The inquiry was announced by Steve Descano, sworn in just a month ago as commonwealth’s attorney in Fairfax County, where Ghaisar was shot four times in the head by two Park Police officers. By meeting with the Ghaisar family’s lawyers and announcing that his office is working “tirelessly” and making progress, Mr. Descano has already offered the promise of more transparency, not to mention common courtesy, than federal officials managed over two years of their probe.
The federal investigation, opened shortly after Ghasair was shot at close range in November 2017, dragged on and on, ending only last fall. The announcement came from Jessie K. Liu, then-U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia, who said evidence was lacking that the officers, Lucas Vinyard and Alejandro Amaya, had “willfully” taken Ghaisar’s life, “with a bad purpose to disregard the law.”
That exquisite legal reasoning flew in the face of clear video of the shooting and the pursuit that preceded it, recorded by a Fairfax County police cruiser that trailed both the Park Police vehicle and Ghaisar’s car. It showed the officers, apparently exasperated, opening fire when Ghaisar’s car slowly crept away from them after he had driven off twice before. At no point did Ghaisar present a credible threat to the officers or anyone else. And exasperation is not a license to kill.
Ms. Liu, in announcing that federal officials had declined to seek a grand jury indictment, said that other authorities, including Virginia prosecutors, remained free to pursue the case. Mr. Descano’s predecessor, Raymond F. Morrogh, tried to present it to a county grand jury but was foiled when Ms. Liu twice refused to allow the FBI’s chief investigators to testify, saying she hadn’t had sufficient time to make a decision — although she did grant Mr. Morrogh full access to the case files.
The slate is now clean. Mr. Morrogh was voted out of office and replaced by Mr. Descano. Ms. Liu’s last day as U.S. attorney was Friday. It is now incumbent on Mr. Descano to pursue the case vigorously, as he has pledged to do, and on the new U.S. attorney, Timothy Shea, to provide him assistance as requested, including clearing FBI agents to testify.
Police officers are not above the law. It’s time for prosecutors to act on that plain truth in the Ghaisar case.