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Woman killed during D.C. chase was shot five times from behind, autopsy shows

By Steve Almasy, CNN
updated 8:34 AM EDT, Thu April 10, 2014
Police searched for clues to explain the bizarre chain of events that led to Miriam Carey's death. Police searched for clues to explain the bizarre chain of events that led to Miriam Carey's death.
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STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • In October, Miriam Carey was chased by authorities after an incident at a White House gate
  • She was stopped by police, backed away and was shot at as she fled
  • Carey died later; a 1-year-old in her car was unharmed
  • Family is suing government, saying officers should have held their fire

(CNN) -- An autopsy report, made public six months after Miriam Carey was shot dead after leading Washington police on a car chase from the White House to the Capitol, revealed that the 34-year-old woman was struck by five bullets from behind.

Attorney Eric Sanders, who is representing members of Carey's family in a wrongful death lawsuit against the government, said the autopsy proves the shooting was unjustified.

Lt. Kimberly Schneider, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Capitol Police, one of the agencies involved in the incident, said the department would not comment on the pending litigation and while an investigation is ongoing.

Schneider said the officers involved are on administrative leave.

Sanders released the report on the six-month anniversary of the shooting, which captured national attention as the chase unfolded on cable networks and in the following hours when it was revealed the suspect was an unarmed dental hygienist from Connecticut with a 1-year-old in the backseat.

Chase began at the White House

On October 3, Carey approached a White House checkpoint and was approached by Secret Service officers. She made a three-point turn, striking an officer who was trying to move a barricade into her path, before driving away, according to an affidavit filed in support of a search warrant.

Police said the car sped down Pennsylvania Avenue toward the Capitol, where security vehicles stopped it at Garfield Circle. Carey put the car in reverse, hit a police car and drove away as officers fired at her.

Dramatic video footage by a videographer for Alhurra TV, a Middle Eastern news outlet financed by the U.S. government, showed the black vehicle then speeding around a nearby traffic circle with a police car in close pursuit and then heading away. The car crashed into more security barriers a few blocks later, witnesses said.

More shots were fired after the vehicle stopped, and the woman was hit several times, said Metropolitan Police Department Chief Cathy Lanier. The child was unharmed.

One shot hit her in the head

The office of the District of Columbia medical examiner said in the autopsy that one round struck Carey in the left side of the back of her head, and she was also hit three times in the back and once in her left arm. The report didn't determine in what sequence Carey was hit.

Toxicology tests determined Carey didn't have alcohol or drugs in her blood.

Her family has questioned since the day of the incident whether shooting Carey was the only way to end the chase, which went through the heart of the nation's capital.

Sanders said on Tuesday that Carey's family members still feel police should have considered other options. The autopsy only "confirms what we said. It was unjustified."

The family is suing the Department of Justice, the Secret Service and U.S. Capitol Police for $75 million.

The lawsuit says Carey was unfamiliar with the area and mistakenly drove past the first guard post. When she tried to make a U-turn and drive away, a uniformed Secret Service officer threw a bicycle rack at her car, the lawsuit claims.

Carey panicked when she was stopped near the traffic circle and surrounded by officers with their weapons drawn, the suit alleges.

The family contends in the document there was no legal justification for officers to shoot her and doing so went against their training.

Carey had passport, foreign currency in her car

Police likely feared terrorism

Law enforcement analysts said in the days after the shooting that officers were right to shoot.

"You don't know if she has a bomb," CNN's Mike Brooks said in October. "You don't know if it's a terrorist attack. The officers just don't know."

He dismissed suggestions that police could have defused the situation simply by shooting out the car's tires. "If you are using deadly force, you are there to try to incapacitate the driver of that car -- of that weapon," he said. "If they did shoot the tires out, the car can keep moving."

Maki Haberfeld, chairwoman of the Department of Law, Police Science and Criminal Justice Administration at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York, added that 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."

Sister: Carey diagnosed with postpartum depression

There were also questions about Carey's mental state.

A few months after her daughter was born, Miriam Carey was diagnosed with postpartum depression with psychosis, her sister told CNN's "AC360" in October.

Postpartum psychosis can cause delusions and paranoia, according to medical experts.

"There wasn't a pattern. It was something that occurred suddenly," Amy Carey-Jones said. "She seemed overwhelmed. There was a lot of stress.

"There were not moments of her walking around with delusions. That was not what was going on."

She said her sister had been making progress with the help of counseling and medications.

Carey-Jones said her sister relayed to her that doctors told her she didn't need the medication anymore. "They tapered her off the medications, and she said she felt fine," Carey-Jones said.

She declined to discuss what medication Miriam Carey had taken.

'My sister didn't deserve this'

CNN's Shimon Prokupecz, Jonathan Auerbach and Haimy Assefa contributed to this story.

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