FALLS CHURCH, Va. (AP) — County prosecutors are seeking charges against two U.S. Park Police officers who killed an unarmed motorist after a chase on a northern Virginia highway two years ago.
The move by Fairfax County prosecutors comes about a month after the D.C. U.S. Attorney’s Office announced it wouldn’t file federal criminal charges against officers Alejandro Amaya and Lucas Vinyard in the death of Bijan Ghaisar, The Washington Post reports. Federal prosecutors said then that their decision didn’t prohibit other agencies from investigating the case. Park Police have yet to launch an internal investigation and are waiting to see if Fairfax County files criminal charges, according to the newspaper.
Fairfax grand juries typically hear cases on the third Monday of each month, and this week’s session was apparently extended to Wednesday and then abruptly canceled. The grand jury was called off Tuesday night, Fairfax Chief Deputy Commonwealth’s Attorney Casey M. Lingan told a judge on Wednesday. He said the case was delayed because D.C. U.S. Attorney Jessie K. Liu has yet to say whether FBI agents can testify in the case, as per required by the Department of Justice.
Roy L. Austin Jr., an attorney for the Ghaisar family, said Morrogh’s office informed him Wednesday that it wasn’t able to present the case to the grand jury because “the U.S. attorney in D.C. refused to clear an FBI agent to testify.”
Federal prosecutors aren’t blocking the agents from testifying, said Kadia Koroma, a D.C. U.S. attorney spokeswoman. She said the testimony approval sought by the county prosecutors can take weeks. But county’s top prosecutors only has two weeks left in office. Lingan is leaving office this month along with Fairfax Commonwealth’s Attorney Raymond F. Morrogh, who leaves office Dec. 31. Morrogh is being replaced by Steve Descano, who won the seat in November. Descano said he couldn’t discuss the case’s new developments or how he might handle it in January.
Authorities have said Amaya and Vinyard shot at the 25-year-old Ghaisar in November 2017 after he left the crash scene in which he was rear-ended and led authorities on a stop-and-go chase. He was shot once in the right wrist and four times in the head, WTOP-FM reports, citing his family. He died days later.
The officers were soon put on paid administrative duty, where they’ve remained ever since. Details about the case first came to light when Fairfax County police, who played a supporting role in the chase, released related dash camera video in January 2018. Federal police don’t have in-car or body-worn camera, according to the newspaper.
The officers’ lawyers didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment Wednesday. The D.C. U.S. attorney hasn’t publicly commented on the case aside from a November statement that said the Justice Department couldn’t prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the officers willfully violated the law when they shot Ghaisar.
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