Nine months after a Capitol Police officer and an officer from the Secret Service each fired nine rounds believed to have fatally wounded Miriam Carey, Congress' police department is still conducting its own internal investigation into the shooting.
It appears they may be the only Capitol Hill entity to probe the fast and furious Oct. 3 car chase from the White House that ended in a hail of gunfire north of the Capitol that killed an unarmed woman who appeared to be mentally disturbed.
"My heart goes out to the family of the deceased," said Rep. Gerald E. Connolly, a northern Virginia Democrat who sits on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. "It is a tragedy because, in a sense, she was in the wrong place at the wrong time, but Capitol Hill police and Secret Service and the Park Police who guard this part of Washington, D.C., are on heightened alert after so much has happened in the last decade," he said, listing 9/11, anthrax attacks and the 2002 sniper attacks as examples. "They're on real heightened alert and everybody needs to know that," Connolly continued. "You penetrate that barrier at your own peril. That's what happened. It was tragic, I wish it hadn't happened, I wish she hadn't been shot, and, as I said, my heart goes out to her family, but I fully understand the reaction of the police."
Like other members of Congress approached by CQ Roll Call in the wake of a Thursday announcement by the Justice Department that no federal criminal civil rights or local charges would be filed against the officers involved, Connolly trusts the law enforcement investigation that legally has exonerated their actions.
"My instinct is to trust the Department of Justice in a matter like this," said Rep. Tom Cole, R-Okla., who holds the gavel on the House Appropriations subcommittee with jurisdiction over the Capitol Police budget. "I don't have any reason to believe they would not take it very seriously," he said, adding that he had not yet had a chance to review the DOJ report.
Earlier this year, Cole's colleagues on the legislative branch appropriations panel pressed Capitol Police Chief Kim C. Dine on whether officers acted appropriately, given that Carey was unarmed and had a child on board when they fired the fatal shots. According to an autopsy report, Carey sustained five gunshot wounds to her neck and torso area, one of which was fatal.
At the time, Dine told the panel that the department had begun to “analyze and dissect” other aspects of the shooting, including perimeter security and communication issues.
The officer who fired on Carey outside the Capitol, and another Capitol Police officer who fired at the 34-year-old dental hygienist as she drove her Infiniti on the sidewalk between the wall that borders the Capitol lawn, are still on administrative leave pending the outcome of the internal investigation, according to Capitol Police spokeswoman Lt. Kimberly Schneider.
Rep. James P. Moran, D-Va., one of the appropriators who challenged Dine, says Oct. 3 should be used as a "teachable experience so that the next person with mental issues is not shot because they're acting erratically."
"I know that had that happened in Alexandria, the results would have been different, so it's troubling," Moran said. "I think that there must be a different attitude, or level of training or whatever. I don't think this is the way that a situation like that should normally be handled and I'd like to see, at the very least, have this be used as a teachable moment."
Carey had been diagnosed with postpartum depression and psychosis, and told police President Barack Obama was monitoring her with cameras in her Stamford, Conn., apartment. In Moran's view, there is obvious evidence that she was mentally disturbed.
"As far as I'm concerned she was not a direct threat to anybody that they're sworn to protect. She was acting erratically and for that she was killed," he said, "and her baby could have been shot dead, so it troubles me."
A spokesperson for the House Administration Committee, which has jurisdiction over Capitol Police, told CQ Roll Call that the panel does not comment on pending litigation or pending investigations. In addition to the Capitol Police internal investigation, a civil suit is pending. Carey's sister has filed a wrongful death claim filed against the Capitol Police and Secret Service seeking $75 million in compensation for the family.
House Oversight and Government Reform Chairman Darrell Issa, R-Calif., previously suggested that his committee could take an "over the shoulder" approach to monitoring the Justice Department's activity on the investigation. He said Friday that people need to understand that the officers have now been cleared of criminal wrongdoing.
"Could we have done better? Could somebody still be alive if better techniques were used? Yes," Issa said, explaining that he hopes the District of Columbia, which falls under his jurisdiction, continues to improve its ability to "defend without death."