To believe that version of events requires disbelieving clear video evidence to the contrary. In the dash-cam video, recorded by the Fairfax police cruiser that took part in pursuing Ghaisar, the officer who first opened fire on Ghaisar was to the side of his vehicle — not in front of it and not in any apparent danger. And Ghaisar “accelerates” only in the sense that his Jeep goes from a standstill to perhaps 1 mile per hour, while turning his wheel away from the approaching police, before the first officer starts firing.
As for his driving, Ghaisar, 25, did exceed the speed limit and apparently failed to heed a stop sign. He did drive off after his car was struck from behind in Alexandria. But no one would call the police pursuit a high-speed chase, nor did he weave on the road.
The voluminous statements from the officers came this week in the pending civil suit for wrongful death filed by Ghaisar’s family. The officers will not testify in that lawsuit, government lawyers say, because they may still face state criminal charges in Fairfax County, where the shooting took place.
Taken as a whole, the officers’ story is an elaborate argument apparently designed to persaude authorities, or a court, or the public, not to trust what they can see with their own eyes. The officers gloss over the fact that when Ghaisar first pulls over, they rush at his car with guns drawn — something no responsible officer would do if the subject were deemed a real threat, nor in a routine traffic stop. As Ghaisar, perhaps understandably terrified, pulled away, one of the officers struck the Jeep window with his pistol — an act of amateurish rage that the other officer attempted to explain as an attempt to “mark” the vehicle. That’s preposterous.
Some time after the incident, a toxicology report showed there was marijuana in Ghaisar’s system, and a bag of weed along with a pipe were found in his Jeep; the officers also said they smelled marijuana in the car. But neither officer knew that when they opened fire, and the police are no more justified in shooting an unarmed man because he is high.
In the heat of the moment, law enforcement officers must often make instantaneous judgment calls about the use of force. In this case, the Park Police officers, Alejandro Amaya and Lucas Vinyard, made horrendous ones. Their frustration at Ghaisar’s repeated failures may be understandable. But in police work, frustration does not confer a license to kill.