The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Miriam Carey was shot at 26 times by law enforcement near the Capitol in 2013. Her sister contrasts her fate to the treatment of the Jan. 6 rioters.

Valarie Carey, sister of Miriam Carey, joins family and friends in a silent protest at the U.S. Capitol grounds in October 2014. (Linda Davidson/The Washington Post)

On Oct. 3, 2013, a dental hygienist from Connecticut named Miriam Carey drove toward the White House with her 13-month-old daughter strapped into a car seat. Carey, 34, pulled up to a security checkpoint, improperly entered the restricted zone, then quickly U-turned out, ignoring Secret Service officers’ commands to stop. Officers hopped in their cars and gave chase down Pennsylvania Avenue NW.

At the foot of the West Lawn of the Capitol, U.S. Capitol Police officers joined the Secret Service with guns drawn, cornering the car on a sidewalk. Carey backed into a squad car, drove briefly on the sidewalk and continued toward Constitution Avenue NW. Officers fired eight shots. Her car was shortly surrounded by officers on Constitution Avenue NE, a block from the Capitol. As Carey tried to back away, a Capitol Police officer and a Secret Service officer each fired nine bullets at the car. Carey was hit once in the arm, three times in the back and once in the head. She died a short while later. Her baby was not physically harmed.

The attack on the Capitol this month — and the focus on the Capitol Police’s response to it — brought the story of Miriam Carey rushing back to my mind. I wrote a detailed look at the case for The Washington Post Magazine in 2014. The seeming restraint that some Capitol Police officers showed the overwhelmingly White mob on Jan. 6 — apparently making way for rioters at some barricades and, in at least one case, taking a selfie — was so different from the use of deadly force against an African American woman with a baby who never came close to breaching the Capitol or the White House.

I wondered how Carey’s relatives were reacting to the attack and if they saw parallels to the death of their loved one. Recently I spoke via Zoom with Valarie Carey, a sister of Miriam’s; we were joined by Eric Sanders, the family’s lawyer. Carey said that when the attack on the Capitol occurred, she wasn’t watching television or following social media. She began getting phone calls and text messages. People sent clips of footage of the attack. “And to be quite honest, when I clicked on [it], I didn’t even look at it for maybe perhaps a few seconds because it’s triggering,” she told me. “When incidents occur in Washington that people make parallels to Miriam, it just creates a great sense of anxiety and hurt and sadness, knowing that she wasn’t given consideration.”

From her glimpses of the assault, she could tell that “these individuals felt emboldened and emblazoned and they felt as if they weren’t in fear for their safety, or their freedom,” she said. “They felt that whatever actions that they were in or that they were about to do was going to be okay. And they continued on with their mission.”

As the attack unfolded that afternoon, she sent a tweet: “I hear cops in DC are using GREAT restraint in the face of bodily assault. Yet my sister Miriam Carey made a U-Turn 1/4 mile AWAY from the White House was shot 5x in the back of her body including her head as she drove AWAY w/her 13 month baby in the car #Justice4MiriamCarey.”

Still, the two episodes aren’t perfectly comparable, Valarie Carey is quick to say. As a retired New York City police sergeant, she could see that part of the law enforcement response on Jan. 6 was a function of being vastly outnumbered. Some officers fought back hard against the insurrection. A White woman who was part of the mob was shot to death by a Capitol Police officer, and an officer who engaged with the attackers later died.

“What I can say is in Miriam’s [case] … she was just one individual, and then there was a multitude of officers that pursued her and shot at her over 26 times and killed her as she was driving away, not committing a crime,” she said. “Are they more concerned about policing a federal building, are they more concerned about the breach of that, than a citizen’s life that was innocent and taken away? So that’s what I want people to kind of look at.”

The killing of Miriam Carey occurred in what now seems like a very different time — before the Black Lives Matter movement and the reckoning over police treatment of minorities. Trayvon Martin had been killed by a vigilante the year before Carey’s death, but subsequent deaths at police hands that fueled the movement were yet to come. A tight community of supporters rallied to call attention to Carey’s fate, but their protests never caught on with national activists.

“It’s been a long road, 7 1/2 years, and we’re still seeking justice for Miriam,” Valarie Carey said. “She was gunned down, and she wasn’t in the commission of a crime. When you see other incidents where people are in commissions of crimes and they are either handled with care, consideration, perhaps arrested but not killed, it just makes you say, ‘Well, why was my sister treated so adversely? Why is she not here with us today?’ ”

The family is pushing to have the case reopened and the officers identified and held accountable. Sanders says he has been stonewalled from receiving vital documents and information that could shed more light, such as police radio transmissions from that day. A petition that Valarie Carey launched several years ago to reopen the case has received more than 50,000 signatures in the aftermath of the Capitol attack, for a total of more than 60,000.

Calls for a thorough investigation into the Capitol attack are “just a reminder of the non-transparency in my sister’s case,” Valarie Carey said. “We know the names of the officers involved in Mike Brown’s, Eric Garner’s, Breonna Taylor’s deaths. Why hasn’t the public or the family, for that matter, [heard] from the departments involved saying these officers are responsible?”

“Part of the problem is there’s lack of transparency in policing in general, and the federal government as a group are allowed by their own rules to publicly redact and keep their whole agencies operating in secrecy, whether it’s the Capitol Police, the Secret Service,” Sanders said. “They can redact information under all these archaic rules to protect themselves.”

The officers involved were never identified. The U.S. attorney’s office found that their use of deadly force was justified, based on an investigation whose details were largely kept secret. What threat Carey posed was never explained. The Capitol Police and Secret Service steadfastly refused to comment. The Capitol Police, in particular, were shielded from the scrutiny of public information laws thanks to its special status as beholden to Congress rather than to the larger public.

My investigation for the magazine found that, contrary to initial police accounts that helped define the case in the public’s mind, Carey never crashed a barrier at the White House or Capitol. (As she attempted to leave the White House zone, an officer in plain clothes thrust a bicycle rack in front of her car and she pushed through it, knocking him over.) She probably wasn’t driving much over the speed limit. Police violated standard procedure by shooting at a moving vehicle.

Certainly Carey’s actions were puzzling to the point of alarming, and why she went to Washington at all is a mystery. She had experienced difficulty with postpartum depression and had at least one apparently delusional episode nearly a year before she drove to D.C., but her supervisors at the two dental offices where she worked told me she was a high-functioning, dependable employee right up until the day she made the trip. Her family thinks that once in Washington, she made a wrong turn at the White House and panicked at the sight of aggressive officers. After Carey was shot, the House of Representatives gave the Capitol Police a standing ovation.

A spokeswoman for the Capitol Police did not respond to my request for comment last week. But Terrance W. Gainer, a former chief of the Capitol Police who was serving as the Senate sergeant-of-arms at the time of Carey’s death, told The Post in a story last week that he regrets the department was not more responsive to public inquiries into the Carey case and another matter at the time. “Those were the rules we had grown up with, but there’s no reason to continue doing that,” he said. “Over the past few years, police departments have been expected to release videos and reports and had to adapt. We should have had to explain why we did or didn’t use deadly force, just like the Capitol Police should have to do for January 6th.”

Miriam Carey’s daughter is 8 now, and living with her father, from whom Carey was estranged at the time of her death. “She’s beautiful and she’s doing good for now,” Valarie Carey said. “But we don’t know how trauma will surface in later years.”

David Montgomery is a staff writer for The Washington Post Magazine.

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