The U.S. Capitol Police is claiming that its use-of-force policy allows USCP officers to use deadly force against subjects even when a) they do not see the person’s hands, much less a weapon and b) do not witness the person committing any deadly acts. Furthermore, they would have us believe that they train their officers accordingly.
Chilling as that purportedly official position is in its own right, it’s even more amazing to consider the implication: On Jan 6, 2021, every single USCP officer, save one, ignored their training and disregarded their own agency’s official rules for using deadly force. Ashli Babbitt was not the only person who climbed through the only broken window/door in the U.S. Capitol that day, and Lt. Byrd was not the only armed officer on scene. Yet, according to their own statement, the Capitol Police are alleging that Byrd’s actions were lawful according to a policy that – evidently – only Lt. Michael Byrd had read, understood, and trained for. Either Byrd was right to shoot Babbitt, or every other USCP officer was right to not use their weapons against unarmed rioters. Both things cannot be true. Federal agents like me need clarity when it comes to making life-or-death decisions involving firearms. Is the new normal that we can shoot empty-handed threats who aren’t trying to kill someone?
This is not conjecture, either. In Lt. Byrd’s own words, he admits that he “could not fully see [Babbitt’s] hands or what was in the backpack or what the intentions are (sic).” There is no misunderstanding here: law enforcement doesn’t get to assume people are armed until they prove otherwise. Again, NBC’s Lester Holt asked Byrd if the fact that he didn’t know if Babbitt was armed affected his decision to shoot, and Byrd said “It did not.” If Byrd acted lawfully, then the USCP is claiming this conduct is the law of the land. That is outrageous.
You will not find a police or law enforcement agency anywhere in the country that subscribes to this dangerously reckless ruleset. Quite the opposite, in fact: reputable organizations would fire officers and agents who killed subjects in situations where they can’t articulate the means/opportunity/intent necessary to justify deadly force. Byrd admitted he was afraid, but he did not share why or what about Ashli Babbitt in particular scared him. To merely call her a “threat” without a reasonable explanation doesn’t pass legal muster, and it feeds the sense that Byrd acted out of panic instead of reason. But rather than hold Byrd accountable for his wrongful and negligent action, the USCP simply lowered their official standards to a point that conveniently excuses it.
Although Byrd said that he followed his police training, that is not the case at all. Here’s why.
1. The standard for using deadly force is that the officer must be confronted with an imminent threat of death or serious bodily injury to himself or others. Byrd’s account fails to articulate any such threat. Although he claims that by his shooting Babbitt, he saved “countless lives,” the truth is that there were no congressman in close proximity to Babbitt, and none in the speaker’s lobby, when Byrd discharged his firearm. Also, he admitted that he never saw Babbitt brandishing a weapon. In short, his account does not demonstrate an imminent threat which warranted the use of deadly force.
2. It is a universally accepted principle in police training that an officer must consider other reasonable options before using deadly force. Byrd’s account yesterday does not explain why he could not have simply confronted Babbitt physically and cuffed her. After all, she was much smaller than him. He had the time and opportunity to approach her and grab her and several officers, who can be seen in videos, were present in the Speaker’s Lobby. They could have assisted him. Wasn’t this a better option than killing her?
3. Byrd claimed that he was yelling warnings, but the evidence does not back him up. His head is not visible on the video until he pops out of the side room and is ready to shoot When he does, it is evident that he is not yelling, i.e., his facial and body movements are not indicative of someone yelling loudly or repeatedly. (He is wearing a mask. Why didn’t he take it off if he wanted to be heard?) Finally, the witnesses on Ashli’s side of the door did not hear warnings. And this includes a witness standing 4-5 feet from Byrd.
Terrell N. Roberts, III
Roberts & Wood, Attorneys at Law
Babbitt family attorney, Terry Roberts identifies the killer of Ashli Babbitt as USCP Lieutenant Michael Leroy Byrd. The same person that recklessly left his service weapon in a bathroom in the Capitol in 2019. Story and photos below.