Justice Dept. to probe shooting of Air Force vet at Capitol riot

Of the five people who died during the January 6 riot at the Capitol building in Washington, two of them will now be the subjects of investigations by the Justice Department. Three of the deaths have thus far been deemed accidental. One woman was trampled to death in the melee, while two others succumbed to unspecified “medical emergencies.” Two people were killed by others. One was Capitol Hill Police Officer Brian Sicknick, who was bludgeoned to death with a fire extinguisher by rioters. A Justice Department investigation into his death is already underway. The last, and the subject of the investigation in question was 35-year-old Ashli Babbitt. She was shot in the chest by an officer while attempting to break through a window inside the Capitol and later died of her injuries. (NY Post)

The Justice Department is opening an investigation into the shooting death of an Air Force veteran during the Capitol riot on Wednesday.

Ashli Babbitt, 35, died in the melee after she was shot in the chest by a Capitol Police officer while she was trying to climb through a smashed window in an attempt to enter the House Chambers.

Michael Sherwin, the acting U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia, told CBS News his office opened a formal excessive force investigation related to Babbitt’s death. The probe will be handled by the office’s civil rights division.

Any time there’s an officer-involved shooting there’s going to be an investigation, so this seems fairly normal. The question they will have to answer is whether or not the shooting was justified. Before digging into that question a bit, here’s a clip from ABC News that includes the two known video clips of the actual shooting. The usual warnings about disturbing content apply.

I’ve watched this video multiple times now and heard from people making arguments on both sides of the case. The argument in favor of justified use of lethal force seems fairly straightforward, at least at first glance. The rioters had reached a locked door. There were a couple of people, including a Capitol Hill Police Officer on the other side. They were vastly outnumbered at that point and the mob had smashed out the windows and were preparing to come through. The officer shot the first person through the window, which happened to be Babbitt. Had he not done so, they would have been quickly overwhelmed. It’s unclear whether they knew at that point that another officer had been bludgeoned to death, but it was clearly a dangerous situation.

The backstory makes it a bit more complicated, however. Though accounts vary, it’s been claimed that there were nearly a dozen officers further back behind the area where Babbitt’s group was attacking the door and they may have simply let them through. If that gave this group of rioters the impression that they had been “cleared” to move forward by the CHP, perhaps they had simply assumed it was safe to do so?

I don’t know how much credence to give that story, however. Even if Babbitt’s group had passed some other officers, the door they reached was locked. They smashed the windows out and an armed officer was on the other side yelling warnings to not proceed further. No matter how many ways I try to look at this, it just seems like whoever came through that window first was going to be shot in an effort to force the rest of them back.

The investigation will probably look into the question of whether or not the CHP officer had a reasonable fear for his safety at that moment. There was a clear hallway beyond the door, so perhaps the Justice Department will ask if the officer and the other individual in the hall had a duty to retreat if a clear path was available rather than resorting to deadly force. But since when do officers in the line of duty have an obligation to retreat? They were supposed to be in there protecting the Capitol and the people who were trapped inside.

You hate to see one of our veterans wind up dead on the floor, but as cold as it may sound to say, Ashli Babbitt made the choice to not only attend the rally at the White House but to march to the Capitol building and participate in breaking in and advancing with the mob. I fail to see how she is blameless in this. I don’t imagine we’ll learn the results of this DoJ investigation any time soon, so we’ll just have to be patient.