Note: This post has been updated to add a comment from Uber.
A Virginia man who was fatally shot by U.S. Park Police in November first caught the attention of police when he fled the scene of a fender bender in which no one was injured, according to a police report obtained by The Washington Post.
Bijan Ghaisar was driving his green 2013 Jeep Grand Cherokee south on the George Washington Memorial Parkway in Alexandria the evening of Nov. 17, when he suddenly stopped in the left lane, according to the report. A male Uber driver, driving a 2009 Toyota Corolla with a female passenger in the back, slammed into the back of the Jeep.
There’s no indication that the two drivers had any interaction after the crash. For an unknown reason, the Jeep drove away, the report by the U.S. Park Police states.
A lookout was broadcast for Ghaisar’s Jeep, with the vanity plate “BIJAN” on the back, Park Police said. A Park Police officer soon spotted the Jeep on the parkway, heading south into Fairfax County, and began pursuing it with emergency lights and siren on, a recording of the officer’s transmissions shows. There is no indication why the police chased a vehicle from a noninjury fender bender with such urgency, and a Park Police spokesman declined to comment Thursday. The pursuing officer reported that the vehicles were traveling 59 miles per hour on the southern end of the parkway.
Then at 7:41 p.m., after Ghaisar pulled off the parkway and into a residential neighborhood in the Fort Hunt area, two Park Police officers shot him repeatedly as he sat behind the wheel of his Jeep. Ghaisar was unarmed and struck three times in the head, his family said. He died 10 days later.
Neither the Park Police nor the FBI, which is investigating the shooting, have released any information about why the officers fired at Ghaisar or who they are.
The report provides the first details about the outset of an incident which lasted just 10 minutes and ended in the death of the 25-year-old accountant from McLean, Va. Ghaisar’s family and friends said he liked to drive the GW Parkway to relax on the scenic highway. But it’s still unclear why he would drive off from a minor fender bender, sparking the pursuit that ended in an also unexplained hail of gunfire.
The Park Police have refused to release their policies on pursuing vehicles and on use of force. The federal department declined an oral request for the policies and has not responded to written Freedom of Information Act requests filed in late November and early December. Many police departments have policies that do not allow for pursuit of vehicles which were not involved in serious crime or don’t pose an immediate danger.
Sgt. James Dingeldein said he could not discuss any events related to the shooting while it was under investigation by the FBI. He said the officer who wrote the report was a patrol officer and not from their crash investigation unit. He said drivers who leave the scene of an accident can be charged, but he would not address the specifics of Ghaisar’s case.
Michael Shalton, the chairman of the Fraternal Order of Police chapter which represents Park Police officers, did not respond to numerous requests for comment.
Roy Austin, a lawyer for the Ghaisar family, reviewed the report and said, “It is even more clear that the killing of Bijan Ghaisar was completely unnecessary. He was the victim of a rear-end collision and ends up being shot and killed by the police. There is something very wrong about the shooting.”
The family has not taken any legal action, pending the outcome of the FBI investigation, but have hired Austin, a former Justice Department civil rights official in the Obama administration, and Thomas Connolly, a veteran criminal defense attorney and former federal prosecutor.
After the shooting, the Park Police provided a basic outline of events, and their detectives handled the investigation for three days, before asking the FBI to take over. Under Virginia law, the Park Police have legal jurisdiction in all of Fairfax and several other Northern Virginia counties, so Fairfax County police deferred to them from the start.
FBI spokeswoman Kadia Koroma said she had no update on the investigation as it passed the two-month mark. “It’s an ongoing investigation,” she said. “Our investigations are long, detailed and methodical and I cannot speculate when the investigation will conclude.”
The FBI has a video recording of the shooting, thanks to Fairfax County police. A Fairfax County officer followed the Park Police officers with his in-car camera on and captured the shooting, Fairfax police Chief Edwin C. Roessler Jr. said. In early December, Roessler called on the FBI to release the video after it had completed its interviews of participants and witnesses. The video has not been released. Park Police officers do not have in-car cameras or body-worn cameras.
The Park Police report of the crash between Ghaisar and the Uber driver was written by Officer Anthony McSherry and was filed on Dec. 1, two weeks after the incident. It does not indicate how police were notified of the collision, whether a 911 call was made or whether McSherry or another officer discovered it while on patrol. Alexandria communications officials said they had no record of a 911 call related to the collision, which would have been forwarded to Park Police, who have jurisdiction over the GW Parkway.
McSherry’s report states that the Jeep and the Corolla were both headed south on the GW Parkway, north of Slaters Lane, at 7:31 p.m. when “Vehicle #1,” Ghaisar’s Jeep, “stopped in the roadway abruptly.” The Corolla “collided into the rear of Vehicle #1. The operator of Vehicle #1 then left the scene.” The Uber driver had pulled over to the off-ramp for Slaters Lane when McSherry arrived, according to a diagram he drew.
Damage to Vehicle #1 was unknown, McSherry wrote, and damage to Vehicle #2 was in the front end. Photographs of Ghaisar’s Jeep taken by ABC 7 photographer Freddy Wheeler shortly after the shooting show very little damage to the rear end, possibly some damage on the lower left side where a lower-riding Corolla would have contacted a high-riding Grand Cherokee.
The 32-year-old Uber driver, whose name was redacted from the report provided to The Washington Post, was given a citation for failure to maintain proper control of his vehicle. His 29-year-old passenger’s name was also redacted from the report. The driver is not identified as working for Uber in the report, but three individuals close to the investigation confirmed that he was doing so and had a passenger, who corroborated the driver’s account to police, according to the report. An Uber spokeswoman said Thursday that a driver and passenger had both reported an accident on the parkway in Alexandria on that date and time, and both described it as a hit-and-run, with no other details.
The GW Parkway becomes Washington Street in Old Town Alexandria, and then back to the Parkway again as it crosses over into Fairfax County. At about 7:36 p.m., a Park Police officer notified Fairfax police that he was in pursuit of the Jeep on the Parkway, according to an archived recording of Fairfax police transmissions by the Internet site Broadcastify. His siren is audible. A minute later, a Fairfax officer notifies the dispatchers that he is behind the Park Police officer.
The subsequent pursuit is not noted in McSherry’s crash report, nor is the fact that the driver of Vehicle #1 is deceased.
Ghaisar drove several miles down the Parkway with the two police cars behind him and exited at West Boulevard Drive, a witness told The Post. He stopped briefly on a grassy area at the exit, and one of the officers sprinted toward the Jeep, the witness said. But the Jeep suddenly sped away. The police cars resumed their pursuit.
Ghaisar pulled onto Alexandria Avenue, and at the intersection of Fort Hunt Road he pulled over again, another witness told The Post. That witness said two officers emerged from their car and began firing at Ghaisar. He survived for 10 days. He died on Nov. 27.
Ghaisar’s family said they have not received any information from the Park Police or the FBI about what happened or why. Both his family and friends said Ghaisar was notoriously bad with directions, but not a bad driver. None of his family or friends know why he was driving toward Alexandria, though his family speculates that he was on the GW Parkway to relax and was trying to turn around and head back north toward McLean, where he was scheduled to have dinner with his father at 8 p.m.
None of Ghaisar’s family or friends know why he would suddenly leave the scene of an accident. They also don’t know what actions he took 10 minutes later which caused him to be fatally shot. “We still want to know who the officers are,” Austin said. “Two months later, it does not make sense, in a police killing, that people don’t have a right to know who was involved. We want to know why, after a traffic stop, they felt it necessary to shoot and kill an unarmed man.”
More on the Bijan Ghaisar case:
Nov. 21: Silence again surrounds a police shooting in Fairfax County, this time by U.S. Park Police
Nov. 28: Man shot by U.S. Park Police dies, was unarmed, family says
Dec. 4: Fairfax police chief urges FBI to release video of Park Police shooting soon. The victim’s family wants to see it now.
Dec. 7: Friends, family honor Bijan Ghaisar, killed by U.S. Park Police, in Lincoln Memorial vigil
Jan. 17: Family and friends baffled: How did a fun-loving, gun-hating, sports-crazy Buddhist wind up shot by police?