Most police departments — including Washington, D.C.’s Metropolitan Police — are required to release an officer’s name within days of a fatal shooting.
Not the U.S. Capitol Police, which is controlled by Congress and answers only to Congress. It can keep the public in the dark about the identity and investigation of an officer involved in a shooting indefinitely.
Which is what happened with the Jan. 6 shooting of Ashli Babbitt, an unarmed protester in the U.S. Capitol riot who was fatally wounded by a plainclothes police lieutenant as she attempted to breach a set of doors inside the building.
For the past six months, as Congress has proposed legislation to reform police departments across the country, the Capitol Police has stiff-armed government watchdogs, journalists and even lawyers for Babbitt, who have sought the identity of the officer and additional details about the shooting. The USCP still refuses to release his name, in stark contrast to recent high-profile police shootings around the nation.
In February, USCP issued a press release promising to “share additional information once the investigation is complete.” But Justice Department investigators closed their probe in April, clearing the officer of criminal wrongdoing in Babbitt’s death, which the medical examiner ruled a homicide. And last month, the D.C. Police — which shares jurisdiction with the Capitol Police and has led the investigation into Babbitt’s shooting — concluded its own internal review of the shooting without making any findings, according to spokeswoman Kristen Metzger.Still, USCP continues “stonewalling the public,” according to the head of the police union.
“That’s my department’s attorneys for you,” United States Capitol Police Labor Committee Chairman Gus Papathanasiou told RealClearInvestigations. “There is definitely a transparency issue. The department needs to answer those questions. They are stonewalling the public.”
Withholding the name of the officer who fired the fatal shot — the only round fired by anyone during the four-hour siege — has bred speculation on the Internet and led to the mistaken identification of at least one officer. USCP Special Agent David Bailey was wrongly fingered as the shooter on social media and conservative news sites.
Now a new name has surfaced in the Babbitt imbroglio — Lt. Michael L. Byrd — and while USCP Communications Director Eva Malecki won’t confirm he is the shooter, in this case she isn’t denying it.
In a little-noticed exchange, Byrd was cited by the acting House sergeant at arms during a brief discussion of the officer who shot Babbitt at a Feb. 25 House hearing. Both C-SPAN and CNN removed his name from transcripts, but CQ Transcripts — which, according to its website, provides “the complete word from Capitol Hill; exactly as it was spoken” — recorded the Capitol official, Timothy Blodgett, referring to the cop as “Officer Byrd.” His name is clearly audible in the videotape of the hearing (see video embed further below).
Byrd appears to match the description of the shooter, who video footage shows is an African American dressed that day in a business suit. Jewelry, including a beaded bracelet and lapel pin, also match up with photos of Byrd.
In addition, Byrd’s resume lines up with what is known about the experience and position of the officer involved in the shooting — a veteran USCP officer who holds the rank of lieutenant and is the commander of the House Chamber Section of the Capitol Police.
Following the shooting, Byrd’s Internet footprint was scrubbed, including his social media and personal photos.
hone calls and emails to Byrd, who lives in Maryland where he remains on paid administrative leave, went unanswered. His attorney would neither confirm nor deny that the 53-year-old Byrd is the shooter, and warned that disclosing his name poses a safety risk to the officer.
The Babbitt family is frustrated USCP won’t release any information about the incident other than the terse and vaguely written statement it issued on Jan. 7: “[A] sworn USCP employee discharged their service weapon, striking an adult female.”
Because Congress has exempted the USCP from Freedom of Information Act requests, the family is suing the D.C. Police “for documents that identify the officer who shot Babbitt … as well as notes and summaries of what the officer said regarding the shooting and the reasons he discharged his weapon.” (The D.C. Police has led the investigation into Babbitt’s shooting.) A hearing before a judge is scheduled for Sept. 3. Washington-based watchdog Judicial Watch also is suing for the records.