U.S. Park Police Officers Alejandro Amaya and Lucas Vinyard surrendered at the Fairfax County jail early Monday on warrants charging them with involuntary manslaughter and reckless use of a firearm in the 2017 slaying of unarmed motorist Bijan Ghaisar.
Both officers were booked into the jail and appeared in green jumpsuits by videoconference for their arraignment later Monday morning before Fairfax Circuit Judge Richard E. Gardiner. He allowed both to be released on a $10,000 personal recognizance bond, meaning they did not have to pay to be let go but will owe $10,000 if they fail to appear for court.
Gardiner also set several conditions for the officers’ release. He ordered that they not leave Virginia, that they not exercise police powers, and that they not possess firearms. The video arraignments were brief, and the officers did not speak other than to acknowledge that they could hear the judge.
Amaya, 41, and Vinyard, 39, are charged in the Nov. 17, 2017, fatal shooting of Ghaisar, 25, at the end of a pursuit that began on the George Washington Memorial Parkway and ended at an intersection in the Fort Hunt neighborhood of Fairfax. They were not required to enter a plea Monday.
When the FBI investigated the shooting from 2017 until November 2019, both officers provided statements saying that they fired at Ghaisar because they believed he was driving his Jeep Grand Cherokee at Amaya and that his erratic behavior — he had driven away from the officers twice during previous stops — endangered the community.
Much of the episode was captured on video recorded by an in-car camera from a Fairfax County police lieutenant who followed the marked Park Police sport-utility vehicle along the parkway and then onto Alexandria Avenue in Fort Hunt. The video appears to show Amaya and Vinyard firing into Ghaisar’s Jeep as Ghaisar slowly pulls away from them.
After the FBI investigated for two years, the Justice Department decided not to file federal criminal civil rights charges against Amaya and Vinyard. Fairfax Commonwealth’s Attorney Steve T. Descano picked up the case in January and asked the Fairfax court to impanel a special grand jury in August, and the grand jury met three times before issuing indictments against both officers last week.
Warrants were issued for the two officers, Descano said. Vinyard showed up at the Fairfax jail at 3:33 a.m., and Amaya appeared at 3:47 a.m., Fairfax sheriff’s spokeswoman Andrea Ceisler said. They were kept in custody until the video arraignment. A status hearing was set for Nov. 23, though Descano said he expects that the officers will file a motion to move the case to federal court because they are federal officers.
In federal court, the officers are expected to invoke the U.S. Constitution’s supremacy clause to seek to dismiss the case. Under the clause, federal law overrules state law, and some federal officers have been successful in arguing that they may not be prosecuted in state court if they reasonably believed their actions were “necessary and proper.” Descano has said he is prepared to fight any such effort and has sought the assistance of the office of Virginia Attorney General Mark R. Herring (D).
After the arraignments, a Park Police spokeswoman said Monday afternoon that Amaya and Vinyard’s law enforcement authority had been suspended, their service weapons taken and that both had been placed on administrative leave. She would not say when the actions were taken or whether the officers were still being paid. The Park Police previously said the officers had been on paid administrative duty since April 2018. The agency has said it would not begin its internal administrative investigation until the criminal case is resolved.
Attorney Daniel Crowley, who represented both officers in a civil suit filed by Ghaisar’s parents, entered his appearance for both officers in the Fairfax criminal case. He declined to say whether he would continue to represent them after Monday. Having one lawyer represent two criminal co-defendants is highly unusual. Crowley told the judge that Vinyard had his badge taken away, but he did not otherwise clarify Vinyard’s or Amaya’s job status and declined to comment after the hearing.
This story has been updated to include new information about the officers’ employment status.