FALLS CHURCH, Va. (AP) — A U.S. Park Police officer acted in self-defense when he and another officer fatally shot an unarmed motorist after a chase on a northern Virginia parkway, his lawyers say in a legal filing in a civil case.
Lawyers for Lucas Vinyard filed their first response Wednesday night in U.S. District Court in Alexandria to the accusations filed against him in a lawsuit. Vinyard is one of two officers being sued by the family of Bijan Ghaisar, a 25-year-old accountant from McLean.
Ghaisar died after being shot multiple times by Vinyard and fellow officer Alejandro Amaya in November 2017. Dashcam video released by local police shows Ghaisar leading officers on a four-minute, stop-and-go chase on the George Washington Parkway. Twice during the chase— which was precipitated by Ghaisar's involvement in a fender-bender — Ghaisar stops only to resume driving when officers approach with guns drawn.
The chase continued onto a side street, and officers again approached with guns drawn when Ghaisar stopped a third time. When Ghaisar again started to drive off and attempted to maneuver pas the officers, they fired nine shots, and the video shows Ghaisar's car slowly rolling into a ditch.
The answer filed Wednesday by Vinyard's lawyer says the officer acted in self-defense and Ghaisar's death resulted from his own illegal actions.
"If Mr. Ghaisar was injured and/or damaged as alleged in the Complaint, such injuries were the result of his own intentional, illegal, and/or otherwise wrongful conduct," the lawyers wrote, outlining one of 10 possible defenses the officers could pursue at trial.
The answer also states that Vinyard "acted in good faith and with the reasonable belief that his actions were lawful under the circumstances" and that he may enjoy qualified immunity for his actions.
Park Police and the FBI, which is investigating the shooting, have faced criticism from members of Congress, including Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, and Rep. Don Beyer, D-Va., for dragging their feet on the 18-month investigation and for a lack of transparency. Fairfax County Police released the dashcam video on their own after first asking the FBI to do so in a timely manner.
Ghaisar's family has argued for criminal charges to be filed against the officers. They have said Ghaisar was unarmed and posed no threat to the officers, and say the aggressive manner in which the officers initiated the chase left Ghaisar understandably fearful each time he stopped.
Earlier this month, one of Vinyard's lawyers said at a pretrial hearing in the civil case that he expected a resolution of the criminal investigation by this point. He suggested that the resolution would be favorable for the officers because he expected that government lawyers would agree to step in and defend the officers in the civil case, something they would be unlikely to do if they were at the same time pursuing serious criminal charges against the officers.
It's not clear if Vinyard's lawyers still expect a quick resolution to the criminal investigation. They did not return a call and email Thursday seeking comment.