An attorney representing the family of Ashli Babbitt, the Air Force veteran who was shot and killed during the Jan. 6 siege at the U.S. Capitol, said this week that he plans on filing a $10 million lawsuit against the U.S. Capitol Police and the lieutenant who fired the fatal shot.
Multiple videos from inside the Capitol Building show Babbitt amid a group of people crowded around a doorway in the lobby which separated a stair well from a hallway. Several law enforcement officers appeared to be guarding the hallway beyond the doors; others dressed as officers appeared to be among the mob in the stair well. The doorway windows were smashed, and the doors themselves were barricaded. Babbitt, wearing a red, white, and blue backpack and draped in a Trump flag, attempted to climb through one of the busted windows when a single shot was fired, killing her.
The Department of Justice two weeks ago declined to charge the officer, whose name has not been released to the public, finding that he may have believed self-defense was reasonably necessary to protect members of Congress inside the Speaker’s Lobby.
But attorney Terrell N. Roberts, III has maintained that the footage from inside the building made it clear that Babbitt “did not pose a danger to the officer, or any other person when she was shot.”
“A rookie police officer would not have shot this woman. If she committed any crime by going through the window and into the Speaker’s Lobby, it would have been trespassing. Some misdemeanor crime. All a rookie cop would have done is arrest her,” Roberts said in an interview with Zenger News.
“And he has plenty of other officers there to assist with arrest,” he said of the shooter. “You had officers on Ashli’s side of the door in riot gear and holding submachine guns. And on the other side of the door you have another uniformed officer 6 or 8 feet away. Whose life is he saving by shooting her? She’s not brandishing a weapon. She’s on the window ledge. And there’s no reason to think she’s armed.”
Roberts also said that the lieutenant should be denied qualified immunity in any civil litigation. Qualified immunity is a controversial doctrine that prevents government officials from being personally liable for monetary damages without showing the official violated a statutory or constitutional right that was “clearly established” at the time.
“I don’t know how on earth he could. This is a clear case of excessive force,” Roberts said. “What it looks like is this guy shot this lady for no legitimate law enforcement purpose. And you know, they ought to be pretty ashamed of that. I mean, [it’s] pretty, pretty bad, that you don’t hear any member of Congress speaking out about this thing. In a free country like ours, it’s very strange and odd that they wouldn’t identify the officer, or even provide some details, explaining why he had to kill her.”
But even if the courts were to agree that the officer used excessive force, the far harder task in overcoming qualified immunity would be showing that the officer’s conduct violated Babbitt’s “clearly established” right, which seems like a steep hill to climb given the historically unique circumstances of rioters invading the Capitol Building while lawmakers were inside.
A few weeks after the insurrection, the head of the Capitol Police officers’ union said that approximately 140 officers were injured trying to protect members of Congress from rioters. Federal prosecutors have charged more than 400 people with an array of crimes varying from simple trespassing to assaulting a police officer with a deadly weapon. The FBI is also still seeking help in identifying hundreds of more participants in the insurrection.
Law&Crime reached out to Roberts for more details on the lawsuit, which he told Zenger News he plans to file within the next 10 days.
[image via Ashli Babbitt/Twitter]
Have a tip we should know? [email protected]