A Temple University student who was in Miami to celebrate her 22nd birthday was fatally shot by Miami Beach Police after she struck an officer with her car Sunday during an incident caught on video.
Cariann Hithon drove at officers Sunday evening on 12th Street, hitting an officer before other officers opened fire on her car, the Miami Herald reports. Hithon, of Bowie, Maryland, was taken to the hospital, where she later died, WRC-TV reports.
The injured officer, David Cajuso, was also hospitalized and has been since been released. The shooting is being investigated by the Miami-Dade Police Department. The name of the officer who shot Hithon has not been released.
Here’s what you need to know:
1. Police Say Hithon, Who Witnesses Say Was ‘Drunk,’ Hit Several Cars With Her BMW at High Speed Before the Shooting
Miami Beach Police said the shooting happened after Cariann Hithon was involved in a series of crashes about 6 p.m. Sunday, CBS Miami reports. Hithon first crashed her black BMW sedan into a truck at high speed on 12th Street and Ocean Drive, police said. She fled from that scene and hit another vehicle on Lincoln Drive, according to police.
“The car was coming westbound from Ocean on 12th and went through the red light, struck an occupied car on 12th and Collins,” Miami Beach Police Chief Dan Oates told reporters. “At some point, the driver made a decision to speed away and she continued west on 12th Street. … Why the BMW was traveling at some rate of speed through a red light, we don’t have an answer to that question right now.”
After the second crash, she continued on 12th Street, where she was surrounded by a crowd. Police were called to the scene and began to approach the car, which is when she accelerated at officers and was shot, authorities said.
Hithon had been driving erratically prior to the shooting and appeared to be trying to flee the scene before she was surrounded, according to police. The crashes happened after Hithon had spent the day drinking heavily, the Miami Herald reports. She was in South Florida to celebrate her 22nd birthday, her family said.
A retired Miami-Dade Police detective, John Butchko, was in the vehicle hit after Hithon ran a red light, he told the Herald. “We clearly had a green light. Two cars had already gone through the intersection,” Butchko said. Hithon drove through the light going about 60 mph, Butchko told the newspaper. “She was looking straight ahead. She didn’t acknowledge anything in her peripheral vision.”
The incidents happened in Miami Beach’s entertainment district, which was busier than usual on a Sunday afternoon because of the Columbus Day holiday, the Herald reports. There were also more officers in the area.
“She started the car and ran away,” witness Miguel Garcia told CBS Miami. “She was, like, going over the policeman in front of her, the officer.” He said she had a “wild, crazed expression,” according to the news station.
“She was staring, it was very scary looking, I think she was on drugs or something,” Garcia said. “At that point the other cop started shooting. I heard like shots, like four or five shots, like ‘pow, pow, pow, pow!’ And then the car lost control.”
Hithon crashed into an SUV and was rushed to Ryder Trauma Center, where she died.
The injured officer, David Cajuso, has been with the Miami Beach Police since 2015. He was treated for a head injury and possible internal injuries, but is expected to be OK. “Our officer who was injured, we know he lost consciousness at the scene for a period of time,” Oates told reporters Sunday.
2. She ‘Floored It’ Through a Crowd at Police & Struck the Officer Before Gunshots Rang Out, Video Shows
A video posted to Instagram shows the moments leading up to the shooting and when the shots were fired. You can watch it above.
The video starts with a shot of Hithon’s damaged black BMW sedan. She is sitting behind the wheel as a crowd gathers around the car, which has heavy damage on the front passenger near the bumper and headlight. Several people can be seen walking near the car as others take out their phones to record video. One of the bystanders says the woman behind the wheel is “lit” and another says she’s “drunk as s*it.”
A uniformed Miami Beach police officer can then be seen walking up to the car as someone tells the woman behind the wheel to get out. Another officer approaches, telling the crowd to get back, just as the car begins to drive, leading to screams from the bystanders. She drives past the first officer and then slams into another officer who was behind him, sending him to the ground.
Suddenly three shots ring out and a fourth officer can be seen with a gun in his hand as the car continues past him and the fallen officer. The BMW then slams into a parked car.
A second video, which you can watch below, shows the scene after the shooting. “Damn they smoked her man,” the person behind the camera says. “They killed her. That’s f*cked up.”
“I was literally shocked she would drive into four or five officers,” Miami Beach lawyer Sean Ellsworth, who witnessed the incident and was in a vehicle struck by Hithon, told the Miami Herald. “She just floored it.”
John Butchko, a retired Miami-Dade police detective who was also struck by Hithon’s car, told the newspaper, “It played out like a movie set with people running, screaming, car crashes, gunshots, an injured officer lying on his back on the road — all within a minute.”
There was a second person in the car, a man, Hithon’s father told WUSA-TV. Cary Hithon said he has spoken to that person, but did not provide details about the conversation. The passenger has not been identified by police. He can be seen in one of the videos getting out of the car before it speeds at police. Police said he has been questioned about the incident.
“Apparently she was accosted by officers, and for whatever reason didn’t satisfy their demands,” Cary Hithon told the Washington Post.
In a statement, the Miami Beach Police Union said, “it is unfortunate that yesterday’s events ended in the loss of life, yet it is an officer’s duty to ensure the safety of the public under the imminent threat of harm from an individual. That being said we cannot dismiss the fact that an officer was hit with deadly force by a vehicle that was driving recklessly and fleeing from the scene of an accident.”
According to the Herald, police officers in Miami Beach were previously prohibited from firing an a moving vehicle after a shooting on Memorial Day in 2014 where officers fired 116 rounds at a car driven by tourist Raymond Herisse, who was killed. Herisse had sideswiped several cars and struck an officer on a bicycle, according to the Herald. The department amended the policy 5 months ago to allow for officers to fire on a vehicle threatening to ram a crowd, in reaction to terrorist attacks with vehicles in Europe, the Herald reports. According to the newspaper, the state’s “fleeing felon” law allows for officers to open fire on someone suspected of committing a felony who could pose a threat to the public.
“We welcome the independent investigation being conducted by the Miami-Dade Police Department and are confident that our officer’s actions were justified, warranted, and appropriate given the circumstances at hand,” Miami Beach Fraternal Order of Police President Bobby Jenkins said.
The Miami New Times reports that the video has raised questions about whether the shooting violated police policy, because there does not appear to be anyone in front of Hithon’s car when the officer opened fire.
3. Hithon, Who Was an Honors Student at Hampton University, Had Recent Arrests on Assault, Marijuana & Fake ID Charges, but Had No Convictions
Hithon grew up in Bowie, Maryland, and attended St. Johns College High School in Northwest Washington, the Post reports. After high school, Hithon studied at Hampton University in Virginia from 2013 to this year, when she transferred to Temple University in Philadelphia to study politics.
According to her Linkedin profile, Hithon also studied political science and government at Hampton, where she was involved in the sociology club, the sophomore executive council, the school’s Honors College and its honors program. She also took part in a “Sister To Sister Mentorship Program” at the university.
She took part in two leadership programs, the “Summer Institute for Emerging Managers and Leaders,” offered by California colleges, first at the University of California-Davis in 2014 and then at the University of San Diego in 2015.
“This is a two year career- building fellowship which provides intensive two-week training helping fellows build analytical skills that will help them enhance their leadership skills through hands-on workshops that immersed them in principles of business development and entrepreneurship, while gaining exposure to opportunities for internships for career development,” she wrote on Linkedin.
Hithon was also a summer legal intern at the Office of Central Services in Prince George’s County in the real estate division during the summer of 2015.
Her family and police are not sure what led to her erratic driving and decision to accelerate at officers and the crowd of bystanders on Sunday. The behavior was said to be out of character for her. Her record shows some run-ins with the law, but no serious charges or convictions.
Hithon was charged with unlawful taking of a motor vehicle and unauthorized removal of property in Prince George’s County, Maryland, in September 2016, but the case was dropped in March 2017. Her father was the complainant in that case.
In August 2016, she was charged by the University of Maryland Police Department with driving with a suspended license and giving a false and fictitious name to uniformed police and issued a speeding ticket for driving 40 mph in a 20 mph zone, but that case was also dismissed. Hithon’s license was suspended earlier in 2016 after she was charged with failure to display her license to uniformed police on demand and driving 71 mph in a 50 mph zone after a traffic stop by Maryland State Police. Along with the suspension, she was fined $50.
According to WUSA-TV, she was also recently charged with assault and battery and possession of marijuana, but those cases were not prosecuted. She also had a conviction for improper driving, the Miami Herald reports.
Further details of those cases were not immediately available.
4. Her Father Says She Had a Great Future & ‘She Was Going to Be the Attorney to Save the World’
Cariann Hithon’s father, Cary Hithon, told the Miami Herald that his daughter planned to go to law school after completing her undergraduate studies at Temple. He said his daughter was a talented baker and makeup artist who often helped out her friends and sisters.
“She was going to be the attorney to save the world,” said her father, Cary Hithon, a retired U.S. Navy captain, told the newspaper. “Everybody that knew her knew she had a great future.”
He told the WUSA-TV the incident was “out of character” for his daughter and “you don’t understand how it could happen. … It’s terrible. I mean you can’t help but have quite a bit of despair and anguish.”
Cary Hithon told the Herald he has a “lot of questions” about what happened. “She liked to drive fast, but what young person doesn’t drive fast?” he said. Hithon told WUSA, “I believe that something was going on and to say what it was, maybe she did panic. There’s no way of knowing that.” He said he does not plan to travel to Miami, and will be OK with what police tell him.
Cary Hithon told the Herald his daughter was a champion for the underserved, and their last conversation was about the controversy over NFL players kneeling during the national anthem to protest police brutality. She wanted to fight against social injustice as an attorney and mentor, and the family “had a lot of promise,” for her, he told WUSA.
“It’s kind of ironic she was killed by a police officer,” he told the Herald. “To end her life this way is obviously very devastating.”
5. Temple’s Student Government Issued a Statement Saying They’re ‘So Proud & Grateful to Have Had Her as a Temple Owl’
Temple’s Student Government issued a statement saying that it was “made aware of a tragic event” in Miami that “claimed the life of one of our own. … We await all the facts as this is still a breaking story, but our thoughts are with Cariann’s friends and family during this tremendously difficult time,” the statement said.
“We are so proud and grateful to have had her as a Temple Owl,” the statement said. “This has been a painful semester, Owls. We know. We hear you. We see you. We support you. We will continue to push unity and peace through these times because pain is always easier to deal with when you have people surrounding and encouraging you. If you are feeling overwhelmed, upset, distressed, or anything else, reach out for help. We have said it before, and we will say it as many times as we have to.”
You can read the full statement below:
In a statement to the Temple News, the university said, “We are saddened to just be learning of the death of Cariann Hithon, a transfer student majoring in political science. As we gather more information and assess our community’s needs for support, we send our thoughts and prayers to her family and friends.”