WASHINGTON — Federal law enforcement officers fired 17 shots at two locations along Pennsylvania Avenue NW on Thursday, killing an apparently unarmed woman who resisted arrest while attempting to drive through security barriers near the White House and the Capitol.
A 1-year-old child in the woman’s car was reportedly unharmed.
That account was provided by officials in charge of the Capitol Police and U.S. Secret Service, who lauded their officers for “acting heroically,” as D.C. Police Chief Cathy Lanier put it. They noted that one officer from each agency had been injured in the pursuit but emphasized that the woman had been unable to penetrate the inner rings of security guarding President Barack Obama and members of Congress.
“It seems all around the Capitol, security worked well,” Capitol Police Chief Kim Dine said. Lawmakers, temporarily locked down during the chase, agreed. Senate staffers distributed buttons, made last year, that read: “Thank you, Capitol Police.”
The dramatic chase cast a spotlight on a pair of federal law enforcement agencies that have been facing increased scrutiny and demands since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Yet both have suffered budget cuts as part of the mandatory spending reductions known as the sequester and have worked without pay for long hours during the government shutdown.
They also have been on alert in recent weeks. On the day that a gunman killed 12 people at the Washington Navy Yard last month, Secret Service officers tackled a man who threw firecrackers on the White House lawn.
Sen. Bernard Sanders, I-Vt., told ABC News that it is “a national disgrace” that the Capitol Police are not being paid during the shutdown.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said that he spoke to the Capitol Police officer who was injured after crashing his car during the chase and that the officer told him: “The only thing I do every day is make sure you and everyone who works up here is safe.”
Law enforcement officials dismissed suggestions that the officers might have overreacted to a driver who was merely lost or had panicked. Video recorded by bystanders showed five officers pointing their guns at the car from both sides of the vehicle.The driver manages to pull the car forward and slip past and is later chased by another police car, the video shows.
Lanier, who is overseeing an investigation of the incident, dismissed a question from a reporter about whether the chase might have been the result of an accident by a confused driver. The District of Columbia police chief noted the “lengthy pursuit” that stretched several blocks and the driver’s attempt to breach security at two checkpoints.
Former Secret Service agents said the officers observed proper protocol. They said there are three rings of security around the president at all times — exterior, interior and inner — which grow successively tighter.
Witnesses said the woman drove through a White House checkpoint at 15th and E streets NW but quickly turned her car around on encountering concrete barriers arranged in an angled fashion to prevent vehicles from slamming directly into them.
The driver then knocked down an off-duty agent before speeding toward the Capitol.
W. Ralph Basham, who was the Secret Service director under President George W. Bush, said Thursday that the officers should not be second-guessed for shooting to stop the driver.
“You can’t get in this person’s mind to determine what she was trying to do,” he said.