WASHINGTON — A Capitol Police officer who fatally shot an unarmed San Diego woman as she tried to climb through a door in the U.S. Capitol Jan. 6 has identified himself and spoken publicly about the shooting for the first time.
Lt. Michael Byrd told “NBC Nightly News” in an interview aired Thursday that he had no other choice but to shoot, calling it his “last resort.”
“I tried to wait as long as I could,” Byrd 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.”
This week, he was cleared by his department of any wrongdoing in the shooting of Ashli Babbitt, a 35-year-old Air Force veteran from Lakeside. Authorities said they previously withheld the officer’s name over safety concerns, but he came forward publicly to NBC.
Byrd said he was trapped during the riot at the Capitol, barricaded inside with lawmakers he was sworn to protect. He heard the mob coming and his anxiety worsened. He said he yelled repeatedly for the rioters to get back.
On the other side of the door, video showed the moment he fired a single shot, after rioters screamed at police to get out of the way and broke through the glass door leading to the doors of the House chamber. Byrd fired one shot, striking Babbitt as she was trying to climb through the jagged opening in the window. She did not have a weapon.
“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.”
At least 140 officers were injured in the riot.
FOX 5 spoke with Ashli’s husband, Aaron, in the months after her death. He said that he didn’t believe the officer, now identified as Byrd, should have escalated to shooting his unarmed wife so quickly.
“She gets up in that doorway and she looks over and this guy has a gun in her face and he’s telling her to stop or I’m going to shoot,” he said. “I 110% guarantee you she’s going to say this use-of-force continuum has started and I need to get out because this guy is serious, but there was no warning. She didn’t see him.”
Her family has said they plan to pursue legal action against the officer.
In the months since the Capitol riot, Babbitt has become a martyr to many on the far right, who had demanded the identity of the officer be publicly released.
“I spoke to the wonderful mother and husband of Ashli Babbitt, who was murdered at the hands of someone who should have never pulled the trigger of his gun,” former President Donald Trump said in an emailed statement to news outlets calling for “justice.”
“If this happened to the ‘other side,’ there would be riots all over America, and yet there are far more people represented by Ashli, who truly loved America, than there are on the other side,” the statement continued.
In April, the Justice Department called Babbitt’s death a “tragic loss of life,” but said the officer will not face criminal charges.
An internal investigation cleared the officer of any wrongdoing, Capitol Police said Monday.
A news release from the agency described the Byrd’s situation inside the Speaker’s Lobby.
“USCP Officers had barricaded the Speaker’s Lobby with furniture before a rioter shattered the glass door. If the doors were breached, the rioters would have immediate access to the House Chambers,” the agency said.
USCP said their policy states that an officer may use deadly force when they reasonably believe the action is in defense of human life, including the officer’s own life, or in the defense of any person in immediate danger of serious physical injury.
The officer’s actions were consistent with the officer’s training and USCP policies and procedures, and as a result, the officer will not face internal discipline, USCP said.
Capitol Police went on to say that the officer’s actions “potentially saved members and staff from serious injury and possible death from a large crowd of rioters who forced their way into the U.S. Capitol and to the House Chamber where members and staff were steps away.”
Byrd, who is Black, referenced death threats that have circulated since the shooting, as well as “racist attacks” he’s received. “It’s all disheartening, because I know I was doing my job,” he said.