Washington, DC – One week after U.S. Capitol Police (USCP) cleared him in the shooting of Ashli Babbitt, the police lieutenant at the heart of the controversy over here death went public and gave an interview.
USCP Lieutenant Michael Byrd, a 28-year veteran of the police force charged with protecting the U.S. Capitol complex and the nation’s lawmakers, appeared on NBC News on Thursday night to tell his story of what happened on Jan. 6.
Prior to his NBC News interview, Lt. Byrd had never been officially identified as the officer who shot 35-year-old Air Force veteran Ashli Babbitt.
He was cleared of federal charges in connection with Babbitt’s death in April, but the exoneration after an internal investigation by his own department in June was the last step in the review process for the incident, the New York Post reported.
An internal USCP memo said no further action would be taken in the probe into Babbitt’s death, NBC News reported.
Lt. Byrd told Lester Holt he has been the target of threats since Jan. 6 and has lived in hiding.
“I believe I showed the utmost courage on January 6 and it’s time for me to do that now,” he said.
Lt. Byrd said he was afraid of what he was hearing over his police radio during the riot.
He told NBC News there were “reports of shots fired through the House main door onto the floor of the chamber,” but those turned out not to be true.
Video from the House chamber during the Capitol riot showed Lt. Byrd instructing lawmakers to put on their gas masks because tear gas had been deployed in the Rotunda of the Capitol.
He also advised them to take off their pins that identified them as members of Congress and do their best to blend in as staffers in case they came face-to-face with rioters, NBC News reported.
He said Capitol police officers tried to stop rioters from coming through the glass doors outside the entrance of the House chamber by barricading them with every piece of furniture they could find.
“Once we barricaded the doors, we were essentially trapped where we were,” Lt. Byrd told NBC News. “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.
The police veteran painted a picture of a chaotic scene that included shouts of “officer down,” screaming from officers being attacked with chemical agents, and a report that an officer’s fingertips had been blown off, NBC News reported.
“It was literally broadcast over the air,” Lt. Byrd explained. “I said, ‘OK, this is getting serious.’”
Then the mob of rioters arrived at the barricaded glass doors, NBC News reported.
“At that point is when I realized they’re here,” the lieutenant said. “The chants got louder. I couldn’t make out what they were saying, but it sounded like hundreds of people outside of that door.”
He said he repeatedly ordered them to stop and to get back, but his commands were ignored, NBC News reported.
Video of the scene showed Lt. Byrd pointed his gun at the oncoming hoard and fired one shot at a rioter who was coming through the window.
“She was posing a threat to the United States House of Representatives,” Lt. Byrd explained.
He said he has no doubt that he made the right decision given the situation on Jan. 6, NBC News reported.
“I know that day I saved countless lives,” Lt. 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.”
He said he pulled the trigger only as a “last resort,” NBC News reported.
It was the first time Lt. Byrd fired his weapon in the line of duty in almost three decades on the Capitol police force.
“I tried to wait as long as I could,” the lieutenant told NBC News. “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.”
Lt. Byrd said he didn’t know that the person he shot was a woman or that she was unarmed until later that night.
He called former President Donald Trump’s characterization of Ashli Babbitt’s death as a murder “disheartening” and said nothing about his actions that day was political, NBC News reported.
“I was prepared to do the same thing for him and his family,” the lieutenant said. “I do my job for Republican, for Democrat, for white. for black, red, blue, green.”
USCP have called the lieutenant heroic and said his actions saved members of Congress from injury or possibly death.
“That was my mission. That was what I prepared for. And it’s rewarding and refreshing to hear that,” Lt. Byrd told NBC News.