A federal judge ruled Thursday that the lawsuit filed by the parents of Bijan C. Ghaisar, who was shot to death by two U.S. Park Police officers in 2017, will go to trial on Nov. 16, one day short of the three-year anniversary of the slaying.
But first, U.S. District Judge Claude M. Hilton will rule on the federal government’s motion to delay the civil case indefinitely until criminal proceedings, if any, are finished in Fairfax County.
Officers Lucas Vinyard, 38, and Alejandro Amaya, 40, pursued Ghaisar, 25, down the George Washington Memorial Parkway on Nov. 17, 2017, then fired 10 times into Ghaisar’s Jeep Grand Cherokee as he slowly pulled away from them, an in-car video shows. In 2018, Ghaisar’s family sued the officers and the Park Police. After two years, the Justice Department last November declined to file federal civil rights charges against the officers, who remain on paid administrative duty.
But Fairfax County prosecutors took up the case, and Commonwealth’s Attorney Steve Descano has said he is considering state criminal charges. So when Vinyard and Amaya sat down for depositions with the Ghaisars’ lawyers earlier this month, they refused to answer any questions about the episode, repeatedly invoking their Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination, the government said in its request to delay the case.
A deposition filed with the government’s request Wednesday also indicated that Vinyard provided a statement about the shooting to the FBI in July 2019, and that Amaya’s attorney provided a proffer of the event to federal prosecutors in August 2019. The cooperation by the officers had not previously been disclosed and details of the officers’ statements were not released.
Both sides also filed a joint stipulation of facts Thursday, which revealed that marijuana and a pipe were found inside Ghaisar’s Jeep the night of the shooting. Ghaisar’s lawyers have previously said that marijuana was found in Ghaisar’s system, but it could not be determined how recently it was ingested.
The stipulation also notes that both Amaya and Vinyard have been the subject of at least three unspecified complaints. Amaya made the news briefly in 2016 when he was accused of staking out cabdrivers to ticket them idling near Arlington National Cemetery.
Though Hilton set a date for the civil lawsuit, he also set a hearing for Aug. 28 on the government’s motion to delay the trial. The government’s civil lawyers noted that with Amaya and Vinyard declining to answer questions at trial, the judge would be required either to infer the officers were admitting liability by their silence, or rule on numerous Fifth Amendment issues as to what constitutes incrimination. Neither would get to the heart of the matter, government lawyers Kimere J. Kimball, Dennis C. Barghaan Jr. and Meghan Loftus wrote.
The government acknowledged the lengthy delay in the case, but said discovery is now complete and can be preserved until Fairfax decides whether to file criminal charges. Descano has not said when he might make a decision.
“Although there is an interest in expeditious resolution of civil matters,” the federal lawyers argued, “that interest gives way to the interest in full and fair proceedings in the criminal system. Furthermore, the public has interest in this case being decided on a full factual record — one in which the officers can testify about their decisions on November 17, 2017. Such interest is not served if this case proceeds without their testimony.”