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Douglas Andrews / August 27, 2021

Ashli Babbitt’s Shooter ‘Defends’ Himself

Lt. Michael Byrd’s rationale for shooting an unarmed woman in the U.S. Capitol building is utterly unconvincing.

The first impression one gets from listening to Capitol Police Lieutenant Michael Byrd, the man who shot and killed Ashli Babbitt in the Capitol building on January 6, is that he isn’t too bright. During his interview with NBC’s Lester Holt, Byrd, commander of the House of Representatives chamber section of the U.S. Capitol Police, comes across more like an unimpressive mall cop than the sort of professional we’d entrust to protect Nancy Pelosi and all those other important lawmakers.

On second thought, maybe we’re being unfair to mall cops. What kind of law enforcement professional, after all, shoots an unarmed woman in the chest?* And what kind of officer says of himself, during a national TV interview, “I believe I showed the, uh, utmost courage on January 6th”?

Michael Byrd is a hero, he’ll have you know. And he has no doubt he did the right thing when he stepped toward that window, aimed for “center mass,” and boldly blew away 110-pound Ashli Babbitt. “I know that day I saved countless lives,” Byrd said. “I know members of Congress, as well as my fellow officers and staff, were in jeopardy and in serious danger. And that’s my job.”

His lawyer, Mark Schamel, is even more nauseatingly effusive. “The bravery shown by the lieutenant in organizing and coordinating the defense of the House and its members and staff was nothing short of heroic,” he said. “The lieutenant’s conduct saved lives and helped to end the violent insurrection.”

“There should be a training video on how he handled that situation,” added Schamel, as if he hadn’t already said enough. “What he did was unbelievable heroism.”

Indeed there should be, but for the purpose of demonstrating the unjustified use of force and endangering other officers in the victim’s immediate backdrop.

Byrd said he shot Babbitt as “a last resort,” adding, “her failure to comply required me to take the appropriate action to save the lives of members of Congress and myself and my fellow officers.” But if he and the people he was ostensibly protecting were in such mortal danger, why didn’t one of the numerous armed law enforcement officers directly behind Ashli Babbitt – those in Byrd’s line of fire who he could have inadvertently killed – simply stop her from going through that window?

As our Mark Alexander, himself a former uniformed law enforcement officer, has pointed out: “What’s clear from the videos is that there were four uniformed officers within feet of Babbitt, at least four additional heavily armed riot police, and one or more plain-clothed officers — none of whom made an effort to prevent her attempt to climb through the broken window of the door where she was shot. There is no apparent justification for [Byrd’s] actions.”

Indeed, as one veteran Capitol officer put it, “I’m not sure how he was justified shooting her when there was a SWAT team right behind her,” referring to the three heavily armed USCP officers who’d positioned themselves between the doors and the mob. “They saw no immediate threat.”

As for the shot Byrd fired, the footage of which begins at around 2:20 of the video, we can see that he has his weapon trained toward the middle of the doors, then, in a single movement, he shifts his aim up and leftward and fires a single shot. It’s hard to believe that he even processed his target during that split-second between whirling and firing.

“She was posing a threat to the United States House of Representatives,” Byrd said. Uh-huh. This was the first time during his 29 years on the force that Byrd had ever fired his weapon, which one would expect for a Capitol Police officer, who serves primarily as security guard. It is likely he never sighted down a real threat before and grossly overreacted. And, to be fair to Byrd, he’s certainly never found himself in a surreal situation like that before.

Further, when interviewer Holt asked him whether he could tell if Babbitt was armed, and whether it would’ve made any difference in his decision to shoot her, Byrd said, “It did not.”

Perhaps Holt’s best moment came when he asked Byrd, “What should we make of the fact that there were other officers in other potentially life-threatening situations who didn’t use their service weapons that day?” Byrd’s answer was less than convincing.

As for Holt’s most disgraceful moment, that would be when he described Babbitt as “35 years old, an Air Force veteran, Trump supporter, and QAnon follower,” as if the 14-year veteran’s affinity for a fringe political group somehow makes Byrd’s actions more justifiable.

Indicative of Byrd’s level of incompetence, as we previously noted, he was investigated in February 2019 “for leaving his department-issued Glock-22 firearm unattended in a restroom on the House side of the Capitol. … The abandoned gun was discovered by another officer during a routine security sweep.”

We wonder: Is there a training video for that deeply embarrassing incident?

The Babbitt family’s attorney has described the incident as an “ambush,” claiming that Byrd gave no warning before he pulled the trigger. Here, the two sides utterly disagree. Byrd, in fact, told Holt “he felt pain in his throat for days afterward from yelling at the protesters to stop and step back as they pounded on the glass doors.”

Babbitt’s family is rightly proceeding with a $10 million wrongful death civil suit against the Capitol Police, who have officially exonerated Byrd, according to a memo from the commander of the Capitol Police Office of Personal Responsibility indicating “no further action will be taken in this matter.”

Given that Nancy Pelosi allowed the Capitol Police to completely conceal their investigation – highly unusual for a high-profile officer-involved shooting – perhaps the lawsuit will shine some much-needed sunlight on this disgraceful incident.

In the end, what we have here is the exoneration of a black male Capitol cop for the killing of an unarmed white female. Had these demographics been reversed, the political outcome would’ve been vert different. As it stands, this seems like the embodiment of two-tiered justice.

(Updated)

*There’s exists a lack of clarity about where, exactly, Ashli Babbitt was shot. Leading news sources have variously said “chest,” “shoulder,” and “neck.” The DOJ press release about the investigation says, “An officer inside the Speaker’s Lobby fired one round from his service pistol, striking Ms. Babbitt in the left shoulder, causing her to fall back from the doorway and onto the floor.” In this case, we think it’s reasonable to include the shoulder as part of the general chest area, especially since Lt. Byrd was aiming for the chest — “center mass,” as he says in the interview.

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