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Capitol Police Clear Officer Who Shot Ashli Babbitt

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Capitol Police formally clear officer who shot rioter, saying he may have saved lives.

The mob that stormed the Capitol in January.Credit…Erin Schaff/The New York Times

Aug. 23, 2021Updated 3:55 p.m. ET

The Capitol Police announced on Monday that it 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. Ms. 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, Ms. 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.

Ms. Babbitt was one of five people who died during the assault on the Capitol and in its immediate aftermath. She has became a martyr-like 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 Ms. Babbitt with saving their lives, but increasingly some on the far right have sought to inflame their base over the shooting.

One House Republican, Representative 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 J. Trump has questioned the shooting and why the name of the officer who shot Ms. Babbitt was not released, a question raised by a growing number of Republicans, including Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia, who has said that lawmakers should “demand justice” for Ms. Babbitt.

Ms. 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, like Congress, are not subject to public records requests.

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