Six months after Bijan Ghaisar was fatally shot by two U.S. Park Police officers on a Northern Virginia side street, hundreds of family members, friends and supporters marched around the Justice Department building Saturday chanting, “We want names — we want justice — we are Bijan.”
Other than the video of the incident recorded by Fairfax County police, virtually no information has been released about the shooting, including the names of the officers or the reasons they fired nine times into Ghaisar’s Jeep Grand Cherokee as he sat behind the wheel, apparently unarmed. Both the FBI, who is investigating the case, and the Justice Department said Saturday they had no comment on the case.
“Where the hell are all the good cops?” asked Negeen Ghaisar, the victim’s sister, to an often tearful audience. The lengthy silence in the case has horrified her family. “My grandfather is a retired police colonel and police chief. He said the good cops outweigh the bad cops. Where the hell are you?”
Rep. Don Beyer (D-Va.) has been pressing the Park Police and the FBI for answers for months, with little success. “It’s beyond my imagination why it has taken so very, very long. … Little by little, the FBI is sacrificing its credibility. I have one request. Please Director [Christopher] Wray, finish the investigation and release the report.”
State Sen. Scott Surovell (D-Fairfax) and Fairfax County Supervisor Pat Herrity (R-Springfield) also lent their voices to the demand for answers, as did speakers from Amnesty International, Mothers Against Police Brutality, the Iranian-American Community Center and the Avalan Institute.
Ghaisar, a 25-year-old accountant from McLean, Va., was shot on Nov. 17 by two U.S. Park Police officers as he sat behind the wheel of his Jeep in the Fort Hunt area of Fairfax County, Va. His family said he was unarmed and shot four times in the head. The Park Police and the FBI, which took over the investigation of the case, have declined to discuss the case since the incident occurred. The Park Police have refused to identify the officers involved, which most police agencies do shortly after a shooting. The officers remain on administrative leave with pay, Sgt. James Dingeldein, a Park Police spokesman, has said.
Ghaisar had been involved in a minor fender bender after he stopped in a southbound lane of the George Washington Memorial Parkway just north of Alexandria, Va. A Park Police report states Ghaisar drove away from that incident without speaking to the driver who had hit him, and a Park Police cruiser with two officers inside spotted the Jeep minutes later on the parkway south of Alexandria and tried to pull him over.
A Fairfax County police officer joined the pursuit and turned on his in-car video camera. The footage from that camera, released by Fairfax police Chief Edwin C. Roessler Jr. in January, shows Ghaisar stopped in the right lane of the parkway, then drove off as the Park Police officers approached him with guns drawn. Several minutes later, after driving at a reported 58 mph, Ghaisar pulled onto an exit off the parkway and stopped again. Again the officers ran to his Jeep with guns drawn, and again Ghaisar drove off.
At the intersection of Fort Hunt Road and Alexandria Avenue, Ghaisar stopped a third time. The officers again hurried to the Jeep with pistols drawn. Ghaisar’s Jeep appears to start rolling around the Park Police car blocking his way, with the officers to the side. The video shows the officers firing nine times into the Jeep.
Ghaisar lived for 10 days after the shooting, and was pronounced dead on Nov. 27. Though there is a full, clear video of the incident and a Fairfax County police officer as a witness to the entire episode, the Justice Department has given no indication of when a decision might be made on whether the Park Police officers will be charged with a crime.
Kadia Koroma, an FBI spokeswoman, said the investigation was ongoing and she had no information to release Saturday. Devin O’Malley, a Justice Department spokesman, said the department “does not acknowledge or otherwise comment on investigations.”
Last month, Beyer asked FBI Director Wray to meet with him to discuss the case. Wray declined. Federal prosecutors have also intervened with Arlington County, which received the initial 911 calls on the traffic accident, to prevent them from releasing the tapes of those calls, which might indicate why Park Police pursued Ghaisar so intensely.
“Knowing my son,” said his mother, Kelly Ghaisar, “he would never run from the police. But he would run to save his life. What was Bijan’s crime for deserving a death sentence? I’ll tell you. He insulted an officer’s ego.” She and Beyer both noted that the officers appeared to violate Park Police policy on both pursuing Ghaisar and using force against him.
“Those officers killed my son and are getting paid,” Kelly Ghaisar said, “sitting at home with full protection, while we watched our son with bullets in his head. We have no rights. If you think you have rights, you don’t.”
“Today marks 184 days,” said family friend Shirin Golesorkhi Kavyani, “since Bijan, a bright, positive, passionate soul who believed in honesty and peace, was shot by the U.S. Park Police. 184 days of grieving. 184 days is too long for Bijan’s family with no answers.”
The Park Police do not have either body-worn cameras or in-car cameras. Last week, the Ghaisar family sent a letter to Park Police Chief Robert MacLean imploring him to move forward on cameras. “What is required for you to take this seriously?” the letter by James, Kelly and Negeen Ghaisar asked. “Another unnecessary and devastating killing by one of your officers?… It is far past time for you to take action to ensure that all of your officers have body cameras.” Below is the Ghaisars’ letter: