WASHINGTON — The U.S. Capitol Police announced Monday that they had cleared a lieutenant who fatally shot a rioter inside the Capitol during the Jan. 6 attack, after an extensive investigation found that he acted lawfully and potentially saved lawmakers and aides from serious harm or death.
The department’s decision to formally close the case followed a determination in April by the Justice Department that charges against the officer were not warranted in the shooting death of Ashli Babbitt, a 35-year-old Air Force veteran, on Jan. 6. Babbitt was among a throng of Trump supporters that began smashing its way through the entrance to the Speaker’s Lobby, a hallway just off the House floor, while officers were evacuating lawmakers from the chamber.
According to video of the encounter, as people in the mob shattered the lobby’s glass doors, Babbitt tried to climb through a hole in the glass and a police lieutenant on the other side fired a single shot, hitting her in the left shoulder. After being taken to a hospital, she died.
“The actions of the officer in this case potentially saved members and staff from serious injury and possible death from a large crowd of rioters,” the Capitol Police said Monday, noting lawmakers were just “steps away.”
“If the doors were breached, the rioters would have immediate access to the House chambers,” the statement said.
Babbitt was one of five people who died during the assault on the Capitol and in its immediate aftermath. She has become a martyrlike figure for some on the far-right.
Capitol Police investigators “determined the officer’s conduct was lawful and within department policy, which says an officer may use deadly force only when the officer reasonably believes that action is in the defense of human life, including the officer’s own life, or in the defense of any person in immediate danger of serious physical injury,” the statement said.
The agency said it would not be identifying the lieutenant because the officer and the officer’s family “have been the subject of numerous credible and specific threats for actions that were taken as part of the job of all our officers: defending the Congress, members, staff and the democratic process.”
Lawmakers have credited the Capitol Police officer who shot Babbitt with saving their lives, but increasingly some on the far right have sought to inflame their base over the shooting.
One House Republican, Rep. Paul Gosar of Arizona — who has a history of associating with extremists and white nationalists — accused the officer of “lying in wait” to carry out an “execution.”
Former President Donald Trump has questioned the shooting and why the name of the officer who shot Babbitt was not released.
He released a statement this month in which he said Babbitt was “murdered at the hands of someone who should never have pulled the trigger of his gun.”
“We know who he is,” Trump said.
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 for her killing.
The Capitol Police department, like Congress, is not subject to public records requests.
Mark E. Schamel, a lawyer who represents the Capitol Police lieutenant, said his client is a “decorated veteran” who showed “tremendous restraint in firing just one shot.” He said the lieutenant was “nothing short of heroic” as he organized and coordinated the defense of the House on Jan. 6.
“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,” Schamel said. “The lieutenant’s conduct saved lives and helped to end the violent insurrection.”This article originally appeared in The New York Times.