More than six months after the events at the U.S. Capitol that led to the shooting death of protester Ashli Babbitt, the officer who killed her remains a secret as carefully guarded as any in Washington, D.C. Why?
Real Clear Investigations reporter Paul Sperry – who has been trying for months to learn the name of the U.S. Capitol Police officer who pulled the trigger – reported that a name surfaced, inadvertently, at a February House hearing.
Sperry uncovered a transcript and reviewed the C-SPAN video from the hearing. During that inquiry, the House sergeant at arms appears to name the shooter – at least he mentions the officer’s last name in the context of that shooting. Sperry deduced, based on other available information, that he was referring to USCP Lt. Michael L. Byrd.
Sperry said the department hasn’t denied that Byrd was the cop who killed Babbitt, although it did so when another officer’s name started getting bandied about.
Weirdly, Byrd’s name is deleted from the C-SPAN and CNN transcripts of that hearing, but was contained in Congressional Quarterly transcripts, and can be heard on the C-SPAN video.
Why does this matter? The family understandably wants to know, and the public deserves the details about the shooting. Babbitt was not armed at the time, nor was she threatening anyone with physical harm. (She was trying to climb through a broken window.) Despite all the claims of an “armed incursion” into the Capitol building by Trump supporters, there was only one gun fired on that date – the one that killed Babbitt. There’s also the question of whether the officer involved has any history of misconduct.
The identity of Babbitt’s killer matters for reasons even beyond a family’s grief.
As Sperry notes, this saga reveals something else that is also deeply troubling: the fact that the U.S. Capitol Police officers enjoy special protections – courtesy of Congress – that no other police department in the country does, and that likely contributed to its woeful handling of what transpired on Jan. 6.
“Unlike other police forces,” Sperry notes, “USCP does not have to disclose records on police misconduct.” He goes on:
More than 700 complaints were lodged against Capitol Police officers between 2017 and 2019, but brass won’t say what the alleged violations were or how the department resolved them. They also won’t disclose how many complaints are in any individual officer’s file.
While the USCP has an inspector general, he does not make reports public, unlike other agency watchdogs.
The Capitol Police … won’t even reveal how many sworn officers it has on hand.
The USCP also doesn’t have to comply with Freedom Of Information Act requests, in contrast to the Secret Service, which not only has to respond to such inquiries but also publicly releases audits by its inspector general.
So, while the names of police officers involved in shootings are routinely made public across the country, the identity of Ashli Babbitt’s killer remains – officially – shrouded in secrecy for reasons only the USCP can explain.
As if having an unaccountable police force guarding the Capitol isn’t bad enough, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is busy expanding the USCP well beyond the Capitol grounds, to include satellite offices in California and Florida, with more regions planned. Why? The USCP says it’s to provide “for enhanced security for members of Congress outside of the National Capital Region.”
This expanded role is premised, mind you, on the trumped-up claims about the events on Jan. 6 that have been routinely – and falsely – described as an armed insurrection.
So while Congress is busy demanding greater accountability and transparency from state and local police departments – which deal with deadly threats every single day – it’s content to let the Capitol police operate outside public scrutiny.
This is typical of Congress, which seems to delight in exempting itself from the laws it forces on everyone else.
Sperry reports that some lawmakers on the congressional committee that oversees the USCP want to change this. They should. And a good place to start would be to release the information from its investigation into the shooting death of Ashli Babbitt, including the name of the officer involved.
— Written by the I&I Editorial Board