UPDATE, Wednesday, 12:30 p.m.: The FBI has responded to the letter from Fairfax County, saying that it does intend to release the in-car video “at the conclusion of specific investigative actions,” without any details about when that might be. Washington field office Assistant Director Andrew W. Vale wrote in a letter to Chairman Sharon Bulova that “the FBI is committed to transparency and providing as much information to the public as we are able to without compromising an ongoing investigation,” though so far the FBI has released no information. Vale said “the premature release of this video risks a fair, impartial and unbiased investigation.”
ORIGINAL POST: With more than three weeks having elapsed since U.S. Park Police officers fatally shot Bijan Ghaisar and no information about the slaying forthcoming, the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors has sent a letter to the FBI calling for “complete transparency” and for the bureau to release the in-car video of the incident as soon as those involved have been interviewed.
In another development, the U.S. attorney’s office for eastern Virginia has been recused
itself from handling the case, an attorney for the Ghaisar family said Monday. The U.S. attorney’s office in Washington and the Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department will handle the investigation, Roy L. Austin Jr. said. Austin did not know why the federal prosecutors in Alexandria bowed out of the case, and a spokesman for the office could not be reached immediately. The Ghaisar family met with federal officials and FBI agents last week, Austin said. (Update: Joshua Stueve, the spokesman for the U.S. attorney, said the Justice Department ordered the recusal, for reasons he would not disclose, and that U.S. attorney’s offices cannot recuse themselves from cases.)
Ghaisar, 25, was shot as he sat in his Jeep Grand Cherokee in the Fort Hunt area of Fairfax County on Nov. 17. His family said he was unarmed and was shot three times in the head, though both the Park Police and the FBI, which took over the investigation on Nov. 20, have declined to confirm that. Ghaisar, an accountant who lived in Tysons Corner, died 10 days later.
Fairfax County police were not involved in the shooting, but a Fairfax officer who followed the Park Police officers as they pursued Ghaisar down George Washington Memorial Parkway and then onto Alexandria Avenue recorded the scene with his in-car camera as two Park Police officers emerged from their vehicle and shot Ghaisar. Neither the Park Police nor the FBI have explained why Ghaisar was shot, how many officers shot him or the names of the officers. The Park Police said Ghaisar had left the scene of an accident with another car in Alexandria, but they have refused to provide any details of that incident, as well.
Fairfax police and the Board of Supervisors were criticized for their lack of transparency in the August 2013 police-involved fatal shooting of John Geer, in which names and details were withheld for 17 months, and are determined not to follow that path again. On Dec. 4, Fairfax’s police chief, Edwin C. Roessler Jr., held a news conference to call on the FBI to release the in-car video as soon as all witnesses had been interviewed, and the Board of Supervisors agreed the next day to draft a letter to the FBI.
“The Board of Supervisors is concerned with the lack of information being provided to the public to date,” said the letter to FBI Director Christopher A. Wray, signed by the board’s chairman, Sharon Bulova (D). She said the supervisors believed “the public, especially the family and friends of Mr. Ghaisar, needs to know as quickly as possible what happened.” Bulova said, “Incidents like these, when shrouded in secrecy, potentially undermine the trust our community has worked so hard to build.”
Daniel G. Storck (D-Mount Vernon), the supervisor for the district in which Ghaisar was killed, said in a message to his constituents, “While the Board is sensitive to not jeopardizing the investigation, we believe swift action is necessary to increase transparency and community confidence. Particularly, we are urging the FBI to release the Fairfax County Police in-car video that captured the incident, as soon as the FBI has completed its interviews of those involved, and not wait until the investigation is complete.”
Austin, the Ghaisar family attorney, said, “We absolutely agree that there needs to be greater transparency.” He said no new information had been provided to the family about the shooting.
An FBI spokeswoman did not respond to requests for comment. Here is the letter from the Fairfax board to the FBI: