The death of Miriam Carey, killed by police gunfire Thursday after leading a car chase from the White House to the Capitol, is prompting questions from her family about whether she deserved to die. The incident, of which details remain unexplained, is leading experts to analyze the actions of the officers present.
"We're still very confused as a family why she's not still alive," Carey's sister Amy Carey-Jones told the AP late Friday. "I really feel like it's not justified, not justified."
Another of Carey's sisters, retired New York City transit police officer Valarie Carey, told the news agency that there was "no need for a gun to be used when there was no gunfire coming from the vehicle."
The sisters also say they would like to know whether police knew that a 1-year-old child was in the car with Carey. The little girl, Erica Carey, emerged uninjured.
Miriam Carey, 34, was a dental hygienist who had been receiving mental health treatments after the birth of her daughter, her family has said. Amy Carey-Jones "told CNN that Miriam was not bipolar nor schizophrenic, instead her doctors had diagnosed her with postpartum depression with psychosis," as we reported yesterday.
Carey's family says that she did not have a history of violence; she also did not have a criminal record, by all accounts. No weapon was found in the black Infiniti in which Carey struck a barrier at the White House and led police on a chase around fountains and up to security gates near the Capitol.
The chase took place weeks after Washington was shocked by a shooting rampage in the federal Navy Yard, where a contract worker killed 12 people before being shot to death by the authorities.
An investigation into the circumstances around Thursday's shooting includes elements of the city's Metropolitan Police Department and the Capitol Police, along with the Secret Service and FBI, according to D.C. police.
"[Metropolitan] Police Chief Cathy L. Lanier said investigators still do not know which agency's officers fired at each location," The Washington Post reports.
The newspaper adds that police in Washington, as in many other U.S. cities, are forbidden from shooting at a moving vehicle unless their lives are in danger. Those rules also state that a moving vehicle is not deemed "deadly force."
"Brian Leary, a Secret Service spokesman, declined to provide a copy of his agency's use-of-force or chase policies," The Post says. "Lt. Kimberly Schneider, a spokeswoman for the Capitol Police, did the same."
The newspaper also gathered experts' opinions on the shooting.
U.S. Senate Sergeant at Arms Terrance Gainer, a former Capitol Police chief, said that while most guidelines rule out firing at a vehicle, Thursday's chase "was not your typical traffic violation."
Noting that Carey refused to surrender, he said, "We operate in an environment under the constant threat of attack from suicide bombers and improvised explosive devices ... Whenever there are bullets flying, there are risks. I think these officers minimized the risks to others."
Retired New York police commander Joseph Pollini, now a professor at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, said he doesn't know what prompted the officers to open fire. But he added, "Just because she didn't get out of the car if they told her to get out of the car is not sufficient to use deadly force."
Carey's family plans to conduct its own investigation into her death.
Speaking on All Things Considered yesterday, NPR's Laura Sullivan said she had spoken with Carey's neighbor, Erin Jackson, who said she was completely shocked by the incident.
"She described Carey as a friendly, doting mother, who was just incredibly protective of her daughter," Laura said. "She saw no indication that anything like this would be possible. She said she didn't seem delusional. Especially in recent days, she seemed almost upbeat to her. She said that the most shocking thing that, for her, was just knowing that her daughter was in the car with her."
Carey's daughter is now in protective custody in Washington.