The two U.S. Park Police officers who shot and killed motorist Bijan Ghaiser in November 2017 were charged with manslaughter by a Fairfax County, Virginia grand jury. The Ghaiser family issued a statement reading that, “Our heavy hearts are a little lighter tonight.” They add that too many people who swear to protect and serve communities “commit heinous acts of violence that go unpunished.”
In addition to the manslaughter charges, officers Alejandro Amaya, 41, and Lucas W. Vinyard, 39, were each indicted for reckless discharge of a firearm. They face 10 years in prison on the manslaughter charge and five years on the firearms charge. They have been on administrative leave since the incident. They have claimed self-defense.
Shot Five Times
Ghaiser, a 25-year old accountant, was shot five times that night after what was considered a fender bender with his green Jeep. He did leave the scene of the accident, and a short chase by the officers ended with the shooting. He succumbed to his injuries ten days later.
The shooting was captured on the Fairfax County police car’s dashcam video. According to the Interior Department’s traffic crash report, Ghaisar was driving south on the federal George Washington Memorial Parkway when he suddenly stopped in the roadway. His vehicle was rear-ended by the car traveling behind him. Rather than wait, as he should have, Ghaisar drove away. The Park Police cited the motorist who struck him for failure to maintain proper control. The report does not classify the collision as a hit and run.
The video shows Ghaiser’s Jeep pursued by a Park Police vehicle, followed by a Fairfax County police car. It was not a high-speed chase through the residential area. Several minutes later, Ghaisar stops at a stop sign, and his Jeep is blocked by the Park Police car.
One officer approaches the driver’s side door, and a shot rings out. A second officer then approaches, and a total of eight shots are fired. Ghaiser had no weapon. He was well-known among family and friends as an advocate of nonviolence.
A New Prosecutor
Recently elected Fairfax County prosecutor Steve Descano took up the case at the beginning of this year. He sought federal assistance in the case, as the U.S. Park Police work for the federal government, but it was denied. He then had Fairfax Police work on the investigation. The special grand jury received the case in September.
The case drew national attention. Vigils were held at the Lincoln Memorial on the anniversaries of the shooting. Protests were held outside of the Park Police station where Amaya and Vinyard worked.
An Alternative Reality
In an editorial, the Washington Post called the police officers’ account of the episode “bizarre” and an alternative reality. It notes that believing their version means suspending belief in the dashcam video. It is clear from the video that the first officer approaching the Jeep was by the side of the vehicle, not in front of it, so there was no danger from potential acceleration. The editorial states that the officers’ story is an “elaborate argument” that seems to try to persuade a court or other authorities that they cannot believe what they see with their own eyes.
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