Video: Police fire up to 9 times, killing stopped motorist

AP News
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Posted: Jan 24, 2018 5:15 PM
Video: Police fire up to 9 times, killing stopped motorist

McLEAN, Va. (AP) — A dashboard video released Wednesday shows national park police in Virginia firing their weapons up to nine times at a car they had stopped after a four-minute, stop-and-go chase, killing an apparently unarmed motorist.

Lawyers for the family of the dead motorist, 25-year-old Bijan Ghaisar, said the video provides clear evidence police overreacted.

"No one was even close to being in harm's way 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," lawyers for Ghaisar's family said in a statement Wednesday after the video was made public.

Ghaisar, of McLean, died after the Nov. 17 chase, in which he was shot by U.S. Park Police. Authorities say Ghaisar fled after being involved in a crash on the George Washington Parkway. The FBI is now investigating the shooting.

Fairfax County Police Chief Edwin Roessler said Wednesday he released the video Wednesday in an effort at transparency.

The four-minute nighttime video shows a chase beginning on the parkway a few miles south of the nation's capital, then turning into a residential neighborhood. It shows the car driven by Ghaisar stopping twice during the chase, and officers approaching the car with guns drawn. In both cases, Ghaisar drives off.

At the third and final stop, officers with guns drawn approach the car at the driver side door. When the car starts to move again, five gunshots are heard. The car starts to drift into a ditch, and two more sets of two gunshots are heard.

"The video does not provide all the answers," Roessler said in a statement Wednesday accompanying the video's release. "However, we should all have confidence in the FBI's investigation of this matter as I know it will be thorough, objective and professional."

The Ghaisar family's lawyers, Roy Austin and Thomas Connolly, said the video depicts "the senseless killing of a young man at the hands of those charged with protecting public safety."

"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 lawyers said.

In an interview, Austin said he suspects Ghaisar, who has no criminal record, drove off after stopping because he was spooked by the very first stop initiated by Park Police, in which police cut him off in the middle of the highway and approached with guns drawn, yanking at his front door.

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"A lot of people's reactions would be, 'I am in danger here," Austin said.

The aggressive response by police is all the more puzzling, Austin said, because the crash that precipitated the chase was little more than a fender-bender in which Ghaisar's car was rear-ended by an Uber driver, according to an accident report.

Roessler said in December that his department, which played a backup role in the chase, had in-car video of the shooting. He urged the FBI at the time to release video as soon as possible. But he was reluctant to immediately release the video himself out of deference to the FBI's investigation.

Sen. Tim Kaine, a Democrat from Virginia, said Wednesday after reviewing the video that he wants the FBI to provide more details on the circumstances surrounding the shooting.

FBI spokeswoman Kadia Koroma declined to comment Wednesday on the release of the video or on the investigation itself.

U.S. Park Police Chief Robert MacLean said in a statement that he recognizes "the desire for more information and details surrounding the investigation."

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Associated Press writer Eric Tucker in Washington contributed to this report.