Lt. Michael Byrd, the Capitol Police officer who shot and killed rioter and Trump supporter Ashli Babbitt on Jan. 6, told Lester Holt during an NBC News exclusive interview that he has been in hiding since that day because of death threats, but feels confident that he did his job honorably.
“I know that day I saved countless lives,” 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.”
In his first interview since the shooting took place, Byrd said that he feared for his life as hoards of rioters stormed the Capitol and breached the area where members of the House of Representatives were located. Sixty to 80 members were inside the chamber he was guarding as the rioters drew closer. He and his fellow officers barricaded the doors with furniture.
“Once we barricaded the doors, we were essentially trapped where we were,” Byrd told Holt. “There was no way to retreat. No other way to get out.
The hoard of rioters kept advancing. If they had made it past the doors, they would have been in the House chamber and a direct threat to the members. Babbitt tried to come through one of the doors. He warned the rioters to stop, but they kept advancing. The moment he shot her was captured on video camera. One lone shot hit Babbitt in the shoulder. She hit the ground and later died of her injuries.
Byrd said he had no idea if she was armed and only found out later that night that she was an unarmed woman. He said he shot her because it was a “last resort.”
“I tried to wait as long as I could,” he told Holt. “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.”
For months, the 28-year veteran of the Capitol Police kept his silence as his name was passed around on right-wing conservative websites. One threat called for him to be decapitated. Donald Trump called him a murderer. When Holt asked Byrd what he thought of Trump’s words, he said that he had escorted the former president through the Capitol on several occasions.
“If he was in the Capitol and I was responsible for him, I’d do the same thing for him and his family,” Byrd said.
The Justice Department (DOJ) and the Capitol Police cleared Byrd of any wrongdoing. DOJ investigators decided not to charge Byrd after examining video, physical evidence from the scene, autopsy results and his own statements, as well as other officers and witnesses.
“The investigation revealed no evidence to establish that, at the time the officer fired a single shot at Ms. Babbitt, the officer did not reasonably believe that it was necessary to do so in self-defense or in defense of the Members of Congress and others evacuating the House Chamber,” federal prosecutors said in a statement.
Here is more from that interview, per NBC News:
The days before Jan. 6 were business as usual for Byrd, a Washington native. He and other Capitol Police officials met to review the security plan for the certification of Joe Biden’s victory in the presidential election.
“We did not get specific intel that would require us to change or adjust our posture,” he said. “At that point, it felt like a routine event that I’ve done over the last 28 years of my career.”
Byrd said there was one complicating factor: Fewer officers were under his command, in large part because of Covid-19-related absences.
When hundreds of Trump supporters upset over the results of the election moved on the Capitol, the images of violent clashes were broadcast live on television. But Byrd, stationed outside the House chamber, wasn’t able to watch. He was dependent on his police radio.
When Byrd started hearing reports of officers down, he didn’t know the extent of their injuries. At one point, Byrd said, an even more alarming message came over the radio: a report of shots fired, which he learned much later was false.
Byrd said that after he heard the radio chatter warning that rioters had breached the building, he rushed inside the chamber and instructed the House members to hide under their chairs and to stay away from doors and windows.
He said he told them that pipe bombs had been found in the vicinity of the building and that rioters were using weapons against officers. You need to gather your gas masks, Byrd said he told them.
And he gave one more crucial instruction: He told the House members to take measures to disguise who they were in case they came face to face with the 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.”
As Byrd rushed out of the chamber, he saw the House chaplain take the position he had left on the podium. The chaplain began to recite a prayer with the members of Congress.
“I believe it was at that point in time” that “the members, as well, started to believe serious harm or injury could come to them,” Byrd said.
During the interview, Byrd said the toughest part about all of this is the toll it has taken on his family.
“Sometimes, you can’t do anything but cry,” Byrd said. “You felt like you did your job. You helped protect our legislative leaders of this country and you fought for democracy and keeping them established.”
For seven months, Byrd remained silent as the investigations into his actions carried on. He wanted to speak out because of the misrepresentations of his actions that day—even if it exposed him to threats and racist vitriol.
“It’s something that is frightening,” Byrd said. “Again, I believe I showed the utmost courage on January 6, and it’s time for me to do that now.
Many people disagree with his decision to shoot Babbitt, but he is confident that he made the right call.
“I hope they understand I did my job,” Byrd said. “There was imminent threat and danger to the members of Congress. I just want the truth to be told.”