Officer who fired fatal shot says Ashli Babbitt posed a threat to House members

Capitol Police Lt. Michael Byrd speaks publicly for first time

Security officers barricade the door of the House chamber as rioters disrupt the joint session of Congress to certify the Electoral College vote on Jan. 6. Reps. Troy Nehls, R-Texas, in a blue shirt, Markwayne Mullin, R-Okla., right, and Dan Meuser, R-Pa., second from right, are also pictured. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Security officers barricade the door of the House chamber as rioters disrupt the joint session of Congress to certify the Electoral College vote on Jan. 6. Reps. Troy Nehls, R-Texas, in a blue shirt, Markwayne Mullin, R-Okla., right, and Dan Meuser, R-Pa., second from right, are also pictured. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Posted August 26, 2021 at 8:03pm

The Capitol Police officer who fatally shot rioter Ashli Babbitt as she attempted to break into the Speaker's Lobby near the House floor on Jan. 6 said in a television interview Thursday he was yelling at the mob to "get back" and "stop" and fired when those commands were not followed.

"She was posing a threat to United States House of Representatives," Capitol Police Lt. Michael Byrd told NBC's Lester Holt.

Babbitt, an Air Force veteran and QAnon follower, was part of a mob that was trying to get into the Speaker's Lobby, an area with direct access to the House floor that is off limits to the general public. Supporters of former President Donald Trump, and Trump himself, have questioned her shooting.

As Babbitt was climbing through a broken window, Byrd fired one round from his pistol, hitting Babbitt in the left shoulder. Babbitt, 35, was taken to Washington Hospital Center, where she died. She was not armed.

[7 Capitol Police officer sue Trump and far-right groups over riot]

Members were in the lobby and on the House floor as lawmakers were attempting to evacuate when Babbitt was shot. That area was being defended by the Capitol Police to protect members from harm.

The Department of Justice determined in April that Byrd would not face criminal charges. Earlier this week, the Capitol Police's internal investigation into the shooting determined the officer would not face discipline.

The Capitol Police said its Office of Professional Responsibility “determined the officer’s conduct was lawful and within Department policy, which says an officer may use deadly force only when the officer reasonably believes that action is in the defense of human life, including the officer’s own life, or in the defense of any person in immediate danger of serious physical injury.”

That announcement did not contain the officer's name, however. Until he went public on the network news, Byrd's name was being concealed by authorities, though it had appeared on social media. He told Holt he and his family have been living in hiding for months.

“They talked about killing me, cutting off my head," Byrd said. A Black man, Byrd said he has also been the target of racist attacks.

Supporters of Babbitt have highlighted that in 2019, Byrd left his gun unattended in a Capitol Visitors Center bathroom, a lapse he addressed in the interview.

"It was a terrible mistake. I acknowledged it. I owned up to it," Byrd said. "I accepted the responsibility. I was penalized for it and I moved on."

The Capitol Police have a well-documented history of leaving their weapons behind.

Trump said in a statement Aug. 11 that Babbitt was "murdered at the hands of someone who should never have pulled the trigger." Asked by Holt about that, Byrd said it was "disheartening," but he would have protected Trump and his family in that situation.

"I sure would because it's my job," Byrd said when asked by Holt if he would have Trump's back today.

Some House Republicans have been critical of Byrd's actions, have called for him to be named publicly and have cast rioters as victims.

Rep. Andrew Clyde, R-Ga., who framed the Capitol attack as “not an insurrection,” has questioned whether the officer's shooting of Babbitt was justifiable.

“Also, the only shot fired on January the sixth was from a Capitol Police officer who killed an unarmed protester, Ashli Babbitt,” Clyde said. He said Byrd's action would “probably be, eventually, be determined to be a needless display of lethal force.”

Asked why he fired when other police defending the Capitol did not, Byrd told Holt he was "sure it was a terrifying situation. And I can only control my reaction, my training, my expertise. That would be upon them to speak for themselves."

Rep. Paul Gosar, R-Ariz., has questioned “who executed Ashli Babbitt?” and has used his official website to allege a "cover up."

Rep. Jody Hice, R-Ga., has said the victims of the pro-Trump riot were the pro-Trump rioters: “In fact, it was Trump supporters who lost their lives that day, not Trump supporters who were taking the lives of others. You go down the list here, Ashli Babbitt was shot and killed by a Capitol Police officer.”

Holt said Byrd plans to return to work at the Capitol Police.