Congress Takes Hands-Off Approach to Miriam Carey Shooting

Members of Congress have no interest in investigating Capitol Police actions relating to the Oct. 3 shooting and police car crash on Constitution Avenue. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Release of the final autopsy report for Miriam Carey, the 34-year-old dental hygienist who was shot outside the Capitol on Oct. 3 after a fast and furious car chase from the White House, has renewed calls for action from an attorney for her family.  

Six months after the shooting, with a wrongful death claim filed against the Capitol Police and Secret Service seeking $75 million in compensation, New York-based attorney Eric Sanders is calling on Congress to "use its legislative powers" to investigate the confusing series of events.  

But spokespeople for the committees with jurisdiction over the Capitol Police and for law enforcement declined to comment, aside from saying there are no plans to investigate because the U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia is still looking into the shooting. Members charged with oversight have expressed no interest in launching their own investigation. House Oversight and Government Reform Chairman Darrell Issa suggested that briefings, "over the shoulder investigation" and monitoring of the Justice Department's activity might be the most appropriate approach. The California Republican indicated that he still needed to consult with ranking member Elijah E. Cummings, D-Md., on the issue.  

“I’m very reluctant to have Congress intrude while there’s an ongoing investigation," said Virginia's Gerald E. Connolly, another Oversight Democrat. He believes Congress needs to let the law enforcement investigations "work their process before we work ours."  

The autopsy showed Carey had no alcohol or drugs in her system and that she died from multiple gunshot wounds to the back of her body, including one to the head, Sanders said. Though Carey had been diagnosed with postpartum depression and psychosis, and told police that President Barack Obama was monitoring her with cameras in her Stamford, Conn., apartment, Sanders claimed in a statement on The Sanders Firm website that the autopsy results refute theories that her actions were provoked by mental illness.  

“Miriam’s death is symbolic of the growing problem of police using excessive force against the citizenry throughout our nation," he said in the statement. "With respect to 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 [to] avoid a similar tragedy in the future."  

In the days following the Oct. 3 shooting, which forced Capitol Hill into lock-down mode and caused a panic on campus, questions from members of Congress focused largely on radio interoperability . Lawmakers grilled law enforcement on whether the Capitol Police's outdated radio system, which has since been upgraded , might have been to blame.  

During a House Appropriations hearing on the Capitol Police budget, lawmakers grilled Chief Kim C. Dine about officers' actions that day. Dine defended their actions and reminded lawmakers that his forces "are out there every day putting their lives on the line" and often have to make "split-second decisions."  

The Oct. 3 pursuit started when Carey drove her Infiniti through a security checkpoint outside the White House and struck a bicycle rack, knocking to the ground an officer with the U.S. Secret Service Uniformed Division who was attempting to stop her. Carey fled, launching a car chase from the White House with her 14-month-old daughter on board.  

Law enforcement placed the Capitol complex on lockdown as the chase proceeded. Outside the Senate side of the Capitol, officers opened fire on Carey, fatally striking her when she was stopped by a blockade and tried to flee in reverse. Her daughter escaped serious injury.  

Capitol Police previously confirmed that officers had been pulled off the street in the wake of the violent incident.  

Staff on the Senate Rules and Administration Committee, which has oversight of the Capitol Police, did not respond to questions about the case, while House Administration Committee staff said they do not comment on pending litigation.  

Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick J. Leahy, D-Vt., also does not like to involve his committee in ongoing investigations, according to a committee spokesperson. House Judiciary Committee staff said Capitol Police are not under its jurisdiction. The Secret Service and Justice Department are, though. This observation did not elicit a response from the committee.  

“I certainly think it would be premature for Congress to involve themselves in what looks like an unusual law enforcement event," said Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, D-D.C., who sits on the Oversight Committee. "No one has come forward with any evidence of wrongdoing.  

"We do know that both the Capitol and the White House were under assault. At first blush, it looks like the police at both ends were doing there job," she continued.  

Norton says Congress may well have a role in investigating whether there was an early enough alert to protect Capitol Hill and the D.C. residents and visitors in Carey's path, but lawmakers do not have a role in investigating her death.

"She was in a race from them," Norton concluded. "They had to catch her, and thank goodness they did."