Experts disagree over whether Capitol Hill shooting was justified

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(CNN) -- Experts disagreed Friday on whether police acted appropriately when they fatally shot a 34-year-old, unarmed dental hygienist on Capitol Hill.

Miriam Carey was shot Thursday afternoon as she emerged from her car after a high-speed chase near some of Washington's most sensitive landmarks.

Had Carey been shot a few moments earlier, such as when police had surrounded her car and she drove into them or as she sped off, it would have been justified because she had just aimed her car -- a deadly weapon -- at the officers, said Mark O'Mara, a CNN legal analyst.

But witnesses say the shooting occurred after the car had stopped and Carey had gotten out, he noted, and that changes things.

"If she did not turn on them like she was going for a gun, something to at that point say the threat is ongoing and immediate and imminent, then maybe the police should have taken a breath, waited," O'Mara said.

They would have quickly determined that she posed no threat, he said.

But Maki Haberfeld, chairwoman of the Department of Law, Police Science and Criminal Justice Administration at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York, said police had no way of knowing whether she posed a threat as she emerged from the car, and therefore the shooting was justified.

"We live in times of heightened alert as far as terrorist activities are concerned," she said. "The fact that she was not displaying a gun doesn't mean anything, because bombers don't necessarily display anything. They have the explosives around their waist, usually.

"It's a matter of a split-second decision that the police officer needs to take before someone explodes himself. It's all about the larger context. They just push the button, or it could be activated from a remote location."

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  • carol

    It’s a close call . We can all sit around ,and say what should have or could have been done , but truth be told unless you are in the heat of the moment ,and right there when it’s happening it’s hard to say . We don’t know what the officers were seeing ,feeling ,or thinking at the time . Could they know for sure without a shadow of a dooubt that she didn’t have a weapon ?

  • Barbara Abbott

    I feel the officer’s were justified in shooting the person driving the car in question. They had her pinned in and she backed into a patrol car and sped off. They had no idea what her motives were or why she was acting so crazy. If she was concerned for her child’s safety, she wouldn’t have acted so irrationally.

  • Ken C

    When she was first boxed in, a cop leaned in the passenger window with a gun while others surrounded the car so she tried to escape at that point and officers took at least 8 shots at her as she drove away as can be heard on the video of that part of the incident, so I’m sure that the cops radioed that shots were fired, and put the entire city on lock down even though all the shots came from law enforcement. One cop was speeding down the street about 80 miles an hour and due to poor driving skills hit a concrete barricade and was injured, which I’m sure went out over the radio that an officer was down and required an ambulance That crash was also on video. The other officers who confronted her later on at the end of the incident surely had first on their minds that shots were fired and an officer was down so it was easy for them to assume she was a threat and open fire without actual provocation, and I’m sure they felt justified. So far I haven’t seen a video of that part of the incident but from descriptions of the events it would seem like she was giving up and they took her out, endangering the life of her daughter in the process.

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