Virginia AG ends effort to prosecute Park Police officers
FALLS CHURCH, Va. (AP) — Virginia Attorney General Jason Miyares has dropped an effort to prosecute two U.S. Park Police officers who fatally shot an unarmed motorist back in 2017.
The Attorney General’s Office filed a motion Friday with the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond withdrawing the appeal in the shooting of Bijan Ghaisar, 25, of McLean.
Miyares’ decision ends a nearly five-year legal saga in which Ghaisar’s family, police reform advocates and some members of Congress sought to see officers Lucas Vinyard and Alejandro Amaya face criminal charges for shooting Ghaisar after a stop-and-go chase on the George Washington Memorial Parkway in November 2017.
The FBI investigated the shooting for two years, but federal prosecutors ultimately opted against filing charges.
At that point, Fairfax County Commonwealth’s Attorney Steve Descano, who had recently been elected on a police accountability platform, filed manslaughter charges against the officers in state court. Descano was supported by then-Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring, a Democrat.
The manslaughter charges set off a tug-of-war between state and federal officials over who had jurisdiction. The police officers’ lawyers successfully had the case removed to federal court.
Last year, U.S. District Court Judge Claude Hilton in Alexandria dismissed the prosecution, ruling that the officers’ actions were “necessary and proper” in the context of the chase.
Herring and Descano appealed Hilton’s ruling in October, but Herring in November lost his re-election bid to Miyares, a Republican.
Miyares and Descano have feuded openly for months, with Miyares accusing Descano of being soft on crime and refusing to support police. Descano has accused Miyares of trying to meddle in local affairs and undermine him and other reform-minded prosecutors in northern Virginia.
In a statement, Miyares said and others in his office reviewed the evidence and ultimately concluded that Hilton’s ruling was correct and should not be appealed.
“I will not perpetuate the continued prosecution of two officers who were doing what they were trained to do under tremendously difficult circumstances,” he said.
At a press conference Saturday, Ghaisar’s mother, Kelly Ghaisar, said she is outraged and disgusted by the decision and holding out hope the appeals court will refuse to allow Miyares to drop the appeal.
“I am here to plead with anyone who can hear me — please do not dismiss this case,” she said.
State Sen. Scott Surovell, a Democrat who lives a few blocks from where Ghaisar has shot and who has supported the family’s effort to have the officers prosecuted, spoke at the press conference and said Miyares filed his notice late on a Friday to avoid calling attention to what he had done.
“As news of this gets out, people will be highly disturbed,” he said.
Descano said he’s “heartbroken” by the decision but holds out hope that U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland will reconsider the decision made during the Trump administration not to bring its own charges.
“For Attorney General Miyares to not even allow this case to be heard in the Fourth Circuit for purely political reasons is shameful – especially considering all of his rhetoric about supporting victims,” Descano said.
U.S. Rep. Don Beyer, D-Va., whose district encompasses the location of the chase and shootin, called Miyares’ decision “misguided” Saturday.
““Giving officers a get-out-of-jail-free card for a fatal shooting after a grand jury indictment for involuntary manslaughter and reckless use of a firearm cannot help but undermine trust in law enforcement in the community,” Beyer said in a statement. “This is not how you support the police.”
Ghaisar was fatally shot after authorities say he left the scene of an accident on the parkway, outside the nation’s capital, and led officers on a stop-and-go chase.
Dashcam video released by Fairfax County Police, which played a supporting role in the chase, shows the pursuit starting on the parkway, then continuing into a residential neighborhood. It shows the car driven by Ghaisar stopping twice during the chase, and officers approaching the car with guns drawn. In both cases, Ghaisar drives off.
At the third and final stop, the officers again approach with guns drawn, and Amaya stands in front of the driver’s door. When the car starts to move, Amaya opens fire. Seconds later, when the car begins moving again, both Amaya and Vinyard fire multiple shots.
Miyares’ decision ends the criminal prosecution, but Ghaisar’s family has filed a civil suit that has been on hold while a criminal case was being pursued.
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