Berkeley police officer fired after shooting at fleeing car

A Berkeley police officer who fired shots at a moving vehicle has been fired by the department.

Cellphone video from a witness shows Officer Cheri Miller firing shots at a fleeing car in July. There were three people inside the vehicle who had allegedly stolen from a drugstore. 

None of the occupants were struck by the gunfire. But Officer Miller was terminated.

"I think it was just tough for them to find justification for an officer to have made that decision," said Emilie Raguso, senior editor of news at Berkeleyside. Raguso investigated the case after obtaining documents related to the shooting.

Raguso said the officer believed the driver was going to run her over. But there's a big issue.

"It looked like she was firing at the wheel, not the driver himself," Raguso said.

And Miller's actions violated Berkeley police policy, which bars officers in most cases from shooting at moving cars and limits the use of deadly force.

It happened outside the CVS Pharmacy at Shattuck and Rose in North Berkeley. Surveillance video shows three suspects stealing from the store and being chased out by employees. 

At one point, there was a tug of war over a shopping cart.

Officer Miller was nearby and heard the commotion. She drove to the drug store with her lights and sirens on. She yelled at one suspect, "Let me see your hands, now."

The officer told the suspect to get back into the car, but he later starts the vehicle. 

"Turn the car off now!" the officer shouts at the suspect. But he drives off, leading the officer to fire three shots at the car, apparently aiming for the left front tire.

"Shots fired, vehicle fleeing," the officer reported on the radio.

"Ultimately she would not have most likely been justfiied at shooting at the driver regardless, because of the circumstances of the case," Raguso said.

But some in the community say the officer should not have lost her job. 

"A lot of people said, 'This is the kind of policing we want to have. Here's an officer who did not shoot to kill,'" Raguso said.

Andrea Prichett, founder of Berkeley Copwatch said the officer was "not to fire at the driver. She ultimately did the right thing by not killing someone."

Still, Prichett said the department was right to fire Miller. 

"She exists in a police culture that right now is very casual about displaying firearms and threatening people with weapons," Prichett said.

The department would only say that Miller was released from probation as a relatively new officer. The driver of the car, Brandon Owens, did get a flat tire as a result of the shooting. He was later arrested and charged with robbery.