WASHINGTON — The family of the young, unarmed woman shot to death by federal agents in the shadow of the Capitol will file a $75 million lawsuit against the U.S. government, WND has learned.
Attorney Eric Sanders informed WND he has filed the multi-million dollar claim against the U.S., the uniformed division of the U.S. Secret Service and the U.S. Capitol Police for “numerous intentional, grossly negligent and reckless actions of police officers, supervisors, managers and other related employees.”
Miriam Carey was shot to death Oct. 3, 2013, by federal officers after a car chase that began at the White House and ended about a block from the Capitol.
Sanders said that after months of waiting for the release of the official investigation and after an exhaustive review of all publicly available data, the Carey family has concluded the shooting was not justified.
No one has been charged in the deadly shooting of the 34-year-old mother and dental hygienist from Connecticut.
The suit maintains Carey was still alive after she was shot numerous times by officers then taken to a hospital, where she was pronounced dead.
Carey was mortally wounded by gunfire during the chase, according to the suit. But out of panic, she continued driving until she finally came to a stop and was taken from her car, a few blocks away from the initial shooting.
The suit said the incident began because Carey “mistakenly drove past the first guard post at the White House entrance because the entrance was negligently maintained, covered and supervised by police officers, supervisors, managers” and others, and then tried to make a lawful U-turn to leave.
However, according to the claim, “for some inexplicable reason,” instead of simply allowing Carey to leave, a police officer “without provocation or legal justification, inconsistent with his or her police training, negligently and recklessly threw a bicycle rack at the vehicle, striking it.”
The suit goes on to maintain that Carey had not violated any law, and, therefore, police had “no legal basis to stop her or use any amount of physical force against her.”
Sanders claims it is officers who endangered Carey’s safety, not the other way around. He contends the ensuing car chase also endangered the public, outweighing “the benefit of investigating a harmless mistaken entrance through the White House entrance gate.”
The Carey family’s attorney said the young mother loved life, and her greatest joy was spending time with her child, family and friends.
Sanders has filed the wrongful death claim on behalf of Carey’s mother, Idealla, Carey’s estate and her 1-year-old daughter, who was in the backseat of the car during the chase and, apparently, during the shooting. The suit will seek $25 million for each claimant.
Sanders said the suit is to compensate the family for their “great loss of a daughter, mother, friend and confidant.” But he insists the case is about more than the death of just one woman. He says it represents a threat to the rights of all Americans.
“Somehow, the Bill of Rights did not apply to Miriam. Miriam’s life did not seem to be so important. Thus far, Miriam’s death is being treated as simple collateral damage in the government’s zeal to protect itself from terrorism,” said Sanders.
He said that zeal should not eclipse the importance of human life.
“The framers of the United States Constitution fought for, died for and demanded it. We should expect no different in today’s society either,” he said.
Sanders, a former New York Police Department officer, has told WND numerous reasons why he insists officers should never have shot at Carey.
- Media reports claimed Carey tried to ram a White House gate or barrier with her car, but the initial police report did not mention an attempt to ram anything;
- The police report said Carey tried to make a U-turn after arriving at a White House checkpoint;
- She apparently broke no laws until fleeing after being confronted by heavily armed guards;
- Police justified the shooting out of fear Carey might be a terrorist, but Sanders pointed out, if officers feared Carey had a bomb, that would be reason not to shoot at her;
- Additionally, WND found information that officers would have known within minutes that Carey was not a terrorism threat;
- Sanders and law enforcement experts also told WND that the policy of most major police departments is to never shoot at moving vehicles;
- Non-lethal means, such as tire spikes, apparently were not used to try to stop the car.
- Non-lethal means, such as pepper spray or a Taser, apparently were not used to subdue Carey before officers shot her to death;
- Video showed officers shooting at Carey in a crowded public space at least seven times after officers inexplicably failed to block her car at a traffic circle.
In announcing the $75 million lawsuit, the Carey family apparently grew tired of waiting for the release of the official investigation conducted by the Washington, D.C., Metropolitan Police.
That investigation has been turned over to the U.S. Attorney at the Justice Department for review, which, the department tells WND, is standard practice for investigations that include officer-involved shootings.
When two months had passed, Sanders told WND it was not an unusual length of time for such a multifaceted investigation, involving more than one law enforcement agency. But now that four months have passed, the family apparently has exhausted its patience.
“The Carey Family calls for immediate identification and termination of all police officer, supervisors, managers and other related employees’ involved in this matter who failed to order the immediate termination of pursuing Miriam and failed to establish firearms control; thereby, collectively causing the avoidable death of Miriam,” said the attorney.
Sanders said that unless authorities are seriously considering criminal charges, they should have taken what they have learned from the Carey case on car stops, vehicle pursuits and the use of force and announced policy changes to the public.
“These public disclosures are absolutely necessary because Miriam’s death unfolded right before the international community via live television,” said Sanders.
Sanders wrote to Attorney General Eric Holder to request a civil rights investigation but told WND he never received a response.
Miriam Carey’s sister, Valarie Carey, like Sanders, is a former New York Police Department officer, and she is calling for a congressional investigation.
“The United States Congress using its legislative powers must investigate Miriam’s death. It is in the public’s interest to ensure our government acted responsibly not only from a criminal or a civil perspective but from an internal agency perspective. It is also in the public’s interest avoid a similar tragedy in the future,” she said.
WND has contacted dozens of lawmakers in Congress for comment on the case but has not received a single reply.
No terrorism threat
When the Secret Service and U.S. Capitol Police were pursuing a vehicle they feared might pose a terrorist threat last October, they quickly learned the car actually belonged to the young mother and dental hygienist from Connecticut, according to information in a report by Associated Press.
The information raised even more serious questions as to why law-enforcement agents shot and killed the woman in her stopped car rather than attempting to subdue her with non-lethal means.
According to AP, when authorities began chasing Carey’s vehicle, which had Connecticut license plates, State Police Maj. Louis J. Fusaro Jr., the head of his state’s Intelligence Center, led an effort with the Motor Vehicles Department to run the license plates and identify the driver.
“Within a matter of minutes of the incident happening, we were able to give back information that was key to the investigation down there,” said Fusaro, who is also commander of emergency services and the Office of Counter Terrorism for state police.
“Our job is to validate information, then refer it to the proper agencies for investigation,” he told AP.
Sanders told WND he suspects police received the information about Miriam “within seconds, long before she was shot and killed.”
He said the information presented even more reason to believe she should never have been killed.
The former NYPD officer said the question is: When were the record searches about Miriam requested? Before, during or after the police chase?
“My law enforcement experience tells me, one or more officers during the police ‘pursuit’ sent at least one if not more messages through the mobile digital computer in their police vehicles to NLETS (National Law Enforcement Telecommunications System, now known as the International Justice and Public Safety Network), and via police radio to their dispatcher, they received the information about Miriam within seconds long before she was shot and killed.”
However, to verify his suspicion, Sanders needs data from Management Information Systems, or MIS, and the communication networks.
MIS will not provide that information until the investigation, now almost four months old, is complete.
Meanwhile, police have virtually admitted they have video of law-enforcement officers shooting to death the unarmed 34-year-old woman, but they’re deliberately withholding it from the public.
WND attempted to obtain video of the shooting death of Carey by filing a Freedom of Information Act, or FOIA, request.
The request was denied by Metro Police.
By telling WND that releasing the video might adversely affect any criminal proceeding, police have essentially admitted such video might cast a bad light on the conduct of officers and agents.
The withholding of the video also confirmed that authorities are at least considering the possibility of pressing charges against officers and agents involved in the shooting of Carey.
A WND investigation revealed the presence of at least seven security cameras in position to capture video of the shooting at Constitution Avenue NE & 2nd Street. The incident was also likely captured by numerous dash-cams on police cruisers.
WND has appealed the denial of its FOIA request for the video to the office of Vincent Gray, the mayor of Washington, D.C.
WND has also filed a FOIA request seeking the forensics report on the shooting but has received no reply to multiple inquiries regarding the status of the request.
In appealing to Mayor Gray to release the video of Carey’s shooting, WND noted that it would serve the public interest by allowing citizens to objectively decide for themselves what happened on that day.
Meanwhile, police departments in other major cities such as Philadelphia and Las Vegas have released videos of officer-involved shootings before their investigations were complete.
Video of the first shooting incident involving Carey (at the Garfield Monument traffic circle) is already public. Withholding existing video on the second, fatal, shooting involving Carey (at the guard house at Constitution Avenue NE & 2nd Street NE) would not serve the public interest, WND argued to Mayor Gray.
The Secret Service, Capitol Police, Washington Metro Police and U.S. Attorney have withheld virtually all details of the shooting from the family of Carey and the public. The details include forensics reports that would show how many times Carey was shot, her cause of death, the position of the body at the time of death, video and photos, multiple eyewitness accounts and an explanation as to why police believed deadly force was necessary to subdue her while she was unarmed and had her infant daughter with her.
WND confirmed the existence of video of the shooting by approaching the guard shack where Carey was shot, about a block from the Capitol dome, and asking a U.S. Capitol police officer on duty a few simple questions:
If a major crime such as a rape or murder were to happen within blocks of the Capitol, would there be video of it?
“Oh yeah,” he answered, nodding his head vigorously.
What about the shooting of Miriam Carey, is there video of that?
“Yes,” he said without hesitation, while adding he had not seen it personally.
Apparently no one has seen it, other than perhaps a few select members of law enforcement.
Police could be reluctant to release that video because it might confirm what legal experts and civil libertarians from both left and right sides of the political spectrum have told WND, that they believe Carey was, in effect, murdered by police.
After Sanders previously called upon Congress to investigate the shooting death, he told WND no members of Congress have contacted the family.
In fact, lawmakers, who were told that police fired because of concerns of terrorism, congratulated officers for shooting the young, unarmed mother with a 30-second standing ovation, shortly after her death.
Sanders is also calling for the firing of the officers who shot at Carey, as well as their supervisors.
An unknown number of Secret Service officers and two U.S. Capitol Police officers involved in the shooting of Carey have been shifted to desk work while the incident is under investigation.
“While, we understand police shootings must be carefully investigated because of their social and political ramifications, by now, there should have been a preliminary analysis released in the public venue,” explained the attorney.
Sanders said many “troubling” questions remain, but the main question is whether federal law enforcement officers were justified in firing at Carey.
The U.S. Capitol Police and the uniformed division of the Secret Service have not made public their “Use of Force” policies.
Sanders believes that is “absolutely necessary” now, particularly regarding the policies on firing upon moving vehicles, “because Miriam’s death unfolded right before the international community via live television.”
As WND reported, officers fired at Carey on at least two occasions during a car chase that began at the White House, after she tried to make a U-turn at a checkpoint.
At least seven shots fired in a crowded public space can be heard on a video recording after officers failed to stop Carey’s car at a traffic circle just south of the Capitol.
A few minutes later, officers shot Carey to death, a block northeast of the Capitol. It is not known how many shots officers fired at Carey while killing her because police have not released the forensics report.
Did police murder Carey?
First Amendment expert Nat Hentoff told WND the evidence that officers killed recklessly was strong.
“[T]his is a classic case of police out of control and, therefore, guilty of plain murder,” he said.
Constitutional law expert John Whitehead, president and founder of the nonprofit civil-liberties organization the Rutherford Institute, agreed, telling WND that from what he’d seen, it looked like murder.
Political activist and former Graham County, Ariz., Sheriff Richard Mack called it “sloppy” police work and saw “no justification whatsoever” for the use of deadly force against Carey.
Dan Bongino, former Secret Service agent and author of the New York Times bestseller “Life Inside the Bubble: Why a Top-Ranked Secret Service Agent Walked Away From It All,” was reluctant to second-guess the actions of law enforcement officers in a fast-moving and confusing situation and loath 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.
Serious questions from the start
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.
Valarie 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?”
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 report 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 the incident. The former protector of the president didn’t want to divulge too much about security measures there, but he 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 above 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.
“When you watch that video … you see that car being whipped around,” he said. … [I]t should be obvious to anyone watching that a car is a weapon like anything else. 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, could 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 asked, “They’re stacked with them. Stop the car. She’s a female with a kid in the car. 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.
“Regardless, Carey’s action did not even come close to allowing police shooting at her,” he said.
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 the officers must 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 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 insisted “deadly force was not necessary.”
“They could have rammed the car or disabled the car. But in this incident, they used very, very poor judgment,” she said. “And this is something those officers will have to live with.”
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 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?”
Another national gravely concerned about the Carey shooting is Blackwater security-firm founder and former Navy SEAL Erik Prince.
While defending the record of his private security company in Iraq, Prince described to an interviewer on MSNBC how dangerous things happen not just in war zones, but even in the nation’s capital.
Prince recounted how Carey ended up dead at the hands of Secret Service agents and U.S. Capitol Police officers.
He pointed out, even though Carey had no weapons and no explosives but did have her infant daughter in her car, “federal police officers opened fire and killed an unarmed, innocent woman.”
Other attempts to obtain video
Filing a FOIA with police wasn’t the only way WND tried to obtain video of the Carey shooting.
Authorities initially feared the incident was an act of terrorism, so it would seem logical that the National Security Agency might have monitored the chase and the shooting with its satellites.
But an NSA spokesman said it does not have video of the incident: “We are a foreign-intelligence agency.” The NSA advised WND to check with the FBI or DHS.
An FBI spokeswoman claimed there is no satellite video of the incident, stating, “That did not happen in this case.”
Also, the bureau would not confirm or deny the existence of dash-cam or security-cam videos of the shooting.
And a spokesman for the Department of Homeland Security declined to comment.
See these other WND stories on the Miriam Carey Mystery:
Covering chaos: The Capitol Hill Shooting
Why did Capitol cops cut down ‘innocent’ woman?
Legal Experts: D.C. cops murdered woman
Famous Security Expert: Was this Murder?
Missing! Video of mother killed by police
Cops knew suburban mom was no terrorist
Ex-NYPD cop hunts for truth on mom slaying
Follow Garth Kant on Twitter @DCgarth