The family of Bijan Ghaisar, the motorist shot dead by two unidentified U.S. Park Police officers last November, has filed Freedom of Information Act requests with the Park Police and the Justice Department seeking the names of the officers and information about why they killed the 25-year-old accountant.
Both the Park Police and the FBI, which took over the investigation three days after the Nov. 17 shooting, have refused to provide details about the case or identify the two officers involved. The officers have not been charged and were placed on administrative leave with pay. Ghaisar’s family has waited in anguish for information about the case, holding protests and seeking meetings with federal officials, but the Park Police and the FBI have maintained their silence for nearly eight months.
“Our hearts have broken more and more,” Ghaisar’s sister, Negeen Ghaisar, said in a release Tuesday, “with each day we wait on answers from the very forces that are supposed to protect us all. This silence cannot stand any longer. The Park Police and the FBI owe my family and the public, at the very least, an explanation of the basic answers and facts around Bijan’s death.”
The shooting happened in Northern Virginia after Ghaisar had twice stopped and then pulled away from a Park Police car pursuing him on the George Washington Memorial Parkway following a minor traffic accident in Alexandria. A video recording from a camera in a Fairfax County police car captured Ghaisar stopping a third time on a residential street in the Fort Hunt area and then slowly pulling away again. The two officers both opened fire, pouring nine shots into Ghaisar’s Jeep Grand Cherokee. His family said Ghaisar was unarmed and was hit three times in the head. He died 10 days later.
The facts of the pursuit and shooting were provided not by federal officials but by Fairfax County police, who released the video of the incident in January. After the video release, Sens. Tim Kaine (D) and Mark Warner (D) of Virginia, as well as Rep. Don Beyer (D), called on the FBI for more transparency. Beyer requested a meeting with FBI Director Christopher A. Wray, who refused. When the Ghaisars filed a FOIA request with Arlington County seeking a recording of the 911 tape that launched the pursuit, the Justice Department intervened and instructed Arlington not to release it.
The Ghaisars have held demonstrations outside the Justice Department, the Interior Department, which oversees the Park Police, the district station where the officers work and the Lincoln Memorial. But no assistance has materialized from any federal agencies.
The FOIA request filed Monday seeks all records related to the Nov. 17 shooting and all records related to any Park Police officers on paid administrative leave since Nov. 1. But federal FOIA law has an exemption for law enforcement records or information that “could reasonably be expected to interfere with enforcement proceedings, would deprive a person of a right to a fair trial or an impartial adjudication, [and] could reasonably be expected to constitute an unwarranted invasion of personal privacy.” In Virginia, police agencies use a similar exemption in state FOIA law to routinely refuse even minor records requests.
The investigation of the case is being handled by the U.S. attorney’s office in Washington and overseen by the Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department. Last month, FBI investigators returned to the scene of the shooting, at the intersection of Fort Hunt Road and Alexandria Avenue, and appeared to be taking measurements and then searching the brush near where Ghaisar’s Jeep stopped. The FBI did not notify the Ghaisar family before shutting down nearby roads and undertaking the apparent reenactment.