For the first time since federal lawmen killed a woman seven months ago on Capitol Hill by shooting her after a car chase, a police union official is defending the officers for their "split-second decision."
U.S. Capitol Police Labor Committee Chairman James Konczos, in a statement provided this week to National Journal, cautioned that he could not comment in depth because of the ongoing Justice Department investigation into the Oct. 3 pursuit and shooting death of Miriam Carey, 34, of Stamford, Conn.
But after months of silence from the union, Konczos said, "We do support our officers. Based on the circumstances, they had to make a split-second decision on the facts they had at that time."
Konczos added: "Their involvement was happening in 'real time,' so they were not afforded the luxury [of time] of those second-guessing their actions. It is easy to throw hypothetical options around after the fact."
Eric Sanders, a New York-based lawyer representing the Carey family and estate, said Thursday he was unimpressed. A former police officer, Sanders has filed a preliminary wrongful-death claim against the federal government, the Secret Service, and the Capitol Police.
Sanders said the characterization of the officers who fired their weapons that day as making a "split-second" decision is "clearly designed" to cloak the case in court rulings that give police more leeway in some instances — particularly in instances where they are defending themselves. But in this case, he asserts, the argument doesn't fit.
An autopsy report shows Carey was ultimately hit by five shots: one to the back of her head, three in her back, and one to her left arm. Sanders says he believes as many as seven shots were fired at Carey from at least two different locations on Capitol Hill — all while Carey was still in the car and her 14-month-old daughter was sitting in the rear seat. The child was not wounded.
Sanders contends the shooting was not justified and that the federal officers "panicked" and violated regulations and standards in firing on a moving vehicle after a street encounter that began when Carey refused to stop her black Infiniti at a checkpoint near the White House and made a U-turn. "The problem is, they had time to assess this situation. It's one thing to say someone suddenly came up to you, engaged you, and it was a 'bang-bang' situation," said Sanders. "This is a car that had been driving from the White House, and a woman driving away."
Police documents filed in federal court say the chase started near the White House after Carey drove over a bicycle rack placed in front of her vehicle by a Secret Service officer, knocking the officer to the ground. She sped toward Capitol Hill and jumped a curb at the Garfield traffic circle, on Maryland Avenue near the Capitol reflecting pool. Sources have said the officers thought the driver might try to drive up to the steps of the Capitol, so they surrounded the vehicle. Carey responded by putting her car in reverse and striking a police vehicle. At that point, officers from the Secret Service and Capitol Police "discharged their service weapons at the vehicle," according to a police affidavit.
Carey then drove toward the Senate office buildings at 2nd Street and Constitution Avenue, jumped a median, and went into reverse down Maryland Avenue, again refusing to stop her car. At this point, according to the police affidavit, officers "fired several rounds into the suspect vehicle, striking decedent."
The Justice Department is continuing to investigate the incident. A source with ties to the case said the department's findings will be released within the next few weeks. A spokesman for the U.S. Attorney's Office, William Miller, would not confirm that.
"The investigation is continuing and the U.S. Attorney's Office has no further comment at this time," said Miller on Thursday.
The two Secret Service agents involved in the shooting remain on duty, and the agency has declined public comment.
Meanwhile, Capitol Police spokeswoman Lt. Kimberly Schneider reiterated Thursday that her agency "does not comment on pending litigation and does not comment on pending investigations."
Exactly how many Capitol Police officers discharged their weapons has not been publicly released, but she said those involved continue to be on administrative leave.
The autopsy results show Carey, a dental assistant, had no drugs or alcohol in her system when she was killed. But a legal source supportive of the authorities involved in the incident and who has knowledge of the case says an unanswered question is why she was in Washington that day.
"Only because of her conduct did she find herself in this situation," he said of Carey.
"I'm not a holster-sniffer; I don't give law enforcement extra leniency," he added. "But this was a good shoot. "¦ These cops are heroes."