A federal judge has ruled in favor of two U.S Park Police officers after they were charged by local Virginia prosecutors with felonies for fatally shooting a driver whose car lurched toward the officers after fleeing authorities several times.
The U.S. Justice Department had already declined to prosecute Officers Lucas Vinyard, 40, and Alejandro Amaya, 42, and Senior U.S. District Judge Claude Hilton's ruling Friday amounted to a rebuke of Fairfax County prosecutors for refusing to accept that the officers' conduct was justified and protected by the immunity police are afforded in such cases.
The officers shot Bijan Ghaisar, 25, an accountant, in 2017 after his car lurched toward one of them them as their guns were drawn. Evidence showed Ghaisar had driven away from an accident, and then was stopped by police three times during the chase, ignoring officers' orders each time, according to The Washington Post. Marijuana was found in his car and blood, the newspaper said.
Hilton concluded the officers were endangered by the driver, who "appeared intoxicated while continually engaging in extremely reckless behavior and unusual driving."
"Considering the circumstances, the officers were reasonable to fear for Officer Amaya's life and discharge their weapons when Ghaisar's Jeep lurched forward while Officer Amaya was standing in front of Ghaisar's vehicle," the judge ruled.
"The officers'decision to discharge their firearms was necessary and proper under the circumstances, and there is no evidence that the officers acted with malice, criminal intent, or any improper motivation," he added.
Prosecutors for the Virginia Attorney General's Office and Fairfax County vowed to appeal, and Ghaisar's family criticized the ruling.
"Today is another affirmation that the system is built to cover up wrongdoing by police in our country," the family said in a statement obtained by the newspaper.