WASHINGTON – U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) and Chuck Grassley (R-IA) pressed the Justice Department (DOJ) to provide details on specific reforms being implemented to avoid a repeat of its drawn-out and opaque investigation of U.S. Park Police’s fatal shooting of Bijan Ghaisar. Their request follows a recent briefing from DOJ on the missteps that resulted in a two-year review of the officers’ actions in which details leaked to the news media before being shared with Ghaisar’s family.
“We must work together to ensure future investigations are handled in a more transparent, expedient, and thoughtful manner, which is a critical component if we are to maintain the public’s trust in law enforcement and our institutions. Furthermore, in order to prevent leaks to the media, the Department must carefully review and strengthen the process by which it notifies family members of declination decisions,” the senators wrote in a letter to Attorney General William Barr.
In January of 2018, Warner, along with Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) and Rep. Don Beyer (D-Va.), pushed the FBI for an update on the status of the FBI’s investigation into the fatal 2017 shooting. In October of that year, Warner sent a letter to the head of the National Park Service (NPS) regarding the circumstances under which U.S. Park Police officers engaged with Mr. Ghaisar.
Grassley, then chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, contacted the FBI about the investigation in December of 2018. The FBI responded in March of 2019 with little information, provoking a follow-up letter from Grassley.
In June of 2019, Grassley and Warner decried the opaque and drawn-out nature of the review in letters to both the FBI and NPS. The FBI provided a brief response in August, leaving many questions unanswered. In October, NPS provided a partial response, which prompted a follow-up letter from Grassley and Warner in November inquiring about policy updates and related information. To date, the NPS has yet to respond to either Senator concerning this letter. In Senate Floor remarks today, Grassley called on the Park Police to prioritize its responses to Congressional inquiries on the Ghaisar case.
Following the recent conclusion of the FBI’s investigation, the senators pledged to seek greater transparency, and requested a briefing from DOJ, which was provided on February 25, 2020. During the briefing, senior officials expressed that Barr was in the process of instituting changes to ensure future investigations are handled in a more expedient and appropriate manner.
Full text of the senators’ letter follows:
March 13, 2020
VIA MAIL AND ELECTRONIC TRANSMISSION
The Honorable William P. Barr
U.S. Department of Justice
950 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20530
Dear Attorney General Barr:
We appreciate your recent attention to the concerns we have raised over the last two years around the Department of Justice’s (DOJ) and Federal Bureau of Investigation’s (FBI) handling of the Bijan Ghaisar investigation. During a recent briefing from DOJ, senior DOJ officials made references to several changes you are implementing to ensure future investigations will be handled in a more efficient and considerate manner. We write today to request more information on the specifics of these planned changes.
On November 17, 2017, Bijan Ghaisar was shot and killed by two U.S. Park Police officers while in his car and unarmed. The FBI subsequently investigated the deadly shooting for close to two years, and DOJ ultimately declined to prosecute the two Park Police officers. Throughout the entire investigation, we raised concerns over the lack of transparency, the length of the investigation, and DOJ’s overall treatment of the Ghaisar family, including how the Department communicated and shared information with the family.
We must work together to ensure future investigations are handled in a more transparent expedient, and thoughtful manner, which is a critical component if we are to maintain the public’s trust in law enforcement and our institutions. Furthermore, in order to prevent leaks to the media, the Department must carefully review and strengthen the process by which it notifies family members of declination decisions. In Bijan’s case, his family first heard about the Department’s decision not to file charges from a reporter seeking comment. This is completely unacceptable, and frankly embarrassing. The Department must take steps to prevent such callousness in the future. We look forward to learning more about the planned changes at DOJ and FBI to prevent future investigations from being handled in a similar manner.
Charles E. Grassley
United States Senator
Mark R. Warner
United States Senator