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Part 2: Did Miriam Carey Need to Die After Wrong Car Move at White House Checkpoint?

Web ExclusiveMarch 17, 2015
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Part 2 of our conversation looking at the death of Miriam Carey. On October 3, 2013, the African-American mother drove to Washington, D.C., from Connecticut with her infant daughter. A U-turn at a checkpoint, followed by a car chase, led to Secret Service agents and U.S. Capitol Police firing 26 bullets at her car, eventually killing Carey.

We speak with three guests: Miriam’s sister, Valarie Carey, who is a retired New York police sergeant; the family’s attorney Eric Sanders; and David Montgomery, a staff reporter for The Washington Post. Last year, he authored an investigation for The Washington Post Sunday Magazine called “How Miriam Carey’s U-Turn at a White House Checkpoint Led to Her Death.”

Click here to watch Part 1 of this interview.

AMY GOODMAN:, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, with Aaron Maté.

AARON MATÉ: New details have emerged about two Secret Service agents accused of drunk driving into a White House security barricade. The Washington Post reports the agents allegedly drove through an active investigation, directly next to a suspicious package, which had been placed on the ground by a woman who claimed it was a bomb. While officers at the scene wanted to arrest the agents and administer sobriety tests, a superior ordered their release, without the tests. The Secret Service’s new director, Joseph Clancy, appointed last month after a scandal over a White House security breach, said he learned of the incident five days later. The agents have been identified as Mark Connolly, the second-in-command on Obama’s security detail, and George Ogilvie, a top supervisor in the Washington field office who issued a statement last year touting the agency’s zero-tolerance policy for [drinking].

AMY GOODMAN: Well, we’re going to turn now to another Secret Service incident that raises disturbing questions. On October 3rd, 2013, an unarmed African-American mother named Miriam Carey drove to Washington, D.C., from Connecticut with her infant daughter in the back seat. A U-turn at a checkpoint, followed by a car chase, led to Secret Service agents and Capitol Police firing 26 bullets at her car, eventually killing her. While the shooting deaths of Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown have sparked nationwide protests against police brutality, Carey’s case remains shrouded in a fog of misinformation. Initial reports claimed she, quote, “rammed” White House and Capitol “barriers,” that she tried to breach two security perimeters. Those reports have since been proven false.

Well, for more, we’re joined by three guests. Here in New York, we’re joined by Valarie Carey, one of Miriam’s sisters. We’re also joined by Eric Sanders. He’s a civil rights lawyer and retired New York City police officer who’s representing the Carey family in their wrongful death claim. And in Washington, D.C., we’re joined by David Montgomery, a staff reporter for The Washington Post. Last year he wrote a piece for The Washington Post Sunday Magazine called “How Miriam Carey’s U-Turn at a White House Checkpoint Led to Her Death.”

We welcome you all to Democracy Now! Tell us how you think this picture of what took place in October fits into the larger issues that are really riling up people around the country of the wrongful death particularly of African Americans.

ERIC SANDERS: This reminds me, when I was still in law school, we talked about the US PATRIOT Act. And it’s just you anticipate what’s going to happen in the future. And I remember when 9/11 happened, that was one of the things that almost made me go back into the police department, because I had just retired. And I remember we was talking about how this is going to be the venue or the mechanism that’s going to allow people’s rights to get violated. And that’s what’s happened. We’ve become militarized, because of the guise of terrorism. So now you have more and more people being shot and killed by the police officers, because they’re simply overreacting to everything. I mean, if you just look at the things that you see—the shootings in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and California, in Cleveland, you know, not mentioning all these different people’s names—it’s the same problem. The police officers are not trained properly. They’re overreacting to simple street confrontations, which generally should be handled with really no excessive force, no shootings. They’re not using their impact weapons. It’s a big problem.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, isn’t another name for police officer “peace officer”?

ERIC SANDERS: Well, that’s one of the things. You know, you’re trained to deal with this. Well, we already know from the previous U.S. Secret Service hearings, part of the problem is training is not taken seriously. There’s one training in 2012 and one in 2013. That simply is not enough, if you’re dealing with street encounters and you’re talking about protecting people’s rights. So it’s a larger problem, which is what I talked about—Congress should have hearings to deal with this, because this is a nationwide problem.

AARON MATÉ: It’s interesting, Miriam was raised in the Pink Houses of Brooklyn, same place where Akai Gurley, an unarmed man, was shot last year in a stairwell by an officer. But there was a probe by prosecutors last year, and they found that there was not enough evidence to indict the officers. What’s your response to that conclusion?

ERIC SANDERS: Well, in that case, he actually got indicted. It was an Asian officer that did get indicted, the NYPD. He got indicted, because what happened—he claimed—well, look, anyone who’s done verticals in the housing developments understand that there’s people that walk in and up and down the stairs. You have to be careful. You know, listen, part of the problem is a larger context problem we have with police officers. Police officers is not—business is not for everyone. We have too many people that don’t belong in the business. You know, every confrontation with a person shouldn’t result in people getting arrested, people assaulted, people shot and killed, because most of these street encounters, if you know how to defuse them, which a voice—the most powerful tool you have is your brain and your voice, connecting those two together. Unfortunately, we’re not using that now. We’re going, “The person will listen to me. I’m going to force them.” And that’s what happened with Miriam Carey. My theory is that he got upset, this first guy, and said, “Who’s this person hitting me with their car?” And then it became the machismo.

AMY GOODMAN: Now, explain. All right, now explain. When she went into this area, explain what the area was where he then put a fence in front of her.


AMY GOODMAN: She didn’t crash through a fence.

ERIC SANDERS: Right, which I said is illogical from the beginning. It’s the E. 15th Street entrance over there. And I said from the beginning, the reason why this happened, because the police officers weren’t doing their job. They were too busy, as they say in the military, smoking and joking. How is she able to drive past the area, because there’s a guard booth there? She drove right past them. And then now they’re chasing her vehicle because, what cops do—”Oh, my god, I missed it”—now they overcompensate. So she makes a U-turn, and she comes back out. There’s no law violated at that point. So now she tries to leave, and she sees this male with a cooler in his hand, a black T-shirt, a black shirt and shorts.

AMY GOODMAN: No uniform.

ERIC SANDERS: No uniform. And it’s clearly established that police officers must establish their authority. They know people are not supposed to assume that you’re a police officer. You know, they have authority. The Supreme Court has talked about that in numerous cases over and over again. It’s the police officer’s obligation to identify himself to the citizen, because a citizen is under no obligation to stop under any authority, unless you have a legal basis, of course.

She tries to leave, she tries to go around the car, and he jumps in front of her car with this bicycle rack, which makes no sense. So then people claim she rammed it. There’s no ram. And we have to be careful how words are used here. There’s no ram. Ram is presupposing someone intentionally runs into it. It’s a big difference between someone who’s trying to get past you and get around it and you get struck as a result of your negligence, as opposed to a person intentionally ramming you. And then this chase ensues.

If you know the area, there’s probably a good 50 or 60 cameras in that whole area, because I walked the area three times. And I observed the police a number of times. And even since that incident, I watched them all smoking and joking, talking on their cellphones and playing all these different games, which is why you keep having these repeat breaches. No one wants to talk about that, but that’s what’s really going on in Washington, D.C. So when they confronted her, or at least they tried to stop her, part of the reason why, because they weren’t following protocols. The police departments, all police agencies—and we love to think police officers are different—they’re all the same. Doesn’t matter whether from New York or Washington, we all have the same consistent training. The vehicles are a little bit different. The ammunition may be a little different, the calibers. But the training, we all train with each other, so they’re interchangeable.


ERIC SANDERS: And—yeah, go ahead.

AMY GOODMAN: So, can you talk about why you think Miriam was in Washington, something that has been unexplained by her family, not knowing what was going on with her?

ERIC SANDERS: I have no idea. And frankly, I don’t care. She’s a U.S. citizen. She had every right to be in Washington, D.C., just like I pick up and fly to Miami. I fly to Puerto Rico. I go where I want to go, because this is a free country, last time I checked. We don’t have to explain why she was there. We certainly can’t have her explain now, because she’s dead now. The question is: Why did the police use the force? More than why she’s in Washington, D.C.

AMY GOODMAN: And what about why you feel she didn’t stop at any point?

ERIC SANDERS: I have no idea. I can’t answer that question. But I know from experience—and anyone who’s ever driven on a highway can see this—a police officer’s stopped on the side, and a person comes around the corner, they’re speeding, driving down the highway, and they see the police officer. [gasps] They step on their brakes hard. Why? Because they’re conscious. People are afraid, they’re intimidated, by a police officer, for all kinds of reasons, having nothing to do with—if they’re ever going to have a confrontation, if they think they’re going to get stopped. They don’t want to get a ticket. That’s not unique to anyone. It’s even us, as police officers. We go out as a police officer. First thing we’re doing is getting our ID out, just in case we get stopped. So, who knows why? But we know one thing: You have to have a legal basis to stop someone.

AARON MATÉ: David Montgomery of The Washington Post, your piece goes into Miriam Carey’s personal issues. She was diagnosed with pastpartum depression after the birth of her daughter. Can you talk about this? And is it relevant to this—

ERIC SANDERS: That’s inaccurate.

AARON MATÉ: That’s inaccurate?

ERIC SANDERS: She was not diagnosed. And, see, that’s part of what the problem is. She was not diagnosed. There are no medical records to support the position that she’s diagnosed as postpartum depression, period.

AARON MATÉ: David Montgomery, do you want to respond to that?

DAVID MONTGOMERY: I worded it in my story as another of Miriam’s sisters and her mother told reporters that shortly after the incident, that she had been diagnosed with postpartum depression and psychosis. And I asked the family for—Eric can tell you—medical records, and they aren’t available. I don’t think—I’m not sure Eric even has them. So, it’s two family members say that—not doctors—two family members say that Miriam told them that she had been diagnosed that way.

AMY GOODMAN: Did you want to add to that, Valarie?

VALARIE CAREY: No, actually. There’s nothing to add to it. I have no personal knowledge of my sister being diagnosed, and there are no documents to support that.

AMY GOODMAN: What do you want to see happen?

VALARIE CAREY: I, along with my mother, would like to see justice, would like to have some transparency. We still to this day do not know the names of the officers involved in the incident. There are a lot of questions that are still surrounding. And the previous initial reports that came out about my sister ramming a White House gate or breaching the White House, which were false, it would be nice if those publications did a follow-up to actually tell the truth.

AMY GOODMAN: You think they should retract those original pieces?

VALARIE CAREY: Absolutely.

AMY GOODMAN: And, David Montgomery, what you’re doing now over at The Washington Post? Your piece now and Jennifer Gonnerman’s piece over at Mother Jones, these are the pieces that are now looking back. But what sunk into the consciousness of the American people, because it was repeated so many times—so many reporters, on television, in print, told this other story.

DAVID MONTGOMERY: Exactly. And starting—the day it happened, there was a press conference. This was the last time the Secret Service or the Capitol Police really ever addressed this publicly, and there was also the D.C. police chief. She’s the one who used the phrase that Miriam Carey attempted to breach two secure perimeters. I’m not quoting her exactly, but two perimeters, and “breach” was her verb. And there was—it turns out there was only one perimeter that she crossed, and we don’t know what her intention was. That’s the one at the White House. The words “ramming” and “crashing” and “gates,” I think some loose language was used in some media and in some headlines. And it’s what we said earlier. The only barrier that she struck was that one that was thrown up to keep her from exiting. When people hear the word “White House gates,” I think most of the public pictures the famous black fence that if you crash through that gate, you’re on the front lawn of the White House. She was at this outer, outer perimeter where there isn’t a gate. There’s a kiosk. And if she had the intention to reach the physical building of the White House, there are at least two more hard perimeters, two more fences, barricades, that it would have been impossible for the car to get through. And I think—so, when I think, in journalistic shorthand, people hear the word “stopped at White House gate” or “hit a barrier outside the White House,” I think people had different pictures in their minds, that when you—that may not have been—precisely fit the reality of what happened.

AARON MATÉ: Valarie, the personal impact on your family—what is it like for your family to lose a loved one and then see false or misleading information like this being spread about her?

VALARIE CAREY: I really can’t articulate the feeling. It’s something that we live with every day. And each time a story that was put on the wire pops up again on Twitter or on Facebook or any social media outlet, and it’s just regurgitated, what happens is that the wound hasn’t closed, so it just continues to sear into your memory. And you know that this is wrong, and you’re speaking, but no one’s actually hearing you.

AMY GOODMAN: How’s Miriam’s little girl? How old is she now?

VALARIE CAREY: She’s two, and she’s without her mother.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, I want to thank you all for being with us. And our condolences to you and your family.


AMY GOODMAN: Valarie Carey, one of the sisters of Miriam Carey, Valarie herself is a retired police sergeant. We also have been joined by Eric Sanders, a retired New York City police officer who now is an attorney representing the Carey family in a wrongful death claim. And David Montgomery, joining us from The Washington Post, staff reporter there, last year he wrote a piece for the Sunday Magazine of The Washington Post called “How Miriam Carey’s U-Turn at a White House Checkpoint Led to Her Death.” We will link to that, as well as Jennifer Gonnerman’s new piece in Mother Jones called “The Wrong Way: Miriam Carey Drove Through a White House Checkpoint and Died in a Hail of Bullets, Her Infant in the Back Seat. Was a Secret Service Screwup to Blame?” This is Democracy Now!,, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, with Aaron Maté.

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StoryMar 17, 2015A Deadly U-Turn: Did Miriam Carey Need to Die After Wrong Car Move at White House Checkpoint?
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