The Washington Post | Tom Jackman: The man who was shot by U.S. Park Police after a short chase into Fairfax County, Va., died Monday night after 10 days on life support, and the man’s family said he was unarmed when he was shot.
Bijan C. Ghaisar, 25, of McLean, Va., was an accountant for his father’s firm, and a graduate of Langley High School and Virginia Commonwealth University. Park Police said they pursued his Jeep sport-utility vehicle on the evening of Nov. 17 because it had been involved in a hit-and-run accident on the George Washington Memorial Parkway in Alexandria, Va., and the pursuit ended in the Fort Hunt area of Fairfax County.
Ghaisar’s family said in a statement released to The Washington Post that Ghaisar was shot three times in the head and suffered irreversible brain damage. A witness told The Post last week that she saw two officers approach the Jeep and open fire at close range near Fort Hunt Road and Alexandria Avenue. Authorities have not said why the officers fired.
Ghaisar’s family said he had no weapons in his vehicle. “The reason for the murder of our son has yet to be determined,” the family said, “though no reasoning could possibly justify the actions of the one or more Park Police officers involved in this unthinkable act.”
The Park Police initially handled the investigation of the shooting, but last week turned the case over to the FBI “in the interest of objectivity.” The FBI confirmed Ghaisar’s death Tuesday.
The names of the officers involved and the reason for the shooting, including details of the initial traffic accident and the final traffic stop, have not been released. It is also unclear whether one or both officers fired, and whether the U.S. attorney or officials at Main Justice will rule on whether the shooting was justifiable. Park Police officers have jurisdiction in the Northern Virginia counties outside of Washington, not just parks territory, under Virginia law.
The family’s statement said that Ghaisar, “a first-generation, American-born citizen of Iranian heritage, was peaceful and avidly anti-violence. He was unarmed. He presented no threat to anyone.”
Negeen Ghaisar, Ghaisar’s older sister, said the family has been given no information about any aspect of the incident, from the reported hit-and-run to the shooting. “Nothing,” she said.
The shooting occurred in the district of Rep. Don Beyer (D), who said Tuesday that “The death of Bijan Ghaisar has been shrouded in an unacceptable level of opacity. While I recognize that the matter is subject to an ongoing investigation, the public, particularly his family and friends, deserve to know what happened here, and I will continue pressing the Park Police and the FBI until we get those answers.”
The family’s statement expressed their hope that the FBI investigation “will uncover what happened and permit justice for our son.” The shooting apparently was captured on in-car video by two Fairfax County police officers who were following the Park Police officers, and has been turned over to the FBI. The Park Police do not have in-car or body-worn cameras, a spokesman said.
Ghaisar was born at Fairfax Hospital, attended Great Falls Elementary School, Cooper Middle School, then played lacrosse at Langley High and graduated in 2010. His sister said he was very popular there and was voted “Most Adorably Clueless” by his class. He attended the University of Alabama for one year, then transferred to Virginia Commonwealth University where he was a member of the Pi Kappa Alpha fraternity and graduated in 2015 with a bachelor’s degree in accounting. He worked with his father, James C. Ghaisar, at the accounting firm Caesar & Associates in McLean.
A massive outpouring of grief erupted on Facebook Tuesday from dozens of friends after Ghaisar’s name was made public. “Bijan was one of the kindest, most caring people I have ever met…he was always laughing and smiling…One of the loveliest guys I have had the privilege of knowing” went many of the comments. “My heart is completely broken for the Ghaisar family.”
Ghaisar was a sports fan who was “obsessed” with the New England Patriots and attended many Washington Wizards games, his sister said. The youngest of two children, his parents immigrated to America decades ago, Negeen Ghaisar said. Ghaisar’s grandfather was a police chief in Iran and “we had a lot of respect for police officers. Bij definitely did. We’re all very patriotic people in my family. We always believed in the system.”
With the case in the hands of federal authorities, a decision on charges and the release of information about the case may take some time. After a Fairfax County police officer shot an unarmed man, John Geer, in August 2013, the case was turned over to federal authorities in January 2014. But even with a grand jury involved and the release of police files to the Geer family, officials at Main Justice and the U.S. attorney’s office in Alexandria did not make any moves on the case before Fairfax Commonwealth’s Attorney Raymond Morrogh empaneled a special grand jury in July 2015 and indicted the officer for murder, almost two years after the shooting.
Negeen Ghaisar said that members of the Park Police and FBI, while revealing nothing about the case, “have all been very kind to us. I’m hoping that they will be able to bring justice for Bij.” She said her brother was “very upbeat, full of positivity. He had the biggest laugh, the biggest smile, he’s the best person I’ve ever known. He leaves an impression on everyone.”
The known details of the case are slim. Park Police said that a hit-and-run accident occurred at GW Parkway and Slaters Lane about 7:30 p.m. on Nov. 17. A lookout for the Jeep was broadcast, and a Park Police officer soon spotted the vehicle heading south on the parkway, and pursued it at a speed of 59 miles per hour, according to radio transmissions captured by Broadcastify. A Fairfax County officer then followed the pursuit, according to the police radio transmissions.
Park Police declined to specify the route of the pursuit, but it ended 11 minutes later with Ghaisar’s Jeep on the side of Alexandria Avenue at Fort Hunt Road, witnesses said. At 7:41 p.m., the Fairfax officer radioed, “We’re at Fort Hunt and Alexandria roads. The Park Police are firing shots.” What sounds like gunshots can be heard in the background. The Fairfax officer called for an ambulance a moment later.
Ghaisar was on life support until he died Monday night at Inova Fairfax Hospital, 10 days after the shooting. Ghaisar was born at the same hospital, his family said. Their full statement is below: