WASHINGTON ― U.S. Park Police shot and killed an unarmed American man of Iranian descent in Fairfax County, Virginia, last November. In the months since the incident, the federal government hasn’t offered any explanation as to what led unnamed federal law enforcement officers to shoot and kill 25-year-old Bijan Ghaisar. But local authorities on Wednesday released a disturbing dashcam video that sheds new light on the shooting and could put pressure on the federal government to bring charges against the agents involved.
The dashcam video shows the fatal encounter that was a culmination of a police chase of Ghaisar’s Jeep. An unidentified federal officer hops out of the passenger seat of his police vehicle and points his gun at Ghaisar’s stopped vehicle. As the officer stands near the driver’s side of the Jeep pointing his weapon, the car slowly moves forward. The officer fires once. He fires four more times. His partner comes up behind him. More shots are fired, and the vehicle abruptly stops.
Officers with the U.S. Park Police shot Ghaisar in the head four times on Nov. 17. Ghaisar, who by all accounts was unarmed and alone on George Washington Memorial Parkway, died 10 days later due to brain damage. Since then, the Ghaisar family has been seeking answers from the federal government about what happened to the football-loving young man from suburban Virginia who worked at his dad’s accounting firm and was looking forward to becoming an uncle.
“Not only did we lose Bijan, on top of it [all] but ... we have no information,” Ghaisar’s mother, Kelly, told HuffPost. “The total silence of this case makes us, our whole family, feel even worse, because we have to deal with Bijan’s loss and the way that he was taken.”
In shootings involving federal officers, like the U.S. Park Police which are under the U.S. Interior Department’s National Park Service, there’s often little information available upfront, while shootings involving local officers typically provide more.
The FBI is now investigating the case, but they initially opposed releasing the video. Federal authorities still haven’t named the two officers who killed Ghaisar, though the Interior Department has said they’re both on administrative leave. The lack of public information on the investigation has garnered criticism. The Washington Post’s editorial board criticized the dearth of information about the shooting last December, calling it “a mockery of the open society that distinguishes the United States from autocracies and dictatorships.”
But the veil of secrecy surrounding Ghaisar’s death was lifted a bit on Wednesday, when Fairfax County Chief of Police Edwin Roessler issued a press release for the dashcam video. While Fairfax officers weren’t involved in Ghaisar’s shooting, they did assist the U.S. Park Police in chasing Ghaisar’s vehicle. Roessler said he was releasing the video as a “matter of transparency to all in our community, especially the Ghaisar family.” He added he was confident in the FBI’s investigation.
U.S Park Police say they pursued Ghaisar’s vehicle after his SUV was involved in a collision on southbound George Washington Memorial Parkway at Slaters Lane in Alexandria, Virginia. Ghaisar reportedly was hit by an Uber driver in a Toyota Corolla before driving off. The Uber driver told FOX 5 that he and his passenger got Ghaisar’s license plate tag and called police. The Uber driver and his passenger did not report any injuries. The Uber driver was ticketed for failing to maintain proper control, according to the police report HuffPost obtained.
Fairfax Police later joined U.S. Park Police in their pursuit of Ghaisar, which initially began around 7:30 p.m. EST. Ghaisar is seen in the video being stopped twice by U.S. Park Police before coming to a full stop the third time at Fort Hunt and Alexandria. During the previous stops, police are seen pulling up alongside Ghaisar’s car, and drawing their weapons. Ghaisar’s family has speculated that the officer’s weapons frightened Ghaisar and caused him to drive off again.
The video “shows the senseless killing of a young man at the hands of those charged” with protecting the public, said Roy Austin Jr., an attorney for the family who previously served in the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division before joining former President Barack Obama’s White House.
“Bijan Ghaisar was repeatedly threatened by over-aggressive and out-of-control law enforcement officers, after he drove away from a minor traffic incident in which he was the victim and in which there was little property damage and no known injuries,” Austin said in a Wednesday statement. “No one was even close to being in harm’s way until a pair of U.S. Park Police officers repeatedly shot Bijan at close range as he sat, unarmed, in his Jeep on a residential street. We don’t know why the U.S. Park Police officers shot Bijan multiple times, or whether those officers are still patrolling the area’s parkways. What we do know is that justice demands that those responsible for taking Bijan’s life answer for this illegal and unconstitutional killing.”
Ghaisar’s family and friends want to know how a minor fender bender escalated into a police chase that ultimately ended in the young man’s death. Ghaisar graduated from Virginia Commonwealth University in 2015 and worked for his father’s firm Caesar & Associates in McLean, Virginia. He was a member of the Pi Kappa Alpha fraternity.
Friends and family who knew Ghaisar described him as being very upbeat and positive and as an avid New England Patriots fan. A first-generation Iranian-American, Ghaisar and sister were born in Virginia. His parents immigrated to the United States decades ago.
“I believe that the people who shot and killed Bijan should be held accountable. Doesn’t matter if they are police officers or civilians. Once you kill someone in this heinous way, you should be held accountable and that’s what I want to see,” said Kelly Ghaisar. “This whole thing, it’s such an out of body experience ... but we are trying to cope because we want to get justice for Bijan. It’s what drives us to get out of bed and do something.”
Abdelaziz reported from New York, Reilly reported from Washington.