Lt. Michael Byrd, the Capitol Police officer who fatally shot a rioter during the Jan. 6 attack, defended his actions in a televised interview on Thursday, saying that pulling the trigger had been a “last resort” that had prevented the mob from killing lawmakers.
“I know that day I saved countless lives,” Lieutenant Byrd told NBC Nightly News, publicly identifying himself for the first time. “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.”
The Capitol Police and federal prosecutors had kept his identity private, saying that he and his family had received death threats. Former President Donald J. Trump and far-right Republicans have portrayed the rioter he shot, Ashli Babbitt, as a martyr and suggested without evidence that she was a victim of premeditated murder.
Lieutenant Byrd organized and coordinated the defense of the House chamber on Jan. 6, when a pro-Trump mob stormed the Capitol and beat police officers while Congress counted electoral votes to formalize President Biden’s victory.
A 28-year veteran of the Capitol Police force, Lieutenant Byrd said he had never fired his gun before Jan. 6. He argued that had been his only option as rioters smashed through the glass doors of the Speaker’s Lobby, ignoring orders to stay back and threatening lawmakers who were gathered only feet away.
“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 Capitol Police announced on Monday that their investigation into the shooting had found that the officer acted lawfully and potentially saved lawmakers and aides from serious harm or death.
That decision came after a Justice Department finding in April that charges against the officer were not warranted in the shooting of Ms. Babbitt, a 35-year-old Air Force veteran. She was among a throng of Trump supporters who smashed their way through the entrance to the Speaker’s Lobby, a restricted area immediately outside the House chamber, while officers were evacuating lawmakers.
According to video of the encounter, as rioters shattered the lobby doors, Ms. Babbitt tried to climb through a hole in the glass. A person on the other side fired a single shot, causing her to fall back and pushing the intruders back. The bullet hit her in the left shoulder, and she was taken to a hospital, where she died. She was one of five people who lost their lives during the Capitol assault and its immediate aftermath.
Mr. Trump has said that Ms. Babbitt was “murdered at the hands of someone who should never have pulled the trigger of his gun.”
“We know who he is,” Mr. Trump said of the officer this month.
In the NBC interview, Lieutenant Byrd said he protected Republicans as well as Democrats in the Capitol, including Mr. Trump when he was in the House chamber.
“I do my job for Republican, for Democrat, for white, for Black, red, blue, green,” he said. “I don’t care about your affiliation.”
Ms. Babbitt’s husband has sued to force the release of investigative files related to the shooting, and her family has threatened to seek damages from the Capitol Police.
The Capitol Police, like Congress, is not subject to public records requests.
Mark E. Schamel, a lawyer who represents Lieutenant Byrd, has described the officer as a “decorated veteran” who showed “tremendous restraint in firing just one shot.”
“His willingness to remain steadfast in the face of hundreds of violent, extremist, would-be insurrectionists intent on thwarting Congress from performing its constitutional duty was the type of heroism and commitment that the lieutenant has demonstrated in his almost three decades of law enforcement service,” Mr. Schamel said in a statement this week.
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