The police officer who shot and killed a rioter during the January 6 attack on the United States Capitol building has now come forward publicly with his story. Lieutenant Michael Byrd, who has been with the U.S. Capitol Police for 28 years, spoke to NBC News’ Lester Holt in an interview that aired Thursday. Byrd described the threats he received in the wake of the riot, which prompted him to hide his identity until now.
“They talked about killing me, cutting off my head, very vicious and cruel things,” he said. Byrd, who is Black, said he received racial attacks as well.
“That’s all disheartening because I know I was doing my job,” he said.
On January 6, officers had barricaded the door at the entrance to the Speaker’s Lobby, which is close to the House chamber, as rioters crowded outside, trying to get in. Video footage shows rioters hitting the glass in the door until it shattered. Byrd was one of the officers on the other side.
“I had been yelling and screaming as loud I was, ‘Please, stop, get back, get back,’” Byrd said.
As 35-year-old Ashli Babbitt attempted to breach the door by climbing through one of the windows in the door, Byrd fired a single shot, killing her. When asked by Holt what he thought Babbitt was doing at that moment, Byrd said, “She was posing a threat to United States House of Representatives.”
“I tried to wait as long as I could. 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,” he said.
The U.S. Capitol Police conducted an investigation into the incident and determined that “the officer’s conduct was lawful and within Department policy.”
“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 who forced their way into the U.S. Capitol and to the House Chamber where Members and staff were steps away,” a press release read.
In the wake of her death, many on the far-right have attempted to paint Babbitt as a martyr, and have promoted conspiracy theories around the circumstances of her death and Byrd’s motives for killing her. Even former president Donald Trump has played into these conspiracies, something that Byrd calls “disheartening.”
“If he was in the room or anywhere and I’m responsible for him, I was prepared to do the same thing for him and his family,” Byrd said.
Other Capitol police officers have taken issue with Trump and the role they feel he played in the events of January 6. On Thursday, CNN reported that seven officers on the force filed a lawsuit against the former president as well as members of Stop the Steal, the Oathkeepers, and the Proud Boys, claiming that their actions are what ultimately caused the Capitol riot.
“On January 6, 2021, Plaintiffs and their fellow law enforcement officers risked their lives to defend the Capitol from a violent, mass attack—an attack provoked, aided, and joined by Defendants in an unlawful effort to use force, intimidation, and threats to prevent Congress from certifying the results of the 2020 Presidential election,” the lawsuit read.
“Because of Defendants’ unlawful actions, Plaintiffs were violently assaulted, spat on, tear-gassed, bear-sprayed, subjected to racial slurs and epithets, and put in fear for their lives,” the suit continued. “Plaintiffs’ injuries, which Defendants caused, persist to this day.”
Two other Capitol police officers previously filed a different suit against Trump back in March, claiming similarly that he bears responsibility for the actions of his supporters on January 6.