Chuck Grassley

United States Senator from Iowa

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Grassley, Warner Decry Opaque, Drawn-Out Review of Ghaisar Case

Jun 18, 2019
WASHINGTON – Senators Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and Mark Warner (D-Va.) today called on federal investigators to improve transparency surrounding their review of the fatal shooting of Bijan Ghaisar by U.S. Park Police in 2017. In letters to the FBI and National Park Service, the senators are requesting an update of the investigation as well as the U.S. Park Police’s policies regarding the use of force.
 
In the letter to the FBI, the senators expressed frustration that previous inquiries have been ignored. The lack of transparency and cooperation have forced Ghaisar’s family to seek information via Freedom of Information Act requests to obtain basic details about a shooting that occurred 19 months ago.
 
“The FBI has failed to provide information on this investigation, which has been ongoing since November 2017, to us, our colleagues, or the public.  The FBI’s slow pace and lack of transparency are weakening the trust between law enforcement and the communities they serve,” the senators wrote to the FBI.
 
Grassley first sought information on the FBI’s investigation in December of 2018. The FBI responded without providing much information in March. Grassley again sought an update in March, but the FBI has failed to respond.
 
In the letter to the National Park Service, the senators pushed for additional transparency and cooperation to promote and improve the trust and accountability necessary for law enforcement to effectively serve their communities.
 
“As you know, our communities are safer when law enforcement and the people they protect can trust and hold each other accountable. Officer-involved shootings and the use of excessive force, which have led to criminal investigations and prosecutions, demonstrate that there is still work to do in order to strengthen police-community relations,’ the senators wrote to the National Park Service.
 
In January 2018, Warner, along with Senator Tim Kaine (D-Va.) and Representative Don Beyer (D-Va.), pushed the FBI for an update on the status of the FBI’s investigation into the Ghaisar shooting. That April, the FBI responded that it would not discuss an active investigation. Warner has also pressed the National Park Service regarding the circumstances under which U.S. Park Police officers engaged with Mr. Ghaisar, and has met with leaders from both the National Park Service and the FBI to encourage full transparency regarding this incident.
 
Grassley and Warner’s letter to the FBI is available HERE. Their letter to the National Park Service is available HERE.
 
June 18, 2019
 
The Honorable Christopher Wray
Director
Federal Bureau of Investigations
935 Pennsylvania Ave N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20535
 
Dear Director Wray:
 
We write today to once again request an update on the status of the Bijan Ghaisar investigation. The FBI has failed to provide information on this investigation, which has been ongoing since November 2017, to us, our colleagues, or the public.  The FBI’s slow pace and lack of transparency are weakening the trust between law enforcement and the communities they serve. 
 
 As you know, on November 17, 2017, two U.S. Park Service police officers shot and killed Bijan C. Ghaisar.[1] Three days after the shooting occurred, the FBI took over the investigation and has released virtually no information since.[2]  Family members and the press have instead relied on Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests to obtain simple details such as whether Mr. Ghaisar had a weapon when he was killed, which, according to one FOIA production, he did not.[3]  Fairfax County police, who assisted Park Service police in the pursuit, released video footage of the shooting in January 2018.[4]
 
The FBI’s silence in this case is not exclusive to public comments or communications with the family. Thus far, the FBI has refused to provide any meaningful information to either Senator Grassley or Senator Warner’s office despite several inquiries and multiple communications.  To date, the FBI has also not responded to Senator Grassley’s letter dated March 22, 2019, which asked the FBI to provide important information on the resources and personnel devoted to the Ghaisar investigation.[5]  After 18 months, in which the FBI has offered virtually no updates or information, this case must be resolved for the good of the Ghaisar family and the public.[6] 
 
Accordingly, please respond to Senator Grassley’s March 22, 2019 letter, and provide both our offices with an update on the status of the investigation by no later than July 2, 2019.  If you have any questions, please contact Dario Camacho of Senator Grassley’s staff at 202-224-3744 or Courtney Lam of Senator Warner’s staff at 202-224-2023.
 
Sincerely,
 
 
Charles E. Grassley   
United States Senator
 
Mark R. Warner
United States Senator
 

June 18, 2019
 
The Honorable Dan Smith
Acting Director
National Park Service
Department of the Interior
1849 C Street, NW
Washington, D.C., 20240
 
Dear Acting Director Smith: 
 
We are writing to request information from the National Park Service (NPS) and the United States Park Police (USPP) regarding updated policies on the use of force. We appreciate your February 2019 response to Senator Warner regarding strengthening police-community relations. As noted in the previous letter, police departments across the nation have been implementing new training and departmental policy changes and in particular, changes focusing on increasing transparency and accountability.[7] We appreciate that in your response, you provided resources including a 1998 General Order on the Use of Force, a 2016 in-service training update, and presentation slides on departmental plans and procedures.[8] However, we write to you today requesting further information on the agency’s most up-to-date use of force policies and its enforcement of those policies.
 
As you know, our communities are safer when law enforcement and the people they protect can trust and hold each other accountable. Officer-involved shootings and the use of excessive force, which have led to criminal investigations and prosecutions, demonstrate that there is still work to do in order to strengthen police-community relations. 
 
A 2016 study by the Use of Force Project found that policies requiring comprehensive use of force reporting and for law enforcement to exhaust all other means before using deadly force were associated with reduced officer-involved fatalities.[9] It is our hope that the National Park Service and the U.S. Park Police actively examine ways to update use of force policies and best practices, particularly following the fatal shooting by Park Police of Virginia resident Bijan Ghaisar, in Fairfax County, Virginia.
 
In order for us to better understand the current policies relating to the use of force, please respond to the following questions:
 
  1. Can you confirm that the 1998 General Order on the use of force policy is still in effect today? Have there been any updates or changes since then?
 
  1. What is USPP procedure for conducting internal investigations of police-involved shootings?
 
  1. Will USPP conduct an internal review of the officers’ conduct in Bijan Ghaisar case (outside of external investigations)? If not, please explain.
  1. Will USPP review its current pursuit policies?
  2. What is the current operational status of these officers?
  3. How long were/have they been on administrative leave?
  4. On what basis did USPP withhold their identity from the public for more than a year?
 
  1. In addition to responding to these questions, please provide a copy of the most current use of force policy, and a copy of the most current pursuit policy.
 
We appreciate the National Park Service’s willingness to take a close look at concerns regarding the use of force and look forward hearing back from you by July 2, 2019.  Should you have further questions please contact Dario Camacho in Senator Grassley’s office at 202-224-3744 or Courtney Lam in Senator Warner’s office at 202-224-2023.
 
Sincerely,
 
 
Mark R. Warner
United States Senator
 
Charles E. Grassley
United States Senator
 
-30-
 

[1] Tom Jackman, Video shows Park Police fired nine shots into Bijan Ghaisar’s Jeep at close range, killing him, The Washington Post (Jan. 24, 2018), available at https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/true-crime/wp/2018/01/24/video-shows-park-police-fired-nine-shots-into-bijan-ghaisars-jeep-at-close-range-killing-him/?utm_term=.5c1baf4f4a9d
[2] Tom Jackman, ‘Shame on you: Family of Bijan Ghaisar Marks a year of silence from feds after U.S. Park Police killing, The Washington Post (Nov. 17, 2018), available at https://www.washingtonpost.com/crime-law/2018/11/18/shame-you-family-bijan-ghaisar-marks-year-silence-feds-after-park-police-killing/?utm_term=.e391e52af005.
[3] Tom Jackman, Fairfax police: Bijan Ghaisar had no weapon when he was killed by Park Police, The Washington Post (Oct. 29 2018), available at https://www.washingtonpost.com/crime-law/2018/10/29/fairfax-police-bijan-ghaisar-had-no-weapon-when-killed-by-park-police/?utm_term=.9c50b9e65faf.
[4] Jackman, supra note 1.
[5] Letter from Charles E. Grassley, United States Senator, to Christopher Wray, Director, Federal Bureau of Investigations (on file with author).
[6] Editorial Board, It’s been 16 months since Park Police killed a man. Why is the FBI still silent, The Washington Post (Mar. 4, 2019), available at https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/its-been-16-months-since-park-police-killed-a-man-why-is-the-fbi-still-silent/2019/03/04/cd3b9ed4-3eb4-11e9-a0d3-1210e58a94cf_story.html?utm_term=.b0fd061ccb1e.
[7] Letter from Mark Warner, U.S. Senator, to Daniel Smith, Acting Director, National Park Service (Oct. 19, 2018) (on file with author).
[8] Letter from Daniel Smith, Deputy Director, Exercising the Authority of the Director, National Park Service, to Mark Warner, U.S. Senator (Feb. 15, 2019) (on file with author).
[9]“Police Use of Force Policy Analysis,” Use of Force Project, Campaign Zero. (September 20, 2016), available at:
http://static1.squarespace.com/static/56996151cbced68b170389f4/t/57e1b5cc2994ca4ac1d97700/1474409936835/Police+Use+of+Force+Report.pdf