Judicial Watch Lawsuit Forces Release of DOJ Memo Declining Criminal Prosecution for Ashli Babbitt’s Shooter
Shooter U.S. Capitol Police Lt. Michael Byrd Did Not Create a Police Report on Killing, Byrd Had Prior ‘Use of Force’ Issue
(Washington, DC) – Judicial Watch announced that it received productions of new records totaling 102 pages from the Department of Justice (DOJ) related to the shooting of January 6 protestor Ashli Babbitt that include a memo recommending “that the United States Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia decline for criminal prosecution the fatal shooting of Ashli McEntee [Babbitt],” also noting that the shooter, U.S. Capitol Police Lt. Michael Byrd, “did not create a police report or documents” related to the shooting of Babbitt.
The documents also reveal that in the press release announcing the decision not to prosecute Byrd for the killing of Babbitt, the DOJ replaced the words “group” and “crowd” with the word “mob” several times.
The unarmed Babbitt was shot and killed as she climbed through a broken interior window in the United States Capitol. She was a 14-year Air Force veteran. The identity of the shooter was kept secret by Congress, the Justice Department, and DC police for eight months until Byrd went public to try to defend his killing of Babbitt.
The lawsuit was filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia after the Executive Office for United States Attorneys, the Civil Rights Division, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (all components of the Justice Department) failed to provide the records responsive to Judicial Watch’s April 14, 2021, and May 20, 2021, Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests for records related to the death of Babbitt (Judicial Watch v. U.S. Department of Justice (No. 1:21-cv-02462))
The records contain the prosecution declination memorandum justifying the decision not to prosecute Byrd for the shooting death of Babbitt (nee McEntee) on January 6.
The “Overview and Recommendation” section reads as follows:
This memorandum recommends that the United States Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia decline for criminal prosecution the fatal shooting of Ashli McEntee.
This declination is based on a review of law enforcement and civilian eyewitness accounts, physical evidence, recorded radio communications, cell phone footage, MPD reports, forensic reports, and the autopsy report for Ms. McEntee. After a thorough review of the facts and circumstances in this case, there is insufficient evidence to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Lieutenant Byrd violated Ms. McEntee’s civil rights by willfully using more force than was reasonably necessary, or was not acting in self-defense or the defense of others.
The memo details:
Once the demonstrators broke the glass, Lieutenant Byrd took up a tactical position to the immediate right of the barricaded entry doors, [Capitol Police Officer Reggie Tyson] took up a tactical position behind Lieutenant Byrd on the right side behind the third pillar and Sergeant McKenna took up a tactical position behind Officer Tyson and behind the fourth pillar on the right side of the Speakers Lobby.
All three officers had their service pistols drawn, pointed them in the direction of the barricaded entry doors, and repeatedly instructed the ‘mob’ to get back. The ‘mob’ of demonstrators ignored the officers’ commands and continued to break the glass on the doors in their attempt to breach the Speakers Lobby. Suddenly, Ashli McEntee began to crawl through one of the doors where the glass was already broken out. As Ms. McEntee was climbing through the door, Lieutenant Byrd stepped forward from his tactical position towards Ms. McEntee and fired one round from his service pistol striking Ms. McEntee in her left shoulder, just below her clavicle. Ms. McEntee then fell back from the doorway and onto the floor.
Regarding possible closed-circuit television footage the memo notes “There are several USCP operated Closed-Circuit Television Video (CCTV) cameras inside of the United States Capitol Building. However, there were no CCTV cameras observed or located in the Speaker’s Lobby area.”
In a section of the memo titled “USCP Lieutenant Michael Byrd,” the memo notes: “He [Byrd] did not create any police reports or documents relating to the incident, and did not provide an official statement regarding use of force” though he did provide a voluntary “debrief” and walk-through of the scene with his lawyer. A footnote details that: “During the debrief of Lieutenant Byrd, he did recall writing a few sentences on an evidence bag the evening of January 6, 2021, at the request of a crime scene officer. To date, the bag has not been located by USCP or MPD.”
The memo reports:
Lieutenant Byrd heard glass breaking and saw some of the items used to barricade the doors being pushed down. Lieutenant Byrd continued to tell the rioters to “get back, get back!” Lieutenant Byrd then saw a rioter with a backpack on start to climb through one of the broken glass doors. Lieutenant Byrd saw the rioter “as a threat,” so he stepped forward from his tactical position and fired one round at the rioter. The rioter fell back out of the opening and Lieutenant Byrd eventually stepped back into the seated area of the Speaker’s Lobby before confirming to other USCP officers that arrived on the scene that he was the one that fired his service weapon.
The memo notes that security staffing on January 6 was less than half the usual amount due to COVID-19:
Lieutenant Byrd did agree to participate with this counsel, Mark Schamel, in a voluntary debrief and walk-through of the scene on January 29, 2021 … Due to COVID-19 and other issues, the normal staffing for a joint session was less than half of what Lieutenant Byrd usually has assigned to the House Chamber. Once he arrived that morning, he was informed that USCP operations had made the decision that the uniform officers needed to pick up riot gear.
In a section titled, “Use of Force History,” it is noted that, “Lieutenant Byrd had one prior use of force matter, that was originally sustained by USCP, but after Lt. Byrd appealed, he was found not guilty by the Disciplinary Review Board.”
In a section titled “Recommendation,” the memo details:
This matter does not constitute a prosecutable violation of the federal criminal civil rights statutes or the District of Columbia homicide statutes. To show a violation of 18 U.S.C. § 242, the applicable federal criminal civil rights statute, the Government must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that an officer willfully used more force than was reasonably necessary under the circumstances. ‘The “reasonableness” of a particular use of force must be judged from the perspective of a reasonable officer on the scene, rather than with the 20/20 vision of hindsight.’ Graham v Connor, 490 U.S. 386, 396 (1989).
Because Ms. McEntee was an active participant in a ‘mob’ that had just illegally entered the Capitol building, and then broke out the glass doors and removed barricades to forcefully gain entry into the Speaker’s Lobby, there is insufficient evidence to refute Lieutenant Byrd’s fear for his life or the life of others at the time he discharged his weapon. Therefore, there is insufficient evidence to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that he willfully deprived Ms. McEntee of a right protected by the Constitution or laws of the United States of America. Accordingly I recommend declination of this matter.
The records include a draft version of the April 14, 2021, Justice Department press release announcing their decision not to prosecute Byrd for the killing of Babbitt, the authors replaced the word “crowd” with the word “mob” five times in describing the January 6 protestors.
Judicial Watch previously uncovered records from the DC Metropolitan Police showed that multiple officers claimed they didn’t see a weapon in Babbitt’s hand before Byrd shot her, and that Byrd was visibly distraught afterward. One officer attested that he didn’t recall hearing any verbal commands before Byrd shot Babbitt. The records include internal communications about Byrd’s case and a crime scene examination report. Investigators who wrote the January 6, 2021, Metro PD Death Report for Babbitt (identified as Ashli Elizabeth McEntee-Babbitt Pamatian) note that the possible Manner of Death was “Homicide (Police Involved Shooting).”
“These records show that Lt. Byrd was given special treatment by the Biden DOJ and that there was a miscarriage of justice in the half-baked shooting death investigation of Ashli Babbitt,” said Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton. “Lt. Byrd, who works for Congress, shot an unarmed woman for no good reason. I suspect that this unjustified shooting isn’t of much interest to the Pelosi rump January 6 committee.”
Judicial Watch is engaged in a comprehensive, independent investigation into the January 6 disturbance:
- February 2022: Judicial Watch filed an opposition to the U.S. Capitol Police’s (USCP) effort to shut down Judicial Watch’s federal lawsuit for January 6 videos and emails. Through its police department, Congress argues that the videos and emails are not public records, there is no public interest in their release, and that “sovereign immunity” prevents citizens from suing for their release.
- November 2021: Judicial Watch released multiple audio, visual and photo records from the DC Metropolitan Police Department about the shooting death of Babbitt on January 6, 2021, in the U.S. Capitol Building. The records include a cell phone video of the shooting and an audio of a brief police interview of the shooter, Byrd.
- Also in November 2021: Judicial Watch – in its FOIA lawsuit asking for records of communication between the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and several financial institutions about the reported transfer of financial transaction records of people in DC, Maryland and Virginia on January 5 and January 6, 2021 – told a federal court that the FBI may have violated law in its January 6 probes.