Two U.S. Park Police officers stood within close range of Bijan Ghaisar as he sat behind the wheel of his stopped Jeep Grand Cherokee, then fired nine shots into his vehicle as it slowly veered into a ditch away from the officers, a video recording of the Nov. 17 incident released Wednesday shows.
The video also captures two earlier encounters in which Ghaisar pulls to the side of the road, the two Park Police officers run to his car and one points a gun directly at Ghaisar, and then Ghaisar drives away. But in the moments before he was repeatedly shot by both officers, there does not appear to be any interaction with or provocation by Ghaisar, whose window remained closed, though his Jeep begins to move forward after stopping, sparking the first set of five shots. When the Jeep drifts forward again, the officers fire two more times at close range. When it drifts again, the officers fire a final two shots, the video shows.
Ghaisar’s lawyers said medical records now show he was shot four times in the head, not three as previously reported, and once in the wrist. The lawyers said he was unarmed, and the video released Wednesday did not indicate that he wielded a weapon. He died ten days later.
Bijan Ghaisar in April 2015. (Sima Marvastian)
The incident was recorded by a Fairfax County police officer who followed the Park Police officers from the George Washington Memorial Parkway into the Fort Hunt area of Fairfax County. The Park Police have not identified the officers or explained why they shot Ghaisar, and their faces have been blurred in the video. They remain on administrative leave, Park Police Sgt. James Dingeldein said.
The FBI is investigating the shooting but has refused to release any information about the case. So Fairfax police Chief Edwin C. Roessler Jr. took the step of releasing the video publicly Wednesday, after pushing federal authorities to let the Ghaisar family watch it, which they did on Sunday. Roessler said in Decemberthat he had provided the video to the FBI, but that they should release it as soon as possible, in the interests of transparency and aiding the victim’s family, who live in McLean, Va.
[Family and friends baffled: How did a fun-loving, gun-hating, sports-crazy Buddhist wind up shot by police?]
“This disturbing video shows the senseless killing of a young man at the hands of those charged with protecting public safety,” family attorneys Roy L. Austin Jr. and Thomas Connolly said in a statement Wednesday. “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.”
The incident began with a fender-bender in Alexandria City which apparently happened at about 7:27 p.m. on Nov. 17, not 7:30 p.m. as the Park Police reported, according to Arlington communications officials who received the first 911 call. Arlington declined to release a recording of the call, and its call-takers likely forwarded it to the Park Police, who have jurisdiction over the George Washington parkway.
The rear-end collision happened on the southbound parkway south of Marina Drive, according to a Park Police crash report obtained by The Post. A male Uber driver with a female passenger reported that they were driving behind Ghaisar’s green Grand Cherokee when it suddenly stopped in the left lane, and the Uber driver’s Toyota Corolla struck the rear of the Cherokee, the report stated. The driver told Fox 5’s Paul Wagner that Ghaisar made no eye contact or gestures before driving off.
[Park Police shooting victim was rear-ended by another car at start of incident, then fled, report says]
A lookout was broadcast for Ghaisar’s Jeep, which had “BIJAN” as its license plate, Park Police said in November. The Jeep was then spotted on the Fairfax County stretch of the parkway south of Alexandria, and the two-man Park Police patrol car began following it with lights and siren on, according to radio transmissions by one of the officers captured by the online service Broadcastify.
Bijan Ghaisar’s Jeep Grand Cherokee rests in a ditch after he was shot by two U.S. Park Police officers while sitting behind the wheel on Nov. 17. (Freddy Wheeler/ABC 7)
The video begins as the pursuit zips past a Fairfax County officer who is facing the parkway at the Tulane Drive exit, and the Fairfax officer radioed that he was joining in at 7:38 p.m. Seconds later, Ghaisar’s Jeep pulls over. The marked Park Police patrol car pulls alongside the Jeep, and two Park Police officers leap from the car and run to the Jeep with their guns drawn, the video shows. One points his gun directly at Ghaisar’s head, the video shows.
In Virginia, leaving the scene of a traffic accident, regardless of who is at fault, is a Class 5 felony if there are injuries or property damage of more than $1,000. Police involved in “felony traffic stops” often are trained to approach such cars with their weapons drawn.
But Ghaisar drives off. One of the officers slams his gun into the left rear passenger window, the video shows, seemingly in frustration. The Fairfax officer pulls out to follow Ghaisar’s Jeep, but the Park Police car soon passes the Fairfax officer and pulls in behind Ghaisar again.
At 7:40 p.m., according to the video’s time stamp, Ghaisar pulls off the parkway at the West Boulevard Drive exit on to a grassy spot. The Park Police park slightly in front of Ghaisar’s Jeep, run to his window with their guns drawn, and again Ghaisar drives off. No one knows why Ghaisar, who had no criminal record and only minor traffic tickets, would elude the police twice.
The exit to West Boulevard Drive from southbound George Washington Memorial Parkway, at the rear of this picture. A police video shows that Bijan Ghaisar pulled off the parkway into the grassy area in the left of this picture, then fled when officers approached on Nov. 17, 2017. (Tom Jackman/The Washington Post)
Ghaisar drove from West Boulevard Drive a short distance to Alexandria Avenue, then headed toward Fort Hunt Drive with the Park Police and Fairfax cars behind him. At the intersection with Fort Hunt, he stopped at the stop sign, in his lane. The video shows the Park Police car pull completely in front of him to block him from driving off.
As the two officers emerge from in front of Ghaisar’s Jeep, the Fairfax police video shows the Jeep start to roll slightly forward to the right. One shot is heard, then four more shots in rapid succession. Neither officer is in front of the Jeep in the video.
The Jeep begins to drift again, and two more shots are fired. The Jeep stops. The officers move closer, and the Jeep again begins rolling toward the ditch on the side of Alexandria Avenue, where there is no curb or sidewalk, as if Ghaisar’s foot is off the brake. The officers fire two more shots at close range, the video shows. The Jeep continues toward the ditch, and pitches slightly to its side onto the stop sign.
The tape is then stopped, though there is likely additional footage of other officers arriving and then paramedics to treat Ghaisar. An ambulance from Alexandria arrived 12 minutes after the shooting, Fairfax fire and rescue records show.
The Virginia medical examiner’s office declined to release a cause and manner of Ghaisar’s death. A spokeswoman said that the U.S. attorney’s office in Washington had made a written request to withhold the release of the information because of a pending investigation. The U.S. attorney’s office in Washington is overseeing the investigation, after the U.S. attorney’s office in Alexandria was recused from the case, along with the civil rights division of the Justice Department.
The Park Police did not immediately comment on the video. The department also has refused to release copies of its policies on pursuing vehicles and use of force, though Dingeldein said the department was planning to do so.
The Ghaisar family is planning a protest outside the Department of Interior offices in Washington on Friday at 6 p.m., pushing for answers and justice for their son.
Roessler said he released the tape “As a matter of transparency to all in our community, especially the Ghaisar family.” He said in a statement that “The video does not provide all the answers. However, we should all have confidence in the FBI’s investigation of this matter as I know it will be thorough, objective and professional.”
“No one was even close to being in harm’s way,” said Austin and Connolly, the Ghaisar family’s attorneys, “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.”
The lawyers added that, “The family is grateful to Fairfax County Police Chief Edwin Roessler for all he has done to ensure the appropriate amount of transparency throughout this process.”
More on the death of Bijan Ghaisar:
Nov. 18: Man shot by US Park Police in critical condition
Nov. 28: Man shot by U.S. Park Police dies, was unarmed, family says