by Paul Sperry at RealClear Investigations
Kicking off the first hearing of the House Select Committee investigating the U.S. Capitol riot, Chairman Bennie Thompson, a Mississippi Democrat, promised to fully investigate “the facts of what happened on Jan. 6,” calling it “a scene of violence in the citadel of democracy.”
But over the next 3½ hours, he and other Democrats, along with their handpicked Republican panelists and police witnesses, never mentioned the most lethal act committed that day — the fatal Capitol Police shooting of unarmed protester Ashli Babbitt. It was the only shot fired during the entire riot.
This omission angered Babbitt’s family and a number of Republicans who maintain that the Select Committee and the Capitol Police are covering up the circumstances surrounding her death. Questions linger over the shooting, especially whether the officer who fired the fatal shot warned Babbitt to stop before he opened fire as she attempted to breach a barricaded door inside the Capitol Building.
The officer’s lawyer insists his client not only issued such a command, but did so loudly and clearly. However, in an interview with RealClearInvestigations, Babbitt family attorney Terry Roberts said he has gathered evidence indicating the officer, a plainclothes police lieutenant, remained silent. Far from warning Babbitt he would shoot, Roberts said the officer “ambushed” her from the side where she could not see he had taken up position in a hall doorway and had trained his weapon on her.
“It’s not debatable,” said Roberts. “There was no warning.”
A Maryland personal-injury lawyer who specializes in police misconduct cases, Roberts has won several million dollars for victims of police brutality. He said he is preparing to file a wrongful-death lawsuit against the Capitol Police and the officer, seeking more than $10 million in damages.
Babbitt, 35, was fatally wounded as she attempted to climb through the broken window above a door leading to the House chamber, where lawmakers were being evacuated. Standing to the side of a pile of furniture blocking the doors and out of Babbitt’s view, the officer took aim with his Glock service pistol, striking her in the left shoulder. Babbitt fell back from the doorway to the floor. She was transported to Washington Hospital Center, where she died from injuries sustained from the .40-caliber bullet wound.
More than six months after the shooting, the U.S. Capitol Police still refuse to release the name of the officer. But several sources have identified him as Lt. Michael L. Byrd, a 53-year-old veteran of the force who was serving as commander of the House Chamber Section of the Capitol Police on Jan. 6. He has not returned to duty and remains on paid administrative leave. Attempts to reach Byrd were unsuccessful.
Though Byrd appears to have been cleared of criminal wrongdoing, he may still be subject to civil action. If Babbitt was not given an opportunity to obey commands before she was shot, it could figure prominently in the family’s planned wrongful-death suit against the officer. Roberts said he has interviewed several witnesses who were standing outside the Speaker’s Lobby with Babbitt, and that they’ll testify they did not hear the officer issue “any kind of warning.”
He also said video recordings his investigators have analyzed reveal that other police who were in the hallway with the officer did not react as expected before he fired. He said they seemed to be caught unaware as he opened fire. Roberts said he has lined up expert witnesses, including ex-cops and use-of-force experts, who will testify that the officers behind him in the Speaker’s Lobby would have taken cover or crouched and pulled their own weapons if they heard the lieutenant give repeated warnings he was going to shoot. Instead, Roberts said, they appeared to be casually standing or walking around in the lobby in the seconds leading up to the shooting.
“Those other officers were within earshot. If he’s yelling, they certainly aren’t showing any reaction to it,” he said. “If he was giving any kind of warning, why didn’t they react?” Roberts added that no warnings can be heard coming from the officer in any videos taken at the scene.
The officer’s lawyer, Mark Schamel, insists his client issued verbal commands and warnings to Babbitt. “He was screaming, ‘Stay back! Stay back! Don’t come in here!” Schamel said.
Schamel said witness statements back him up. He explained the lieutenant’s commands were not picked up on video recordings because the footage was shot on the other side of the doors where dozens of rioters were shouting and banging and drowning out his words. And he said his client could not be seen yelling out the instructions because his mouth was covered by a mask he wore as part of COVID-19 protections.
It’s not clear if this critical issue was resolved by the investigation of the shooting by the Justice Department, which concluded in April that “there is insufficient evidence to support a criminal prosecution” of the officer for “willfully” violating Babbitt’s civil rights, though it did not rule out the possibility he acted out of “panic” or “even poor judgment.” Justice investigators reportedly did not pursue murder or manslaughter charges.
“They cleared him real fast,” U.S. Capitol Police Labor Committee Chairman Gus Papathanasiou said. “I was surprised.”
“I’m not sure how he was justified shooting her when there was a SWAT team right behind her,” added a veteran Capitol officer, referring to three heavily armed USCP officers who had positioned themselves between the doors and the mob. “They saw no immediate threat.” The officer spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss a sensitive matter. A Capitol Police spokeswoman would not say if the officer’s actions were consistent with use-of-force policies, which are not publicly available. In a statement released earlier this month, however, USCP noted that it is “increasing its use-of-force … training.”
Schamel said his client received his training primarily at…