No clarity, consensus on whether Capitol Hill shooting was justified

Posted at 5:54 PM, Oct 04, 2013
and last updated 2013-10-05 22:22:06-04

WASHINGTON, D.C. (WTVR/CNN) -- The 34-year-old dental hygienist from Stamford, Connecticut, had just rammed her black luxury car through barricades and into police cruisers near the U.S. Capitol, one of Washington's securest areas.

In the car with Miriam Carey was her one-year-old daughter.

Police say Carey then sped down Pennsylvania Avenue before crashing. Two law enforcement officers were injured, and officers fatally shot her.

But was the shooting of the unarmed woman justified?

“They surrounded the car, and then she backed up rapidly…then she struck the officer and then she fled the scene very rapidly,” Steve Neal, a veteran of law enforcement with more than two decades of experience, said. “So this is when lives of everybody in the area become at risk.”

CBS 6 viewers have raised questions about the force used by police in this situation.

"They knew the baby was in the car. Shooting into it was reckless. How would they have explained it if the little girl died as a result of it?" asked one viewer.

"She was driving her weapon. Regardless of what she had going on, they tried to take her without use of lethal force, they ended up using a last resort,” said another viewer.

“What the law enforcement officer is thinking here is about ending the threat to life--that’s your mindset,” Neal said, and added that when a threat is imminent, deadly force is used.

"These situations change so rapidly, sometimes you only have a fraction of a second to process what you see and to decide how they're gonna act.”

He says it's best to wait until all of the facts come out before making any kind of judgment call.

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 would have had no way of knowing whether Carey posed a threat as she got out of 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."