In the days and weeks following the Capitol shooting, many are wondering if deadly force was necessary. Now, citizens and officers are waiting the results of an investigation that has been announce to determine whether officers' reasoning and judgment were appropriate.
An investigation is launched
On October 6, 2013, the police in Washington announced that it would be investigating the use of deadly force in the Capitol Shooting of 34-year-old Miriam Carey. The Connecticut woman spurred on a car chase through the heart of the capital, rammed an officer's vehicle, and was fatally shot by Capitol Police while her infant daughter was in the back seat.
Investigators have already told news outlets that Carey had a history of serious metal health issues and was under the delusion that President Barack Obama was communicating with her, reported ABC Local KABC-TV. The family is questioning the use of deadly force as an appropriate action against an unarmed woman with a child in the back seat. They have repeated state that Miriam had been suffering from severe postpartum depression before the incident.
Reconstructing officers' actions
The Associated Press reported that investigators are planning to reconstruct the car chase and examine how officers interacted with the Carey and determine if proper procedures were followed.
Michael Lyman, a former criminal investigator, told USA Today, that because Carey was unable to penetrate the barriers around the White House, the situation should have downgraded from a national security concern to an "old-fashion pursuit." He added that the risk of hitting a bystander in this situation is too high to shoot at a moving vehicle.
"Shooting at a moving vehicle is against all nationally recognized protocols," said Lyman, a criminal justice professor at Columbia College of Missouri.
Outside experts have weighed in to say that if the officers shooting had been trying to disable the vehicle by blowing the tires out, that is a very difficult action to pull off, which is why police are often trained to not attempt such a risky maneuver. Dan Kennedy, a forensic criminologist, told the USA Today that police are instructed not to attempt shooting at a vehicle or its tires because bullets end up ricocheting off the pavement or the vehicle and potentially striking bystanders.
"There's been a real disconnect between reality and expectations on the part of civilians based largely on what they've seen on TV and in the movies," Kennedy told the news source. "It's generally a bad idea to fire at a moving vehicle and most police departments don't allow it."
What may throw the argument of never shooting at a moving vehicle is the fact that Carey struck and injured an officer with her car during the beginning of the incident.
"The officers felt their lives were in … jeopardy, or other citizens' lives could've been in fear as well," Ed Clarke, a security expert, told WUSA-9. "It's very quick how they have to make a critical decision. In a matter of milliseconds."
The intentions of the driver were unknown and considering the route, from the White House to the Capitol building, officers had to assume the worst. While it's no debate that the officers acted heroically, some are debating whether the use of deadly force when other actions had not been taken, was the right option to chose. Possible ways to stop a car that were not used included placing tire-deflation devices on the road ahead of the driver or using more cars to box the driver in.
"These would not only stop a vehicle, they would give law enforcement officers the opportunity to apprehend without resorting to deadly force," Lyman told the news source. "That should be a conversation that law enforcement should have in D.C."
Using past examples in the examination
In January 2005, two days before former President George W. Bush's second inauguration, Lowell Timmers drove a van into downtown Washington, D.C. and parked it just one block from the White House. Slate reported that at the time, Timmers claimed that his van was wired to explode and was holding what appeared to be a detonation device in his hand while he made various demands. Police officers and Secret Service personnel evacuated nearby buildings, established a perimeter and surround the man.
During this aforementioned case, Timmers was negotiated with for several hours but eventually surrendered peacefully. The news source reported that no one was hurt during the incident. Looking back, why was one situation so much different than the other?
What can result from this incident
"Use of deadly force" is often granted to police forces when the person or persons in question are believed to be an immediate danger to people around them. The use of deadly force is also authorized when a person poses a significant threat to a law enforcement officer, usually when the officer is at risk of serious bodily injury or death. Incidents can escalate quickly from a chase to a lethal encounter and often requires split second decision making on the part of officers. It is what happens before the incident (policy guidelines, training, compliance) and after, which includes reviewing of the actions officers took, which can often take place in a court of law where departments can be held liable fo the actions of their officers.
Consider what would have happened if Carey's infant child had been injured, or worse, killed, during the exchange. In addition to the direct liability created by the incident, the negative fallout from incidents like these can create very bad press for the policing profession. What can a department do to minimize their exposure to liability in high-stakes situations like these?
It's important for investigators and department officials to not only look at individual actions but the policies, procedures and compliance mechanisms to ensure these are not subject to interpretation after the fact. Already an unspecified number of Secret Service officers and two U.S. Capitol Police officers involved in the fatal shooting have either been reassigned or placed on modified duty, according to The Washington Times. Regardless of the appropriateness of the use of force during a given incident, these cases can quickly lead to removal or resignation of higher-ups in the chain of command and internal affairs reviews of the department as a whole.
It's crucial for a department to have a clear use of deadly force policy, especially in a metro like Washington, D.C., for which security is essential because it is a primary target.
Every department should regularly review its high-stakes policies and make sure they conform to the current Federal and State legal frameworks. In addition, departments should document that all uniformed officers must receive training on each policy as well as the necessary skills training to carry it out. Training must be recorded in a legally defensible manner in order to stand up in a court of law. In the end, the Miriam Carey incident is a stark reminder of the difficult daily realities facing our police officers and how quickly incidents can escalate.
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