headquarters on the 19th.” When the officers and their lawyers appeared that day, Spencer said, “they were handed paperwork to propose their removal” and given 30 days to respond.

Under a labor contract with Interior, “the union was supposed to get the proposal and any attachments,” Spencer said. “They haven’t given us anything. They completely bypassed the union and the collective bargaining agreement; we will be taking action against the National Park Service and the Department of Interior.”

Mike Shalton, the former union head for the Park Police officers, said, “I’ve never seen this in my dozen years as a union official, where they go outside of our agency and go outside of a binding legal contract. There’s a process and they have no choice but to abide by that. The fact that the Department of Interior has decided to inject themselves in this, it’s illegal.”

The Park Police union has not previously spoken publicly about the Ghaisar case.

“It was an ongoing investigation so we didn’t want to get involved,” Shalton said. “You remain impartial when there’s an ongoing legal process. Our job is to facilitate their legal defense.”

Shalton said the Justice Department paid for the private attorneys who represented Vinyard and Amaya in the criminal case filed by Fairfax, but the union will handle the legal costs for the new labor dispute.

The Justice Department also paid for the defense of the officers in a civil wrongful death lawsuit filed by the Ghaisars in 2018, the union said. The officers have since been dropped from that suit, which remains pending against the Park Police, which is being defended by the Justice Department. The case was ready for trial last year, but when the criminal indictment was handed up in Fairfax, Hilton postponed it until the criminal case was concluded.

Spencer sent an email to union members Monday night headlined, “Amaya & Vinyard — It Could Happen to You.” He wrote that “no one except for Lucas Vinyard, Alex Amaya, and the FBI have any idea what exactly happened that evening,” and that the officers did not have “the luxury of analyzing this video after the fact.” He said that “these are two of our brothers that have been hung by the mainstream media, the Department of Interior, and the National Park Service, even after being justified by a federal judge.” Spencer singled out The Washington Post for a “smear campaign” in its news coverage of the case.

Shalton said the timing of the notice to the officers, on the anniversary of the shooting, “is no coincidence. … What the Department of Interior is doing is completely out of their legal authority. It’s not going to stand.”