IT’S HARD to know how much credibility to accord the remarks made in court the other day by a lawyer representing one of the two U.S. Park Police officers who shot and killed Bijan Ghaisar, an unarmed young driver, near Washington in 2017. This much is clear, though: By stating that the FBI and Justice Department may be on the verge of charging or clearing the officers, and possibly even intervening on their behalf in a civil suit filed by Ghaisar’s family, the lawyer managed to thicken the opaque fog of mystery generated by federal authorities in the 19 months since the shooting.
Ghaisar, who was involved in a fender bender on the George Washington Memorial Parkway in Virginia, led police on a slow-speed chase that culminated when he tried to nose his car around a Park Police vehicle blocking his path. The two officers, standing to one side and in no apparent danger, opened fire, hitting him repeatedly.
Having posed no apparent danger, and committed no serious crime, Ghaisar, a 25-year-old accountant, died a senseless death. Just as senseless was the veil of silence then draped over the incident by authorities who released no information about the investigation for month after month. It was well over a year before the names of the officers were revealed, after the Ghaisar family brought a lawsuit against the officers.
No official account of the shooting, and no rationale to explain it, has ever been made public or shared with the Ghaisar family, as though law enforcement were free to shoot civilians and then simply remain silent indefinitely. Fortunately for the public, video footage of the incident, recorded by the in-car video camera of a Fairfax County police cruiser that was tailing the Park Police vehicle, was made public after the killing.
In response to the Ghaisar family’s civil suit, attorney Kobie Flowers, who represents one of the officers, told a federal magistrate last week that he’d been “involved in talks with the government” and expected a charging decision by the end of June. If the officers are not indicted, he added, he had been told the government would intervene to defend them in the civil suit.
It’s conceivable that Mr. Flowers and the lawyer representing the other officer have been in plea- bargain discussions with Justice Department prosecutors; it’s also conceivable that in the absence of any agreed-upon deal, prosecutors have not yet discussed it with the Ghaisar family. However, it is inconceivable that the government would step in to represent the officers if there were a plea bargain, which would amount to an admission of guilt.
At the very least, the authorities, mum for so long, should communicate on issues of timing and process with the Ghaisar family; having been kept in the dark, they shouldn’t have to learn that a decision is imminent from a lawyer representing the officers. Whatever errors in judgment he may have made, Ghaisar, after all, is the victim. That remains the case despite stony-faced official opacity.