Police Union Defends Officers in Lethal Hill Shooting

Labor leader says the death of Miriam Carey resulted from a “split-second decision” by Capitol Police and Secret Service agents.

WASHINGTON, DC - OCTOBER 03: A police car that struck a barricade blocks Constitution Avenue as U.S. Capitol Police investigate a shooting outside of the U.S. Capitol on October 3, 2013 in Washington, DC. Police called the shooting an isolated incident, unassociated with any act of terrorism. (Photo by T.J. Kirkpatrick/Getty Images)
National Journal
Billy House
May 1, 2014, 5:05 p.m.

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.”

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