WASHINGTON – It was a spectacular autumn day for a drive – just a few fluffy clouds under a bright azure sky and enough of a breeze to make the mid-70s temperature feel refreshingly cool after the long, hot summer.
Maybe that’s why Miriam Carey, a 34-year-old dental hygienist and single mother from Stamford, Connecticut, decided on Oct. 3, 2013, to strap her 1-year-old daughter into the child safety seat in the back of her black 2010 Infiniti G37Xs Coupe to take the 264-mile drive to the nation’s capital. But no one will ever know for sure.
After apparently making a wrong turn near the White House gate at 15th and E Street, she found herself surrounded by menacing Secret Service agents brandishing firearms. Realizing her mistake, she made a U-turn and tried to depart. Multiple shots were fired after she veered off down Pennsylvania Avenue with police in pursuit. Later, again surrounded by police and federal agents, Carey stopped her car – only to be shot dead in a hail of police gunfire.
Nearly 11 months later, there has been no official explanation by Capitol Police, Secret Service or U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder’s Justice Department as to why this unarmed black woman with baby in tow was killed by police in broad daylight in the nation’s capital. Yet, Holder took time last week to personally visit Ferguson, Missouri, where one local police officer fired fatal shots at an unarmed black man who, high on marijuana, had previously robbed a convenience store and, according to eyewitnesses, assaulted and battered the policeman.
An investigation of Holder’s record, apart from the Miriam Carey case, suggests he may be particularly unqualified to investigate police shootings.
Another little-known police shooting in the nation’s capital may be illustrative. In that case, an officer shot an unarmed suspect in the back four times while he was lying on the ground. The shooter was never even interviewed by police. The man in charge of that investigation? Eric Holder.
Police shootings in Washington were the subject of a Pulitzer Prize-winning Washington Post investigation in 1998. The five-part series indicated Holder’s performance as an investigator of police shootings was dismal.
As U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia from 1993 to 1997, Holder was in charge of investigating police shootings by local officers. The Post investigation discovered the number of people shot by Washington police doubled between 1988 and 1995. Sixteen people were shot by police under Holder’s watch just in 1995. Not only did police shootings mushroom during his tenure, almost one-third of those between 1994 and 1997 weren’t even counted by his department.
The paper published a map showing 20 unarmed civilians were shot by Washington police from 1994 to 1998. Eight of those unarmed people were killed by police.
USA Today revived the Post investigation with an opinion piece Wednesday by author James Bovard, who declared during Holder’s reign he did “little to protect Washington residents from rampaging lawmen” as police violence “spiraled out of control.” The article said Holder largely ignored abusive actions by police as civilians were shot and killed by officers at a rate higher than any other major city police department. Bovard said Holder’s promise to conduct a full and fair investigation of the shooting in Ferguson was belied by “his own record.”
At the time, Assistant Washington Police Chief Terrance Gainer even had to admit, “We shoot too often, and we shoot too much when we do shoot.”
The Post found Washington police were not prosecuted by Holder even when police review boards ruled shootings unjustified or discovered contradictions in officers’ testimony.
The solution? Kill the review board.
Even after a judge blasted the Washington government for “deliberate indifference” to charges of police brutality, the Civilian Complaint Review Board, overwhelmed by a glut of complaints, was shut down in 1995.
Bovard said the Post series caused such an uproar, it sparked a Justice Department Civil Rights division investigation into five years of Washington police shootings, but, “[W]ho did Attorney General Janet Reno put in charge of that effort? Eric Holder.”
Holder’s office denied any conflict of interest, but an attorney for a couple who successfully sued the district for $150,000 after an officer shot and killed their son in 1995 told the Post, “When I heard who was conducting the review, I could just feel my blood boiling because you’ve got the hen guarding the foxes.”
Michael Morgenstern scornfully said of Holder, “He had the opportunity to do this when he was there, and now all of a sudden, they’re sending him back to do the same job he didn’t do while he was there.”
Some of the information the Post uncovered has been echoed in the Carey case.
According to the paper, a number of officer shootings of civilians under Holder’s watch were kept from the public view, with police investigating in secret and producing reports only when ordered to by a judge. Similarly, the final investigative report in the Carey shooting was never released. The actions of the U.S. Secret Service uniformed officers and U.S. Capitol Police were investigated by the Washington, D.C., Metropolitan Police Department. That investigation was reviewed by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for Washington, D.C., which is part of Holder’s Justice Department, or DOJ.
But after authorities announced on July 10 they had decided not to press charges against any of the officers who shot and killed Carey, the final investigative report on the case was never released. The public was merely told there was insufficient evidence to bring charges, but the public was never allowed to see the evidence or the report. It appears the only way that report will ever see the light of day is if it becomes evidence in the $150 million civil lawsuit the Carey family is planning to file against the U.S. government, the Secret Service and U.S. Capitol Police.
The Post also found some of the worst cases of police abuse under Holder involved officers shooting into cars, which is strongly discouraged due to the risk of hitting bystanders. Holder said he did not recall more than a few such instances, but the Post discovered more than 50 officers had shot at unarmed drivers over five years. The paper also reported instances of police perjury in some of those shootings. And, the Post learned Washington police shot at cars 20 times more often than New York City police.
As WND has reported in detail, Carey was shot while driving away from the Garfield traffic circle, just below the Capitol, after officers inexplicably failed to box-in her car when the pursuit momentarily stalled.
Carey family attorney Eric Sanders, a former New York City Police officer himself, told WND that supervisors claimed the officers fired because Carey was driving toward people on the sidewalk, but he blasted that as either unbelievable or incredibly derelict, because it would mean officers were shooting in the direction of those very people they were supposedly attempting to protect.
Statistics on officer shootings are hard to come by because most police departments do not publish those numbers and because the federal government doesn’t either, even though, in 1994 Congress ordered the attorney general to publish an annual summary on the use of excessive force by police officers as part of the Violent Crime and Law Enforcement Control Act.
Even government statisticians have had to use Google News alerts to track officer-involved shootings.
There is one source researchers often use: Former FBI agent Jim Fisher methodically combed the Internet to compile the number of police shootings in 2011.
From the information that can be gleaned, police shootings in the nation’s capital do not appear to have gotten much better under Holder as attorney general, where he is the top law-enforcement official in the district, as well as the nation.
Fisher’s website did not list police shootings in the nation’s capital, but he told WND there were 11 in Washington, D.C., in 2011, six of which were fatal.
An Internet search by WND showed at least four police shootings in the nation’s capital in 2012 and another four in 2013.
All those numbers appear to dwarf officer-involved shootings by St. Louis County police in the Ferguson area. As far as can be discerned by an Internet search, the last police shooting of civilians by the department in was in Berkeley, a town adjacent to Ferguson, in 2000. Two unarmed men were shot as part of a drug bust. Two officers said they feared for their lives, the shootings were ruled justified and they were not indicted.
So, why did Holder pay such attention to the Michael Brown shooting? He said he hoped his visit would help calm the area. But the attorney general specifically cited race as a reason for going to Ferguson. He told residents there, “I am the attorney general of the United States, but I am also a black man.”
The nation’s top law-enforcement official recounted the humiliation and anger he felt in earlier years after being stopped for speeding twice on the New Jersey turnpike, and the “impact” it had on him. Holder referred to the racial “mistrust and mutual suspicion” between the black community and law enforcement.
But race did not appear to motivate Holder to crack down on the epidemic of police shootings in Washington, D.C., either during his tenure as U.S. Attorney or attorney general. That was despite the fact, after his selection by President Clinton in 1993, Holder became the first African-American to become the district’s U.S. attorney.
Despite the dearth of data, it would stand to reason a significant number of police shooting victims during his time as U.S. attorney were black, as African-Americans comprise Washington’s largest ethnic group at more than 50 percent of the population. But, instead of making any apparent attempt to ease any tensions between the black community and police, his department became the subject of a Justice Department investigation into police abuse.
WND spoke with law-enforcement and civil-liberty experts who believe Holder had other motives in going to Ferguson.
Constitutional law expert John Whitehead, president and founder of the nonprofit civil-liberties organization the Rutherford Institute, bluntly said Holder was conducting public-relations damage control for something other than race relations.
The real issue, Whitehead told WND, was the militarization of police.
He said Obama had unleashed a “flood” of military equipment throughout America to local police, who have become “a standing army.”
“So, they’re trying to change the subject from militarization to race.”
WND has a long history of covering the militarization of local police in great depth over the years, most recently reporting the issue has now become so obvious it has finally grabbed the attention of Congress.
In fact, the problem has become so apparent, even President Obama felt compelled to remark a week ago that it was time to review the policy of supplying local police with military equipment from the Pentagon.
Obama said he would meet with Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel to recommend changes to the program.
Whitehead said the problem with the program wasn’t necessarily the equipment, it was the reason the equipment was provided: to suppress civil unrest and deny First Amendment rights to assemble, protest and express free speech.
He said the policy directly stemmed from something called the Minerva Initiative.
The Pentagon describes Minerva, initiated by former Defense Secretary Robert Gates in 2008, as an attempt “to build deeper understanding of the social, cultural, and political dynamics that shape regions of strategic interest around the world.”
Whitehead sees a more nefarious purpose to the program that received $17.8 million from Congress in 2014 alone.
He said the program is designed specifically to put down civil unrest, telling WND, “We are the enemy now.”
The Guardian agrees, calling Minerva an attempt to prepare for “mass civil breakdown” and charging “social science is being militarized to develop ‘operational tools’ to target peaceful activists and protest movements.”
The paper reported the project fails to distinguish between peaceful protesters and terrorists, and even explicitly set out to study nonviolent activists.
For instance, in 2013 Minerva subsidized a collaboration between the University of Maryland and the Department of Energy to assess the possibility of civil unrest caused by climate change.
“What’s good about Ferguson and should awaken people is, but I’m not sure it has, is the media exposure of the militarization,” Whitehead told WND. “It’s there, folks. We’re dealing with a standing army, right now.”
And he believes that army of local police has become an extension of the federal government.
Whitehead called Holder “the big daddy over it all.” The attorney general hasn’t been interested in stemming the militarization of local police, Whitehead suspected, because it would actually reduce his own power.
Pulitzer Prize winning journalist and famed civil libertarian Nat Hentoff agreed militarization of local police was the real issue generating Holder’s interest in Ferguson.
He believed Holder went to Ferguson to divert attention from the militarization of the police and to try to defuse the tension and violent protests it had caused.
“John’s right. They’re trying to show they’re very interested (in race relations), but, underneath that, it doesn’t bother them,” the journalist told WND.
Hentoff said the problem starts at the top with a disengaged Obama, who, he said, “has very little knowledge, or cares little about what’s really happening and he seems to have really either low-class advisers or ones who don’t dare tell him what’s really going on.”
In fact, the First Amendment expert said, Obama’s detachment had resulted in probably the most disruptive presidency ever.
This time, he went a step further.
“We’ve had some terrible ones, like Woodrow Wilson, but this one is the worst, ever. This guy has no conception of the separation of powers to begin with, and he’s trying to protect himself every time he opens his mouth,” Hentoff declared.
Whitehead cited an enormous erosion of civil liberties under Obama, particularly in his disdain shown for the Constitution in his penchant to skirt Congress and make law by issuing executive orders. But the civil libertarian said Americans began trading their liberty for security “a long time ago,” with the problem increasing dramatically after the advent of mass media.
He said American had become acclimated to the militarization of local police by the government’s use of media for propaganda.
“The Nazis are the model here; they always have been,” he said. “They were the first to understand that people could be easily manipulated by doing one thing: getting them to march down the street.”
Whitehead noted it has been said, if Hitler had television, he would have ruled Europe.
What if he had the Internet?
“He would have ruled the world,” he replied.
But in this case, Whitehead believed media coverage backfired on the federal government’s desire to keep a tight lid on popular unrest.
He noted the outrage in Ferguson appeared to ignite after police arrested reporters for the Washington Times and Huffington Post.
Whitehead believed that led to increased media coverage, which led to more protests as news of the shooting spread. Media disinterest, he figured, also helped account for the lack of outrage over what he called the murder of Carey by police.
“The media is really important in these things, how they cover it,” he said. “They didn’t do a very good job in the Miriam Carey case.”
There were other obvious disparities in the way the federal government, and Holder in particular, treated the Brown and Carey shootings.
One was the attorney general’s immediate launching of a DOJ investigation into the Brown shooting, while ignoring a family’s plea to investigate the Carey killing. Another was his comment to the Ferguson community that he understood their “mistrust” of police, while refusing to even publicly release the evidence of police actions in killing Carey, no less bring any charges against officers.
Richard Mack, former Sheriff of Graham County, Arizona, who spent 20 years in law enforcement and the past 17 years as a pro-freedom activist, told WND he saw a mysterious double-standard.
“It seems the president and Eric Holder pick and choose frequently which shooting cases to become involved with,” he said. “One of the most glaring examples is their lack of attention paid to the Miriam Carey killing by D.C. police while driving with her little baby. This case has been covered up and the victim was black, yet no Al Sharpton, no Jesse Jackson and no Eric Holder! Why?”
Mack said he did not support what police did in Ferguson or what he characterized as their subsequent mishandling of the protests, but, “I sure don’t accept what the police did in killing Mariam Carey.”
Referring to the Cliven Bundy case of resistance to federal officers in Nevada, Mack even sarcastically mused the federal government should have been called to Missouri to put the protesters in “free-speech corrals.”
Follow Garth Kant @DCgarth