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Alan William Byerly, center, in gray skull cap, is seen allegedly attacking an Associated Press photographer during a riot at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021. (AP) Alan William Byerly, center, in gray skull cap, is seen allegedly attacking an Associated Press photographer during a riot at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021. (AP)

Alan William Byerly, center, in gray skull cap, is seen allegedly attacking an Associated Press photographer during a riot at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021. (AP)

Louis Jacobson
By Louis Jacobson July 8, 2021

Fact-checking Donald Trump on there being 'no reason' for shooting Ashli Babbitt

If Your Time is short

• A Capitol Police officer fatally shot Babbitt, who was with a group of rioters near the entrance to the House chamber, during the storming of the Capitol on Jan. 6. She was shot in the shoulder, not the head.

• There was a clearly visible reason for the shooting. Several experts, citing video evidence, said the officer’s decision to fire was defensible, given the risk of serious bodily harm either to officers and lawmakers.

During a press conference to announce that he was filing a lawsuit against several social media giants, former President Donald Trump answered a question about the event that triggered his removal from Facebook and Twitter: the storming of the U.S. Capitol by his supporters on Jan. 6.

A reporter asked Trump, "Because so much of your banning (on social media platforms) has to do with comments you made around Jan. 6, just to clarify further, what did you do to stop the insurrection as some people call it, and why were you not able to stop it?"

In his answer, Trump called the storming of the Capitol an "unfortunate event" and pivoted to the death of Ashli Babbitt, a 35-year-old San Diego woman who was shot and killed by a U.S. Capitol Police officer when a crowd of rioters was trying to force its way into the House chamber. 

"The person that shot Ashli Babbitt — boom — right through the head — just boom — there was no reason for that," Trump said. "And why isn’t that person being opened up, and why isn’t that being studied? They’ve already written it off. They said that case is closed. If that were the opposite, that case would be going on for years and years, and it would not be pretty."

First, we should note that the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner for Washington, D.C., determined that Babbitt was struck in the front left shoulder, not the head.

Beyond that, Trump’s assertion that "there was no reason" for the shooting goes beyond saying that, in his opinion, the shooting was unjustified. Rather, he’s saying there’s no possible argument to support it.

However, even if one disagrees with the Justice Department’s determination not to prosecute the officer for the shooting, video evidence demonstrates that the officer was facing an angry mob near the House chamber. Experts told PolitiFact that the situation involved a risk of serious bodily harm to either law enforcement or lawmakers, which is a longstanding defense made and upheld by the courts in police shootings.

The former president’s office did not respond to an inquiry for this article.

A sign against wearing masks to slow the spread of the coronavirus covers the office door of Fowler's Pool Services and Supply Inc. Ashli Babbitt, listed as an owner of Fowler's, was shot and killed during the Jan. 6 storming of the Capitol. (AP)

The shooting

Babbitt was a 14-year Air Force veteran who served four tours as a high-level security official, KUSI-TV in San Diego reported. Her husband told the station she was an avid Trump supporter.

Babbitt also sent 21 tweets referencing the QAnon conspiracy beginning in February 2020, according to the Daily Beast. The site reported that Babbitt posted Jan. 5 that the United States would soon see "The Storm," a day of reckoning the conspiracy theorists believed was coming for deep-state pedophiles, sex traffickers and Trump opponents.

On Jan. 5 she flew from her home in San Diego to Washington to attend the "stop the steal" rally where Trump would speak, according to the investigative website Bellingcat. In a video obtained by TMZ, she described "a sea of nothing but red, white and blue, patriots and Trump. And it was amazing, you could see the president talk." She entered the building when other rioters breached the building.

The deadly showdown occurred in a corridor known as the Speaker’s Lobby; the lobby is a formal, ornately decorated space that leads directly to the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives. Capitol Police had used furniture to barricade a glass door to prevent rioters from getting near the lawmakers. 

The Speaker’s Lobby (U.S. House of Representatives)

Video footage (warning, graphic content) shows a plain-clothes officer standing with a gun drawn in the Speaker’s Lobby. The officer fired once as Babbitt was climbing through a broken window adjoining the door. (The officer’s name has not been released, though Babbitt’s husband has sued seeking to release the name.)

Babbitt fell to the floor, where she was immediately treated by uniformed officers on her side of the barricade. A Jan. 7 news release from the Capitol Police said she was taken to a nearby hospital where she died of her injuries.

A witness account that Rep. Markwayne Mullin, R-Okla., shared with "Good Morning America" on Jan. 7 fits with this account. 

Mullin was in the Speaker’s Lobby behind the officer who shot and killed Babbitt. He said that "when they broke the glass in the back, the (police) lieutenant that was there, him and I already had multiple conversations prior to this, and he didn't have a choice at that time. … The mob was going to come through the door, there was a lot of members and staff that were in danger at the time. And when he (drew) his weapon, that's a decision that's very hard for anyone to make and, once you draw your weapon like that, you have to defend yourself with deadly force."

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A Jan. 7 statement by Capitol Police Chief Steven Sund confirmed that Babbitt was shot by a sworn Capitol Police officer who was later placed on administrative leave, in line with agency policy.

"As protesters were forcing their way toward the House Chamber where Members of Congress were sheltering in place, a sworn (Capitol Police) employee discharged their service weapon, striking an adult female," Sund said in his statement, referring to Babbitt. 

The decision not to prosecute

On April 14, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia and the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division jointly announced that there was "insufficient evidence to support a criminal prosecution" against the officer who shot Babbitt. The department said:

"The investigation determined that, on Jan. 6, 2021, Ms. Babbitt joined a crowd of people that gathered on the U.S. Capitol grounds to protest the results of the 2020 presidential election. … The investigation further determined that Ms. Babbitt was among a mob of people that entered the Capitol building and gained access to a hallway outside the Speaker’s Lobby, which leads to the Chamber of the U.S. House of Representatives. ...

"As members of the mob continued to strike the glass doors, Ms. Babbitt attempted to climb through one of the doors where glass was broken out. An officer inside the Speaker’s Lobby fired one round from his service pistol, striking Ms. Babbitt in the left shoulder, causing her to fall back from the doorway and onto the floor."

The department concluded that it was unable to find sufficient evidence that a federal criminal civil rights statute was violated.

"Prosecutors would have to prove not only that the officer used force that was constitutionally unreasonable, but that the officer did so ‘willfully,’ which the Supreme Court has interpreted to mean that the officer acted with a bad purpose to disregard the law," the department said. "As this requirement has been interpreted by the courts, evidence that an officer acted out of fear, mistake, panic, misperception, negligence, or even poor judgment cannot establish the high level of intent required."

Investigators concluded that there was "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," the department said. 

What do experts say?

We asked several law-enforcement experts whether they saw any justification for Trump’s assertion that there was "no reason" for the officer to have shot Babbitt. They agreed that the department made the right decision not to prosecute the officer.

"It is very easy, of course, to play Monday-morning police officer and second-guess quick decisions made at the time," said James Alan Fox, a Northeastern University criminologist. "There was clearly a risk of serious bodily harm to the officers and everyone they were protecting, justifying the use of deadly force in defense of self and others."

Fox added that it’s also worth keeping in mind "the high stakes given the important roles of those being protected," even though that is not written into the relevant statutes.

Philip Stinson, a Bowling Green State University criminologist, agreed.

"A police officer is justified in using deadly force when that officer has a reasonable apprehension of an imminent threat of serious bodily injury or death being imposed against the officer or someone else," Stinson said. "Mr. Trump is wrong in stating that there was ‘no reason’ to shoot Ms. Babbitt."

Greg Meyer, a retired Los Angeles Police Department captain, said that less harmful measures to subdue the rioters, such as pepper spray or warning shots, should be weighed in after-the-fact analyses of how to handle such situations in the future. But he added that any assumption that these alternatives should have been pursued would be "a matter of speculation based on 20/20 hindsight."

"The reason the officer fired at Ms. Babbitt was because a violent mob was taking over the Capitol and causing police to evacuate House and Senate members out of fear for their lives," Meyer said.

Our ruling

Trump said that "the person that shot Ashli Babbitt — boom — right through the head — just boom — there was no reason for that."

Babbitt was fatally shot in the shoulder, not the head. 

As for Trump’s assertion that "there was no reason" for the shooting, this means there’s no possible argument to support it. But the angry mob that prompted the shooting was captured on video, and at least one member of Congress directly witnessed it.

Experts said that, according to the video evidence, the situation involved a risk of serious bodily harm to either law enforcement or lawmakers, which is a longstanding defense made and upheld by the courts in police shootings.

We rate the statement False.

Caryn Baird contributed to this report.

Our Sources

Donald Trump, remarks at a press conference, July 7, 2021

U.S. Attorney's office for the District of Columbia, "Department of Justice Closes Investigation into the Death of Ashli Babbitt," April 14, 2021

Steven Sund, statement, Jan. 7, 2021

Daily Beast, ‘Didn’t Have a Choice’: Vet Was Climbing Through Broken Window When She Was Shot Dead, Jan. 7, 2021

ABC News, Congressman recalls moment woman was shot inside Capitol building, Jan. 7, 2021

KUSI-TV, KUSI News confirms identity of woman shot and killed inside US Capitol, Jan. 6, 2021

USA TODAY, California woman killed during Capitol riot was a military veteran and staunch Trump supporter, Jan. 7, 2021

TMZ, "Ashli Babbitt, Woman Fatally Shot in U.S. Capitol, Shared Video Marching to it," accessed July 8, 2021

Washington Post, "D.C. medical examiner releases cause of death for four people who died during Capitol riot," April 7, 2021

Washington Post, "Video shows fatal shooting of Ashli Babbitt in the Capitol," updated Feb. 5, 2021

New York Times, "Trump sues tech firms for blocking him, and fund-raises off it," July 8, 2021

Bellingcat, "The Journey of Ashli Babbitt," Jan. 8, 2021

New York Post, "Ashli Babbitt’s widower suing for name of cop who shot her," June 15, 2021 

PolitiFact, "Capitol Police, not Secret Service, shot and killed woman in U.S. Capitol assault," Jan. 7, 2021

Email interview with Greg Meyer, retired Los Angeles Police Department captain, July 7, 2021

Email interview with James Alan Fox, Northeastern University criminologist, July 7, 2021

Email interview with Philip Stinson, Bowling Green State University criminologist, July 7, 2021

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