By Tom Watkins
(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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