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US Capitol Police Clear Officer in Fatal Shooting at January 6 Riot

FILE PHOTO: A mob of supporters of U.S. President Donald Trump fight with members of law enforcement at a door they broke open as they storm the U.S. Capitol Building in Washington. January 6, 2021.

An internal U.S. Capitol Police investigation has exonerated one of its officers in the fatal shooting of a woman inside the U.S. Capitol on January 6 as she and hundreds of supporters of then-President Donald Trump tried to stop lawmakers from certifying that Democrat Joe Biden had defeated Trump in last November’s election.

Last April, federal authorities had said they would not pursue criminal charges against the officer, who has never been publicly identified, in the shooting of Ashli Babbitt, 35, a decorated Air Force veteran who in recent years had become a staunch Trump supporter.

On Monday, the police agency responsible for security at the Capitol said it also, in an internal administrative investigation, has cleared the officer of wrongdoing.

The officer shot Babbitt moments after other nearby rioters smashed a glass door just steps from the House of Representatives as lawmakers scrambled to safety when they realized the rioters had breached security at the building while they were in the initial stages of certifying Biden’s victory.

FILE - Capitol Police in riot gear push back demonstrators at the U.S. Capitol, Jan. 6, 2021, in Washington.
FILE - Capitol Police in riot gear push back demonstrators at the U.S. Capitol, Jan. 6, 2021, in Washington.

In a statement, the Capitol Police said its Office of Professional Responsibility “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 police agency said that in the chaos of January 6, “the officer in this case potentially saved (lawmakers) and staff from serious injury and possible death from a large crowd of rioters who forced their way into the U.S. Capitol and to the House chamber” where the lawmakers and staff “were steps away.”

The review said the officers had barricaded the lobby outside the House chamber “with furniture before a rioter shattered the glass door. If the doors were breached, the rioters would have immediate access to the House chambers. The officer’s actions were consistent with the officer’s training and (U.S. Capitol Police) policies and procedures.”

The agency said, “The officer in this case, who is not being identified for the officer’s safety, will not be facing internal discipline.”

The police statement said the officer and his 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, (lawmakers), staff and the democratic process.”

To some supporters of Trump trying to downplay the significance and violence of the January 6 riot, Babbitt has become something of a posthumous heroine. In recent years, she had posted numerous messages on social media voicing support for Trump and the QAnon conspiracy theory movement.

One conservative Republican lawmaker, Representative Paul Gosar, has called Babbitt's death “an execution” and accused the officer who shot her of "lying in wait" to do so.

Authorities believe about 800 Trump supporters entered the Capitol on January 6, with some of them storming past law enforcement authorities, smashing windows, ransacking congressional offices and scuffling with police, 140 of whom were injured in the melee.

Many of the rioters boasted on social media of occupying the Capitol and were quickly identified by their friends and relatives, as well as by police investigators.

To date, 615 people have been charged with an array of criminal offenses, some as minor as trespassing in a secure area, while others face more serious charges including attacking police or vandalizing the Capitol. About 40 have pleaded guilty so far, with some facing three-or-four-year prison sentences while others have been given probationary terms for minor offenses.