WASHINGTON — “His comments are laughable,” is how attorney Eric Sanders described the comments of U.S. Capitol Police Chief Kim C. Dine at a congressional hearing.
Dine had defended his department’s use of force in the deadly shooting of unarmed suburban mother Miriam Carey, which took place about a block from the Capitol on Oct. 3, 2013.
He told members of the House Appropriations Committee Monday that the high-speed car chase from the White House to the Capitol involved a “very, very quick, very fluid set of circumstances.”
But Sanders wasn’t buying it. The attorney, who represents the Carey family in a $75 million wrongful death claim against the Capitol Police and the Uniformed Division of the U.S. Secret Service, disputed what his clients saw as the “shoot first, ask later” approach used by federal officers.
Sanders, who is a former New York Police Department officer, said he was certain officers didn’t follow training guidelines.
“If he’s telling me that’s the way law enforcement officers are trained in the District of Columbia, especially Capitol Police, then Congress and the rest of the district should be afraid, because that’s not how you want your police officers responding,” observed Sanders.
Dine justified his officers’ deadly response by telling Congress, “These officers are out there every day putting their lives on the line and they have to make split-second decisions, and it’s easy for any one of us to obviously sit here and second guess them.”
Sanders reminded WND that he had a law enforcement background and speculated the reason the chief responded that way was likely because “what law enforcement tends to do is close ranks. If he’s so confident in his statement, they could have released the policy already. It’s very easy.”
The attorney was referring to the Capitol Police Department’s official policy on the use of deadly force, which has not been made public.
Sanders provided WND with a copy of the Washington, D.C., Metropolitan Police Department’s guidelines on the use of force, “because it would only make sense that the Capitol Police and Secret Service would operate under similar guidelines.”
The Metro Police guidelines read:
- “[N]o member shall discharge a firearm in the performance of police duties except to defend himself or herself or another from an attack which the officer has reasonable cause to believe could result in death or serious bodily injury.”
- “No member of the the Metropolitan Police Department shall discharge his/her firearm … at or from a moving vehicle unless deadly force is being used against the officer or another person. For purposes of this order, a moving vehicle is not considered deadly force.”
That last point is critical. Because a moving vehicle is not considered deadly force, Carey would be legally considered both unarmed and not a threat. Nonetheless, she was shot and killed by officers.
When Rep. James Moran, D-Va., asked Dines if officers should have shot at the tires rather than the driver – especially considering Carey was unarmed and had her baby in the backseat of her car – the chief responded, “There’s a lot of opinions out there, but most of them are wrong and uneducated.”
Initial reports after the shooting indicated Capitol Police officers may have had difficulties communicating with Secret Service agents on an antiquated radio system, and Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Fla., asked Dine if the radio system had hindered the department’s response.
That system was finally replaced in March, but Dine said it had not been a problem on Oct. 3, and that officers were able to communicate using a two emergency channels.
Five days after the shooting death of Carey, however, Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, expressed alarm that the faulty radio system might have been an issue.
“If these communication failures are in fact accurate, it is extremely concerning that this problem still has not been resolved after years of experience with such situations, as well as billions of dollars spent to resolve our weaknesses in interoperable communications systems,” said the former chairwoman and ranking member of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee.
But Valarie Carey, a former New York Police Department sergeant and sister of the victim, told WND she believes a bigger issue was inexperience on the part of the officers who killed Miriam.
Valarie was concerned officers may have panicked, and she suggested they might not have ever experienced such a situation.
“The more experienced an officer is, the better equipped that officer is to address the situation, even if there had been a problem with radio contact,” she said. “If someone can’t decide when to take someone’s life, they should not be put in that position.”
At the end of January, attorney Eric Sanders informed WND he had filed the $75 million 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.”
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.
The suit maintains Carey was still alive after she was shot numerous times by officers and 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 officers 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.”
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 is seeking $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 said 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,” Sanders said.
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 believes officers should never have fired 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 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, when five months had passed, the family apparently had 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, 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 he told WND he never received a response.
Valarie has been 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.
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.
A WND investigation revealed the presence of at least seven security cameras in positions 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.
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.
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 has 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 the car chase that began at the White House, after she tried to make a U-turn at the 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.
Major 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, as WND noted, the police report never mentioned 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.”
So, why is Miriam Carey dead?
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?”
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?”
See these other WND stories on the Miriam Carey Mystery:
Cops opt for ‘the fix’ after mom’s puzzling death
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