Federal Civil Rights Charges Can Take Years with Terrible Toll on Families

Federal Civil Rights Charges Can Take Years with Terrible Toll on Families

No one ever accused the justice system of moving swiftly, but the filing of federal civil rights charges against law enforcement officers makes the movement of ordinary charges downright stagnant. It can take years – even decades – for federal prosecutors to decide to file a civil rights investigation. When a person has died because of alleged police misconduct, the family suffers a double loss. Not only is their loved one gone, but the odds of those responsible for the death ever facing trial are slim.

Killed by Park Police

Take the example of Bijan Ghaisar, a 25-year-old Virginia accountant, who was shot nine times by two U.S. Park Police officers in Fairfax County after a November 2017 fender bender accident. A report by the county police department nearly one year later revealed that Ghaisar had no weapon “in plain view or reach of the driver” when he was shot. The young man died of his wounds ten days later.

Those reports were released due to a Freedom of Information Act filing by the Washington Post. To date, the Park Police officers have not been identified – and are still on the job. Although the FBI and the Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department took over the case shortly after the killing, the feds have not released the names of the officers nor why they may have taken the actions they did. Ghaisar’s family has no idea where the investigation stands, as federal authorities have given them virtually no information.

Unfortunately, the Ghaisar family’s lack of knowledge is the rule, rather than the exception, when it comes to investigations involving law enforcement personnel.

Charges Filed in Just Four Percent of Cases

Although the Ghaisar family doesn’t yet know if federal authorities will eventually file charges against the Park Police, the odds are against them. From 1995 to 2015, only 4 percent of police misconduct cases filed with the Justice Department had charges filed against the officers. That’s a jaw-dropping 96 percent that never goes further. To be exact, 13,233 total complaints were filed during this time period. A whopping 12,703 possible civil rights violations went nowhere.

Sure, some people make false accusations against officers, but the idea that it’s nearly all such allegations is ludicrous. The problem lies with the extremely high standard of proof necessary in these cases. A 1945 U.S. Supreme Court ruling states that federal prosecutors must prove that police acted “willfully” when depriving a person of their civil rights.  In a nutshell, that means the prosecutors must prove that the law enforcement officer intended to kill or severely injure a person.

Negligence or recklessness are not considerations. It’s hard to imagine under what circumstances two Park Police officers fired nine shots into a young man in a Jeep Wrangler because he got into a minor accident and eluded them that wasn’t an intent to kill, but that’s up to federal prosecutors to decide. Perhaps, for the Ghaisar family’s sake, their son’s death will prove one of those rare exceptions and the Park Police officers will face charges.

Perhaps the Ghaisar family attorney put it best. “The police reports continue to tell a story,” he said, “of a young man who should never have been confronted by the police in the way he was, and certainly should never have been killed by police officers. The fact that the family has waited almost a year to get these police reports, which in no way hinder the criminal investigation, is a continuation of the cruelty that the federal government is showing to the families of the victims of police violence.”

If you or a family member are a victim of abuse, violence, or medical neglect in a private prison or other private company, you can expose the violence and you may be entitled to compensation for violations of your civil rights. Call 866.836.4684 our legal and investigative team to learn your rights. No-cost. Always Confidential.


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