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WASHINGTON — No one knows what was on Miriam Carey’s mind when the 34-year-old dental hygienist from Connecticut drove up to a White House barricade on a balmy and clear Thursday afternoon Oct. 3 before exiting the restricted area, resulting in a car chase and at least seven shots from police.
Police pursued the Infiniti driven by Carey, who had her 2-year-old daughter with her in the backseat. When she stopped her vehicle near a Senate office building, an unknown number of shots rang out – all fired by law enforcement – and the single mother was killed. Her infant daughter was uninjured.
Two-and-a-half months later, police have still not issued a report on exactly what happened in the incident that paralyzed Washington for a day. But legal experts from the left and right are now calling Carey’s death at the hands of police “murder.”
Renowned liberal journalist and First Amendment expert Nat Hentoff, a former board member of the American Civil Liberties Union, told WND he believes police murdered the unarmed young mother.
The famed civil libertarian said from all of the evidence he had seen in WND’s reports, which he called very thorough and easily corroborated, “[T]his is a classic case of police out of control and, therefore, guilty of plain murder.”
Hentoff called it an exceedingly important story because the case could have ominous implications for the entire country.
Someone must be held accountable for Carey’s death, Hentoff believes. Otherwise, it could set what he called a very damaging precedent.
“The evidence pointing against them, that they killed recklessly, is so strong,” he said, “that if there is not a thorough investigation by someone other than the police …”
Hentoff let the thought hang in the air, adding, “The problem is, I don’t trust the FBI anymore, or any of our other intelligence agencies.”
Hentoff isn’t alone in his assessment that police were lethally out of control on that day in early October.
WND asked constitutional law expert John Whitehead, president and founder of the nonprofit civil-liberties organization the Rutherford Institute: Do you think Miriam Carey was murdered? While cautioning that he would have to look at the matter carefully, he answered on the basis of what he has seen so far: “In my opinion, yes. I think it was what they call a ‘bad shot,’ yes.”
In fact, WND canvassed the opinions of several leading experts in civil liberties and law enforcement to comment on the Carey case, and four who agreed to comment for the record concluded the incident should have been handled differently and that the woman should not be dead.
Former Graham County, Ariz., Sheriff Richard Mack told WND, “Miriam Carey should have been arrested, not shot.”
Mack called it “sloppy” police work and saw “no justification whatsoever” for the use of deadly force against Carey.
Based on his experience in similar situations, Dan Bongino, a former Secret Service agent under three presidents including Barack Obama, said he understood the actions of law enforcement officers in a fast-moving and confusing situation and loathed to evaluate their decisions in hindsight.
But even he felt the situation, involving Secret Service agents at the White House, could have been handled better and doubted that those involved, or their superiors, would dispute that.
Saying the incident was absolutely not handled effectively, Bongino predicted it would lead to changes, including retraining and security modifications.
Law enforcement and civil-liberties experts
Nat Hentoff is one of the nation’s top authorities on civil liberties and the First Amendment. He was a columnist and staff writer with the Village Voice for 51 years, from 1957 until 2008, when he became a weekly columnist for WND. Hentoff is a senior fellow at the CATO Institute.
Dan Bongino was a Secret Service agent for 12 years, guarding Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama. He is the author of the New York Times bestseller “Life Inside the Bubble: Why a Top-Ranked Secret Service Agent Walked Away From It All,” published by WND books. Bongino is currently running for Congress in Maryland.
John W. Whitehead is an attorney, author and expert on constitutional law and human rights. He has filed numerous amicus briefs before the U.S. Supreme Court and been co-counsel in several landmark Supreme Court cases. He is the president of the Rutherford Institute, a nonprofit civil liberties and human rights organization he founded. Articles by Whitehead have been printed in the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, the Washington Post and USA Today. His most recent book is “A Government of Wolves: The Emerging American Police State.”
Richard Mack, former Sheriff of Graham County, Arizona, spent 20 years in law enforcement and the past 17 years as an activist and crusader for freedom. He has appeared at more than 120 tea-party rallies all across America and has authored five books regarding states’ rights, the oath of office and constitutional liberty. He won a landmark Supreme Court decision on the issue of states’ rights and local independence after filing a lawsuit against the Clinton administration to stop the gun control associated with the Brady Bill.
(The American Civil Liberties Union told WND, “Unfortunately, we don’t have anyone available to comment on this incident.”)
Seeing the initial news reports of the Oct. 3 shooting, many Americans came away with the impression that a mentally unstable and dangerous woman rammed a gate at the White House, sped away and was eventually shot by police because she could have posed a security threat to the nation’s capital.
But the official record and video recordings raise numerous questions about that account, and the major media have asked very few questions about the shooting death of Miriam Carey by police:
- Did she really ram a White House gate?
- Did she do anything illegal until police began pursuing her?
- Why didn’t police try to Taser her instead of shoot her?
- Why didn’t police shoot her tires instead of shooting into the car?
- If police feared she had an explosive device, why would they shoot at her?
- Was she really mentally unhinged, as claimed by some?
- Why did police shoot her at all?
Where the Carey case stands now
The investigation by the Washington, D.C., Metropolitan Police has not been released, almost two-and-a-half months after the incident. WND has sought to obtain the forensics report on the shooting by filing a Freedom of Information Act request but has yet to receive a reply.
However, the indisputable facts are that police shot and killed 34-year-old Miriam Carey after a car chase in which numerous shots were fired, and that her infant daughter, Erica, was in her vehicle.
According to the Metro Police report, uniformed Secret Service agents and U.S. Capitol Police officers fired the shots during the car chase and at the scene where Carey was killed.
WND reported from the scene of the shooting that there were immediately serious questions as to how Carey ended up dead.
Carey was initially portrayed in the media as a national security threat, but when that proved not to be true, she was characterized as mentally unstable.
WND interviewed the victim’s sister, Valarie Carey, and her attorney, Eric Sanders, who are both former New York City police officers.
Valarie Carey, a former police sergeant, took exception to the media’s description of her sister.
“The media tried to depict my sister as some kind of mentally ill person,” she said. “For some reason, that makes people think it was sort of OK that she was shot. She was not mentally ill. She had postpartum depression. If that’s a reason to kill a person, that’s a very sad lesson.”
Sanders declared, “I don’t care if she suffered from 15 mental conditions! And, by the way, police are trained to deal with those types of situations, too. So you can disregard that. We don’t know. The only thing we know is that the police pulled the trigger.”
The question, he said, is, “Why?”
Sanders has requested the Department of Justice launch a federal investigation into what happened and how the dental hygienist ended up dead.
Botched from the beginning
All four of the experts who spoke with WND agreed the incident was mishandled by law enforcement from the beginning, but it was also mishandled by the media.
However, the police report did not mention a White House gate, a barrier or any attempt to ram anything.
The affidavit described the location as “a vehicle checkpoint to the White House” and said the driver “refused to stop at the vehicle checkpoint and made a U-turn and began to flee.”
The report did say a Secret Service officer “attempted to block the vehicle with a bicycle rack, however, the vehicle pushed over the bicycle rack, knocking the officer to the ground.”
Bongino believes the problem actually originated almost 200 years ago because the South entrance to the White House, although secure, was designed in the early 1800s.
He thinks there will be “a serious remodel” of some of the security on the South side of the White House, following this incident. The former protector of the president didn’t want to divulge too much about security measures there, but said there did appear to be an access-control issue.
“She turned into a little pocket there, and anybody can turn in there,” he said. “She got caught up and sped off. You wouldn’t be able to do that at another secure government building. They use vehicle traps.”
Bongino had tremendous empathy for his former colleagues in the uniformed branch of the Secret Service and declined to second-guess their split-second decisions in a confusing situation.
Noting the unique nature of the White House, he pointed out how agents working up to 20-hour days are surrounded by threats.
The White House is a big target, he explained. The president is an even bigger target.
“When the president’s in the White House, it’s even worse,” he said. “You’re constantly on edge.”
Still, Bongino conceded that the authorities may have overreacted.
“The libertarian in me thinks this was a very dangerous incident for civil liberties,” he said. “The fact you could have, perhaps, a condition and an extremely bad day and wind up dead, of course, should bother all of us.”
A WND review of the known facts revealed police may have posed a greater threat to public safety than Carey did.
It appears she never violated any law until police began pursuing her car. Officers, on the other hand, fired numerous shots at her in a crowded public space near the White House, as the video below shows.
“What happened to this woman is an extraordinary example of how police have no limits when they get into this sort of situation,” maintained Hentoff.
Mack and Whitehead both strongly believe the police should have handled the car chase much differently, and that they ignored a number of non-lethal alternatives.
Bongino felt it wasn’t a black-and-white situation because, “When you watch that video … you see that car being whipped around … [I]t should be obvious to anyone watching that a car is a weapon like anything else,” said Bongino. “As a matter of fact, sometimes it’s even more dangerous a weapon than a firearm, especially when you don’t know who is behind the wheel.”
WND asked Whitehead, might the actions of the police have been warranted because of so-called high-value targets at the Capitol and the White House?
He said no, adding that he believes police overreacted by shooting at Carey when they could have employed an alternative. He wondered, why didn’t they just shoot her tires out?
“Or why not use non-lethal weapons?” he continued, “They’re stacked with them. Stop the car. She’s a female with a kid in the car,” Whitehead said. “If it turns out she’s crazy, you can take her down with a Taser. Or pepper spray. Do it properly.”
Mack said police missed an opportunity when they first had her car surrounded, which was precisely when they should have blocked her in with their vehicles.
Indeed, the video shot at the Garfield Monument shows police had that opportunity. Instead, two, perhaps even three, cruisers parked behind Carey’s car, rather than boxing her in on the passenger side.
Because officers did not surround Carey then and there, they left her a clear path to leave the scene. The audio on the video recorded police firing at least seven shots as she departed.
The former sheriff said firing those shots under those circumstances is against policy in most police agencies, but, "Regardless, Carey's action did not even come close to allowing police shooting at her."
The fact there was a child in the car further complicated the decision to shoot. The police report does not say whether officers saw the child in the car.
But the video shows five of the six officers who surrounded her vehicle on foot appeared to get an extremely close and clear look inside. It would seem difficult to believe that at least one of them did not see the toddler in the car seat.
Mack said they had to have seen that a child was in the car, making the need for restraint by the police even more necessary. Furthermore, he said the use of deadly force under those circumstances should have been absolutely forbidden.
"The police showed utter indifference for the safety of the baby and fired their guns without provocation," he concluded. "The decedent (Carey) did violate some traffic laws, but such does not give police justification for using lethal force."
Valarie Carey told WND, “As an officer, you have to ask yourself, ‘What is going on here?’ No one is firing a weapon at you, so why are you firing?"
Why did it happen?
So, why is Miriam Carey dead?
Many wonder why police did not simply use pepper spray or a Taser, or why they did anything at all when they caught up with Carey.
Valarie said, “Deadly force was not necessary,” adding, “They could have rammed the car or disabled the car. But in this incident, they used very, very poor judgment. And this is something those officers will have to live with.”
Attorney Eric Sanders wondered, “How do you shoot at a person who is unarmed, sitting in a car?"
He said the threat of a bomb in the car was even more reason to exercise caution, "because if there is a bomb in the car and you are shooting in the car, you are endangering everybody!”
The day after Sanders held a press conference announcing he was calling for the Justice Department to look into the death of Miriam Carey, the attorney was arrested.
The New York Post reported Sanders was arrested after a judge had decided the attorney had missed too many payments owed to a former employee.
When WND asked Sanders if he felt his arrest was an attempt to either silence or intimidate him, the attorney laughed aloud.
“Of course I think it was! I can’t prove it,” he said. “I loved the timing of it – the day after our press conference. Exactly one day after I said don’t trust the government.”
Sanders added, “I am clean. That’s the way I was as a cop. That’s the way I am as an attorney. I was a police officer in New York. I’ve never been arrested in my life. The questions is, why was I picked up?”
Shoot first, ask later
Hentoff and Whitehead both firmly believe the case is an example of a growing "shoot first, ask questions later" mentality spreading across the nation among law enforcement agencies. They argue it is directly related to a change in training and a militarization of police departments across the country.
Whitehead said the danger the officers created to public safety reminded him of a Sept. 14 incident when New York police officers fired three shots on a crowded Manhattan street near Times Square, missing the man they mistakenly believed had a weapon but hitting two bystanders.
(And that followed another one in August 2012, when New York police fired 16 shots and hit nine bystanders, outside one of the world's most popular tourist attractions, the Empire State Building, as a large crowd watched.)
Whitehead told WND the "shoot first, ask later" problem begins at police academies. He said a chief of police who teaches at academies informed him that rookies are learning a militarized version of law enforcement.
"They shoot when told to," said the attorney. "They're not acting like peace officers anymore. They're not questioning authority at all. They operate like an army. There's a mentality now that they're the bosses because they have the guns."
He said a range of psychological factors condition officers to act more like soldiers, from the militarized, black uniforms to the ubiquitous use of SWAT teams.
"All the federal agencies have SWAT teams now," said Whitehead. "As I show in my book, the Department of Education has SWAT teams. There have been SWAT team raids on people for overdue loans."
He said his book also documents all the "crazy examples of the strip searches and rectal exams on the streets."
Whitehead said he works with many police officers who tell him it has become a problem but they don't know what to do. One even told him he dropped out of the police academy because of what he called "the thug complex" they're teaching police.
"They're so 'code blue' ... 'We're a gang, we move together, and if something happens we don't rat on each other.'"
He believed the militarization of the police began in the 1980s, when the Department of Defense "began handing out all this equipment" such as MRAPs, or Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicles.
When WND asked if the equipment was introduced to fight rising crime, Whitehead instead saw a profit motive by the corporations that make the tank-like vehicles and have made a lot of money by lobbying the government.
Whitehead said there's a sinister alliance between federal and local authorities that results in suppressed dissent and basic First Amendment rights.
"There's a mentality now that's led to Homeland Security raiding veterans' homes for anti-Obama rants, those kinds of crazy things," he said. "They're working with the local police. They work in teams now."
Whitehead said the militarization of local police slowed under former President George W. Bush but picked up speed under Obama.
"It's a standing army now," he said. "I am surprised sometimes, how local police approach citizens. Very authoritative, for minor offenses."
Whitehead indicated he believes Homeland Security is actually turning into a national police force.
"We don't even have local police in the true sense anymore," he said. "They're extensions of the federal government."
The legal scholar said that's because most Americans don't understand the Fourth Amendment of the Constitution prevents police from such outrageous practices as strip searches without probable cause.
"The average American, if you mention the Fourth Amendment, a huge question mark forms in their brain," Whitehead said. "Then they go watch TV."
The veteran journalist feels New York Police Commissioner Ray Kelly has taken his department's "stop and frisk" policy beyond constitutional limits by stopping people on the street without sufficient cause, a position echoed by the city's liberal establishment.
Hentoff finds the Carey case a particularly ominous harbinger, indicating the country is in "severe danger" of becoming a police state. The nation is not there yet, he said, because the First Amendment is still working, and independent media such as WND are still free to sound the alarm.
But, the civil libertarian believes the Carey case dramatizes some serious underlying tendencies toward becoming a police state, judging by reports he has heard from around the country.
According to Hentoff, what happened to Carey is "an extraordinary example of how police have no limits when they get into this sort of situation," and how they are out of control in many areas around the country.
He said the only thing that can put a limit on police power would be accountability.
Because the evidence is so strong that the police recklessly killed Miriam Carey, Hentoff said, the officers involved and their superiors must be held to account for her death, for the sake of the country.
Valarie told WND, “Everyone should realize we can’t allow our civil liberties to be stripped in front of us. If my sister was traveling and came across a roadblock – we’re not even sure it was a checkpoint, there was some training going on in the area – she should not have to be in fear of those sworn to protect us. And neither should we.”
Valarie noted how the news cycle died down once it became clear she was not a terrorist threat.
"The media should have reported an innocent and unarmed woman was killed by police,” she said. “That’s unacceptable. They cannot justify their actions. It was wrong, and America needs to know that.”
Hentoff worried that if stories like this are allowed to die, the danger of becoming a true police state will only increase. That is why he believes it is such an important story.
"Because, if we are ever going to become a police state, eventually the First Amendment will die along with this poor woman," he said.
The highly acclaimed journalist commended WND for pursuing the story.
Hentoff said when he broke into journalism, one of the first things his colleagues taught him was, "Remember kid, stay on a story that's important."
And he called this story important, because, if police can get away with murder, "What kind of country are we?"
Follow Garth Kant on Twitter @DCgarth