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The Department of Justice (DOJ) joined the defense team of two U.S. Park Police officers who killed Bijan Ghaisar as he sat in the driver’s seat of his Jeep Grand Cherokee in Fairfax County in 2017.
Park Police Officers Lucas Vinyard, 39, and Alejandro Amaya, 41, were indicted by a special grand jury in October on charges of involuntary manslaughter and reckless use of a firearm. The two officers claimed they fired at Bijan in self-defense, however, footage of the fatal encounter shows the victim’s car moving away from the two when they fired at him, The Washington Post noted.
Their charges came nearly a year after the DOJ declined to pursue federal criminal civil rights charges against the two. In November, the officers’ defense attorneys requested to have the case heard in federal court in Alexandria, Virginia, because they are federal officers.
According to The Washington Post, legal experts expect the request to be granted and that the two will seek to have their criminal charges dismissed under the supremacy clause of the Constitution. The supremacy clause maintains that federal laws take precedence over state laws.
The DOJ may now send “any officer” to help with the case. The department has assigned John Blair Fishwick Martin, who is a lawyer with the constitutional and specialized torts litigation section of the DOJ’s civil division. The DOJ had to seek permission from Senior U.S. District Judge Claude M. Hilton to allow Martin to handle cases in the Alexandria federal court because the attorney is licensed in New York and not in Virginia.
Hilton granted that request on Nov. 30.
Amaya’s attorney, Travis D. Tull, told The Washington Post that the government’s interests “are currently in line with those of the defendants.” Tull added that he “wouldn’t be surprised to see a memorandum in support of the expected motion to dismiss the state charges based on the supremacy clause and federal officer immunity.”
Bijan’s Fatal Shooting
Bijan was driving south on the Georgia Washington Memorial Parkway outside of Washington D.C. on November 17, 2017, when his vehicle was rear-ended, CNN reported. Bijan left the scene of the crash and was later pursued by Park Police. Leaving the scene of a collision is illegal in Virginia.
Footage captured by the dash cam of a Fairfax County police officer who joined the pursuit and released in January 2018 revealed Bijan stopped at least three times. During the stops, the Park Police officers stepped out of their vehicle and approached Bijan in his car with their guns drawn.
According to CNN, Bijan drove around the officers and away during the first two stops. In the final encounter, the Park Police officers park their SUV in front of Bijan’s vehicle and they step out. When his car inches forward, the officers unload a series of gunshots.
The 25-year-old was hospitalized and succumbed to his injuries 10 days later.
In a statement released in October, his family said Bijan “suffered the most brutal terror and cruelty in his final moments of life. We know this because it was caught on police video and we watched it. Our family has a permanent hole in it –– one that no amount of time or any act could possibly fill or heal.”
Police Reform Bill Fails in Congress
Lawmakers in Washington failed to tackle systemic racism in police departments across the country and pass sweeping overhaul of policing despite continued calls for reform. Negotiations crumbled in June following the police killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor and the shooting of Jacob Blake.
In September, Politico reported that Congressional Black Caucus Chair Karen Bass, who helped create Democrat’s police reform bill, was leading a bipartisan group of lawmakers in an attempt to revive negotiations.
“Election year or not, it’s the right thing to do,” Rep. Pete Stauber (R-Minn.), who is part of the group, told Politico. “I am not giving up on it, nor are other members giving up on it. It’s too important.”
The group, which reportedly met regularly via Zoom and in person, did not have a specific plan to introduce legislation.
About the Author
Nicole Rojas is a senior writer for The North Star. She has published in various publications, including Newsweek, GlobalPost, IHS Jane’s Defence Weekly, and the Long Island Post. Nicole graduated from Boston University in 2012 with a degree in print journalism. She is an avid world traveler who recently explored the Americas, Asia, Australia and Europe.