The police officer who fatally shot pro-Trump rioter Ashli Babbitt during the infamous January 6 U.S. Capitol insurrection spoke about why he decided to open fire in his first exclusive interview after her killing.
Officer Michael Byrd’s interview with Lester Holt on NBC News comes after investigators determined the killing of the pro-Trump rioter and QAnon believer was justified and the officer acted “within Department policy.” Byrd will therefore not face any disciplinary action.
Babbitt, an Air Force veteran, was part of several pro-Trump protesters who forced their way into the government building to protest the 2020 presidential election result and try to have it overturned. Byrd fatally shot the 35-year-old rioter when she was trying to climb through one of the glass doors she and the other insurrectionists had destroyed. Prior to the shooting, the rioters failed to comply with orders to leave the area.
In the aftermath of the incident, a section of people, including former president Trump, have been claiming Babbitt’s killing was unjustified. Byrd, who has been on the Capitol Police force for 28 years, said his life took a turn for the worse after Babbitt’s killing. The Black police officer said he received several death threats and was also subjected to racist abuse after his identity was circulated on some right-wing websites. And though he has had to go into hiding as a result, Byrd maintains he did the right thing on January 6.
“I know that day I saved countless lives,” he 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.”
Byrd also explained he opened fire after it became a “last resort.”
“I tried to wait as long as I could,” he said. “I hoped and prayed no one tried to enter through those doors. But their failure to comply required me to take the appropriate action to save the lives of members of Congress and myself and my fellow officers.”
The doors Babbitt and the other rioters were trying to force their way through at the time of her killing reportedly lead to the House Chamber. “Once we barricaded the doors, we were essentially trapped where we were,” Byrd told Holt. “There was no way to retreat. No other way to get out.
“If they get through that door, they’re into the House chamber and upon the members of Congress,” he added.
Byrd also said he could not tell if there were officers on the other side as his vision was blocked by furniture that had been placed by the door he had positioned himself. He added he could not also establish if the rioters – including Babbitt – were armed and couldn’t determine their number.
“I could not fully see her hands or what was in the backpack or what the intentions are,” he recalled. “But they had shown violence leading up to that point.”
The Black officer said the threats and racist attacks he received in the aftermath of the incident is “disheartening” because he knows he was doing his job. He added the purpose of the interview was to set the record straight about the circumstances surrounding the incident.
“I hope they understand I did my job,” he said. “There was imminent threat and danger to the members of Congress. I just want the truth to be told.”