WASHINGTON – The family of Capitol Hill shooting victim Miriam Carey has apparently lost patience with the glacial pace of the official investigation into the death of the unarmed mother, as their attorney made two major announcements.
Eric Sanders is calling on Congress to investigate the shooting death of the 34-year-old dental hygienist by uniformed Secret Service agents and U.S. Capitol Police officers on Oct. 3. The attorney told WND no members of Congress have contacted the family.
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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 the Stamford, Conn. woman have been shifted to desk work while the incident is under investigation.
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Sanders said, after months of silence by government officials as well as an exhaustive review of all publicly available data, the Carey family has concluded the shooting was "not justified."
“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, who is a former New York City Police officer, 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, "because Miriam’s death unfolded right before the international community via live television.”
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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 black Nissan Infiniti 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 nearly three months after the shooting.
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Legal and civil liberties experts from left-to-right across the political spectrum have told WND the deadly shooting did not appear justified, including renowned journalist and civil liberties expert Nat Hentoff, who said 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.”
The Washington, D.C. Metro Police conducted the investigation into the killing of Carey. That investigation has been turned over the Washington branch of the U.S. Attorney's office for review, which Metro Police told WND was standard procedure for officer-involved shootings.
The U.S. Attorney's offices is part of the Department of Justice. Sanders has written to Attorney General Eric Holder, requesting a civil rights investigation into the case, but the Carey attorney told WND he has not heard back.
Sanders told WND he has spoken with the U.S. Attorney handling the Carey shooting investigation, but she would not acknowledge any investigation is underway other than the criminal investigation.
Although many police departments, including the D.C. Metro Police, prohibit officers from shooting at moving vehicles, federal law enforcement agents may have more leeway. However, most of the legal and civil liberties experts who spoke with WND said it was still a mistake to fire on Carey's car.
The decision to shoot
Richard Mack, political activist and former Sheriff of Graham County, Arizona, told WND, "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 initial police report did 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.”
Miriam Carey's sister, Valarie, a former New York City Police officer, 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?”
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 Carey 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.”
Sanders wondered, “How do you shoot at a person who is unarmed, sitting in a car?”
He said the threat of terrorism cited by police was even more reason to exercise caution and not fire shots, “because if there is a bomb in the car and you are shooting in the car, you are endangering everybody!”
Constitutional law expert John Whitehead told WND 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.”
Botched from the beginning
All 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.
Mainstream media outlets such as the New York Times, NBC and ABC News all reported that Carey tried to ram a White House gate or checkpoint.
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.”
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
Based on his experience in similar situations, Bongino, 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.
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.”
Shoot first, ask later
Whitehead and Hentoff both told WND they 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.”
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
Follow Garth Kant on Twitter @DCgarth