The family of Bijan Ghaisar, the 25-year-old accountant shot dead by two U.S. Park Police officers in November, filed suit against the U.S. government Friday seeking $25 million in damages and an end to the eight-month wall of silence erected by federal authorities investigating the case.
The suit outlines not only the pursuit and fatal shooting of Ghaisar in a residential neighborhood in Fairfax County, Va., but also alleges insensitive treatment of his family by the Park Police in the hours and days immediately after the event.
Park Police did not notify Ghaisar’s parents of the shooting for more than five hours after it had happened, and they would not allow the Ghaisars to spend more than 10 minutes per hour with their mortally wounded son, the suit alleges. The family says when a doctor arrived to examine Ghaisar for organ donation, the Park Police denied him access, declaring the brain-dead man “under arrest” and his body “evidence.”
The Park Police have refused to identify the officers involved in the shooting, and they are currently assigned to administrative duties, Sgt. James Dingeldein said. The federal government is sued as the entity that controls the Park Police. Dingeldein said in a statement that Park Police were aware of the lawsuit but had been advised not to comment on pending litigation.
After three days of investigation, the Park Police handed the case over to the FBI, which also has declined to discuss the case. Virtually all of the details of the case have been provided by Fairfax County police, which had an officer join a Park Police cruiser in a pursuit of Ghaisar. The Fairfax officer’s in-car video camera was on, ultimately capturing the entire shooting episode at Fort Hunt Road and Alexandria Avenue in the Fort Hunt neighborhood. It was released in January over the Justice Department’s objections.
At a Friday news conference, Roy L. Austin Jr., a lawyer for the Ghaisar family, called the lack of information provided by authorities “cruel and unheard of.”
“The family simply wants justice for the killing of their son and brother,” Austin said.
The lawsuit was filed in federal court in Alexandria. The investigation into the shooting, however, is being overseen by the U.S. attorney in Washington in conjunction with the civil rights division of the Justice Department. The Justice Department has not explained why the U.S. attorney in Alexandria was recused from the case.
The suit provides a detailed chronology of events before and after the shooting, except for the names of the officers who fired the shots.
Ghaisar lived in Tysons Corner, Va., was single with no children and no criminal record. He worked for his father’s accounting firm after graduating from Virginia Commonwealth University and Langley High School.
Ghaisar was scheduled to meet his father, James, at the family’s McLean home for dinner at 8 p.m. Nov. 17. But at 7:30 p.m., he was headed away from McLean, south on the George Washington Memorial Parkway in Alexandria City when he apparently stopped his green Jeep Grand Cherokee in a lane of traffic. The Jeep was hit from behind by a Toyota Corolla driven by an Uber driver with a passenger in the back.
A report of the incident obtained by The Washington Post shows that the Uber driver called 911 to report having been in a collision and that the other driver had pulled away without stopping or speaking to him. An alert was broadcast for Ghaisar’s Jeep, with a “BIJAN” vanity license plate.
Several minutes later, south of Alexandria, Ghaisar’s Jeep was spotted by a Park Police officer, who began pursuing it with lights and siren on. A Fairfax County officer saw the two vehicles travel past on the parkway and joined the pursuit. Ghaisar soon stopped in the right lane of traffic, where there is no shoulder on the parkway.
The Park Police cruiser also stopped, and an officer ran out of the car and pointed a gun at Ghaisar through the driver’s window, the video released by Fairfax police shows. Ghaisar drove off, and the Park Police officer slammed the side of Ghaisar’s car with his fist as it pulled away.
The chase proceeded at 57 mph, the Park Police officer radioed to Fairfax dispatchers, slightly above the 50-mph speed limit there. Ghaisar pulled off the parkway at West Boulevard Drive and stopped. The Fairfax video shows the Park Police officers running to the Jeep again with guns drawn, and again Ghaisar pulls away.
Ghaisar’s Jeep, the Park Police car and the Fairfax police car then sped on Alexandria Avenue, now off the parkway in Fairfax County. Park Police have jurisdiction in much of Northern Virginia under state law, not just the parks.
The Ghaisars’ lawsuit, filed by attorneys Austin and Thomas G. Connolly, notes that Park Police are not authorized to pursue a car into another jurisdiction unless a felony is involved, and the collision caused little or no damage. It’s not known whether the Park Police officers knew that or knew Ghaisar’s role in the collision.
Ghaisar’s Jeep stopped at Alexandria Avenue and Fort Hunt Road. The video shows the Park Police car being parked directly in front of the Jeep to keep the driver from fleeing again. The two officers jump out of their car with guns drawn. When Ghaisar’s Jeep starts to slowly roll around the Park Police car to the right, the video shows the officers opening fire, eventually firing nine shots in three bursts, ending with Ghaisar’s Jeep on its side in a ditch at the intersection.
Ghaisar’s family said he hated guns and was not armed. They said he was shot four times in the head and once in the wrist. He survived for 10 days after the shooting, and for 10 hours even after he was taken off a respirator, before dying on Nov. 27.
The family told The Post that Park Police would not allow them to touch Ghaisar during the three days he was guarded by that department’s officers.
“When you shoot and kill a person, you are shooting and killing an entire family and community,” Negeen Ghaisar, Bijan’s sister, said during Friday’s news conference. “The United States Park Police murdered my family as I knew it when they killed my brother, and I need them to understand the gravity of that,” she added.
The lawsuit also notes a lack of information from any federal source from the start. It was while sitting in a hospital waiting area 12 hours after the shooting that the Ghaisars learned that the Park Police had fired the shots. Park Police Chief Robert MacLean met with the family two days after the shooting to offer his condolences but no information about what had happened. MacLean has not spoken publicly about the incident.
More recently, the FBI returned to the Fort Hunt Road intersection in an apparent re-creation seven months after the shooting. The Ghaisars learned of that from social media.
“Everything about this case,” the suit states, “from the chase, to the shooting, to the subsequent treatment of the family, has been cruel.”