Lt. Michael Byrd, the U.S. Capitol Police Officer who fatally shot Ashli Babbitt during the Jan. 6 insurrection, defended his actions and revealed his identity for the first time in an interview with NBC’s Lester Holt that aired Thursday evening.
“I know that day I saved countless lives,” Byrd told the network. “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 officer’s identity had been unknown until Thursday, even after he was internally cleared of wrongdoing. The Capitol Police had declined to identify Byrd, who is Black and went into hiding for months because of death threats and racist threats against him and his family.
Byrd, a 28-year veteran of the force, described how he yelled at rioters to tell them to stop before they entered the Speaker’s Lobby outside the House chamber. Officers had barricaded the doors with furniture and told rioters not to enter, but some smashed glass in the doors and tried to climb through. Babbitt was shot as she tried to climb through the barricaded door.
As Byrd saw it, he was part of the last line of defense between members of Congress and rioters who could harm them.
“If they get through that door, they’re into the House chamber and upon the members of Congress,” he told NBC. Babbitt had been “posing a threat to the United States House of Representatives,“ he said. He hoped his commands to stop would have been heeded, but “unfortunately they were not.“
Byrd said his actions saved lives: “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.”
Some who had downplayed or promoted misleading portrayals of the Capitol attack, including former President Donald Trump, had taken up the cause of Babbitt’s shooting death. The officer is likely to face the wrath of pro-Trump forces and maybe Trump himself. One Jan. 6 defendant, Garret Miller, who is facing charges that include calling for the assassination of Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), also repeatedly threatened the life of the officer who shot Babbitt.
Byrd is not part of any protection detail for any specific member of House leadership, a falsehood that has circulated among Trump supporters. Key members of leadership of both parties in the House and Senate are flanked by dignitary protective teams, but Byrd is not part of that highly siloed division of the Capitol Police.
The accusations by Trump and other conservatives were “disheartening,“ he said, because “I know I was doing my job.”
Instead, Byrd had been tasked on Jan. 6 with keeping the House floor secure. He had informed lawmakers tear gas was deployed in the Capitol Rotunda and had also told lawmakers how to take precautions in the event they encountered rioters.
“One of the things that was imperative was to inform the members to remove their pins to allow them to blend in,” Byrd said. “To remove their jackets, to look like staff as much as possible.”
The Capitol Police announced earlier this week that an internal investigation had found the officer’s actions lawful and would not result in discipline. Federal prosecutors declined to file charges against him in April.
Babbitt‘s family has threatened to file a lawsuit against the Capitol Police over the fatal shooting. Terry Roberts, a lawyer representing the family, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The department said it was aware of Byrd’s interview but was not facilitating interviews with officers this week. The Capitol Police Union declined to comment on the interview because Byrd, a lieutenant, was technically in police management.
The revelation that Byrd was the officer to take the shot on Jan. 6 highlights that the Capitol Police were under scrutiny for security lapses long before Jan. 6.
In February 2019 Byrd left his Glock 22 duty weapon in a bathroom in the Capitol Visitor Center complex after the House had adjourned for the night. It was later found “during a routine security sweep,” Capitol Police said at the time.
Byrd at the time said that with his rank as a lieutenant and his role as commander of the House chambers section, he told his colleagues that he expected to “be treated differently” in terms of consequences. Byrd did remain on the job in the days after his weapon was discovered.
In the NBC News interview, Byrd described the episode as a “terrible mistake.”
“I owned up to it. I was penalized for it. I moved on,” he said.
That gun left in the bathroom was just one in a rash of similar cases in which Capitol Police officers left their weapons in bathroom stalls, to be found by Capitol Visitors’ Center employees, custodial staff and once even a 7- or 8-year-old child visiting the Capitol with his parents.
The pattern led to scrutiny of the department’s training and professional accountability mechanisms, but if internal reviews were conducted and recommendations were made to the Capitol Police Board, no findings were made public.
Dozens of officers were seriously injured on Jan. 6 as law enforcement was overwhelmed by the assault on the Capitol. One Capitol Police officer died in the days after the attack, and several Capitol Police and Metropolitan Police Department officers who responded on Jan. 6 have since died by suicide.
Kyle Cheney contributed to this report.