DC Police Chief Cathy Lanier has said the federal law enforcement officers who shot and killed Miriam Carey last Thursday “acted heroically,” but if they were her police officers, they would face disciplinary action and perhaps termination for shooting at a moving vehicle.
DC Police general orders prohibit officers from shooting “at or from” a moving vehicle, even if that vehicle is coming at them with intent to do harm.
Lanier’s comments and actions are crucial in the aftermath of the fatal shooting, because use of force by US Capitol Police and Secret Service agents falls under the purview of the MPD’s Internal Affairs Division.
Police shot Carey, 34, in her car after she tried to ram her vehicle into a White House barrier and led police on a car chase to Capital Hill. According to court documents and police, officers fired at her as she backed out of Garfield Circle, near the US Botanic Garden. She sped off again and stopped a few blocks away at a guard shack on the 100 block of Maryland Avenue, Northeast. Police fired again at the car as she backed up.
The police gunshots killed Carey, a dental hygienist from Connecticut. She was unarmed. Her toddler was in the backseat and came away unharmed.
DC’s Internal Affairs Division is investigating the case, in which federal police officers fired 17 shots. Neither the Secret Service nor the Capitol Police have made public their rules and regulations on the use of deadly force, but the MPD’s guidelines are clear.
General order 901.07 states, “No member of 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.”
The order was established in 2002 and revised in 2005.
Carey injured two law enforcement officers as she tried to ram barricades and avoid police, but under DC rules, she was not using deadly force. Therefore, local DC police would have been acting against orders if they had shot at the car.
At a news conference after the shooting, Lanier praised federal police officers, saying, “They did exactly what they were supposed to do, and they stopped a suspect from breaching security perimeters in a vehicle at both locations.”
Lanier’s police department came to the opposite conclusion in a 2005 shooting incident. Three officers—Abe Lazarus, Scott Craiger, and Charlie Hoetzel—were investigating reports of a drug deal that December. When they confronted the driver of the car in question, he tried to run over Craiger, who fired as he fell. His two partners fired at the vehicle as it sped off. The MPD moved to terminate the three officers, all with stellar records. They successfully fought the terminations but faced suspensions for their actions.
Their story was the subject of “Don’t Shoot,” a feature in Washingtonian’s January 2007 issue.
MPD spokesperson Gwendolyn Crump confirmed that the general order barring DC police from firing at moving vehicles is still in effect. Many police departments have similar prohibitions.
Miriam Carey’s family members have questioned the use of force. “Deadly force was not necessary,” her sister, Valarie Carey, told reporters. “They could have rammed the car or disabled it.”
The Capitol Police and Secret Service are also investigating whether their officers followed use-of-force rules. Ultimately, the US Attorney’s Office would decide whether the officers broke any laws.