When Police Are Lawless There Can Be No Justice

The January 6, 2021 Capitol building protest, though definitely not an insurrection, was certainly a shameful exercise in stupidity. And while it remains to be seen to what extent corrupt FBI leaders, agents, informants, and outside agitators instigated and participated in the violence—it is clear that some genuine protestors rioted and behaved disgracefully. All violators who broke the law deserve to be punished fairly and appropriately. This includes police officers who engaged in excessive force, official misconduct, and other crimes.  

As a lieutenant and chief of police, I reviewed and evaluated hundreds of use-of-force incidents to determine if officers’ conduct complied with the law and department policy. A police officer’s job is difficult, situations can be complex, investigations complicated, and officers are entitled to due process. Judging cops in use-of-force incidents without knowing all the facts can be presumptuous and wrong. Sometimes, however, an officer’s actions are so reprehensible, the excessive force so egregious, that justice and decency demand they be called out for what they are.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                           

Let’s examine two such January 6 incidents.  

The first is the brutal and vicious beatings of innocent protesters in the West Terrace tunnel by yet-unidentified officers of the D.C. Metropolitan Police Department. The second is the unjustified fatal shooting of Ashli Babbitt inside the Capitol building by Capitol Police Lieutenant Michael Byrd. 

The recently released surveillance video of gross police misconduct in the west terrace tunnel is sickening. There was no room to move as two dozen officers in full riot gear stood touching shoulder-to-shoulder and front-to-back. Trapped amongst them were three protesters, a man and two women—unarmed and non-violent. They were mercilessly beaten by several D.C. Metro police officers—led by a police supervisor. 

The attacks included repeated strikes to the head with police batons, multiple punches to the face with a closed fist, foot stomps to the head, being pulled by the hair and violently jerked around, and brutally smashed with a riot shield. The beatings were savage and sadistic—among the most disgusting I have ever seen. It should be noted that in any police use-of-force policy, baton strikes and kicks to the head are considered deadly force. 

The victims presented no aggression, resistance, or threat, but the police made no attempt to place them in custody. The beatings would come first, and the crimes would be found later—just like other victims of police abuse throughout history.    

Appropriate force is justified for legitimate police purposes including stopping a threat and overcoming resistance to an arrest. Force that is not necessary, objectively reasonable, and proportional to the resistance being responded to, is excessive. In this case, none of these requirements were met—the police use-of-force had no lawful basis to begin with. What is documented in the video is torture. Cops have gone to prison for far less.

If the beaten victims had been Black Lives Matter protesters instead of three white, Republican, Trump supporters, the outrage would be immediate, massive, loud, and cities would have burned (again). But so far, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser, D.C. Metro Chief of Police Robert Contee, the ruling class media, all Democrats, and most Republicans have remained silent.   

Renowned legal scholar Jonathan Turley condemned the fatal shooting of Ashli Babbitt by Capitol Police Lieutenant Michael Byrd as totally unjustified and its whitewashing by the Department of Justice as disgraceful. 

Since the killing, the ruling class media’s objective has been twofold. To fabricate Michael Byrd into a make-believe hero by deceitfully twisting an unnecessary, cowardly, and illegal killing of an unarmed woman into an act of courage and heroism. And to smear Ashli Babbitt’s reputation and defame her memory. 

But seeing is believing. The video of Byrd killing Babbitt clearly proves that she posed no imminent deadly threat.  

No reasonable officer confronted with this situation would perceive this 5-foot-2, 110-pound, unarmed woman as an imminent threat to his life or the lives of others. This is demonstrated primarily by the fact that three of Byrd’s fellow police officers and at least four SWAT officers were together within a few feet of Babbitt on her side of the doors, immediately before and during her climbing through the window. Their perception of any threat from Babbitt was zero. Not only did they not shoot her—they didn’t even touch her.

Byrd’s actions immediately before he killed Babbitt indicate either bad intent or cowardice—a matter that a legitimate investigation would determine. Not only is Byrd the only police officer inside the Capitol who was so fearful that he shot a person to death, he is also apparently the only officer who did not interact or engage with the protesters face-to-face. In fact, even while physically separated and protected from the protesters by securely barricaded doors, he hid out-of-sight in a vestibule. 

While his fellow officers on the other side of the barricade stood openly facing and moving among the demonstrators, Byrd stealthily took aim with his gun from a position of concealment. All that can be seen of Byrd from the protestor’s side are his hands gripping the protruding gun. This was a cold-blooded ambush shooting and killing. It is highly unlikely that Ashli Babbitt even saw Byrd aiming his gun at her as she climbed through the window—a fact that could be determined from the government-suppressed surveillance video of the shooting. 

Byrd claims he shouted continuous warnings to Babbitt, “yelling at the top of my lungs”—but did he? No such warnings are captured by the cellphone recording taken just a few feet away. And bizarrely, during the entire incident Byrd continues to wear a cloth COVID mask fully covering his mouth. An officer who wanted the person he intended to shoot to actually hear his warnings would have lost the mask. Again, suppressed government surveillance video would reveal the truth.     

Lester Holt of NBC News provided Byrd with a softball interview designed to complete the deception and elevate Byrd to national-hero status. But even after having seven months to rehearse and with Holt leading him by the hand, Byrd still stumbled, contradicted known facts, lied, and displayed a shocking ignorance of the law governing deadly force. The videos of Michael Byrd killing Ashli Babbitt along with his Lester Holt charity interview should be shown to recruits in every police academy across the country—to teach them about the improper use of deadly force, lack of professionalism, and incompetent leadership. 

This was a bad shooting. It was only sanctioned because the Department of Justice has been warped into a thoroughly corrupt institution whose mission is to implement the political agenda of the leftist elites. The Justice Department gave Byrd a pass because he killed a white Trump supporter. If a police officer had fired from an ambush position and killed a Black Lives Matter protester crawling through a window of a government building or police station during one of the 633 riots in 2020, we know what would have happened. That cop would have been charged, tried, convicted, and sitting in prison for the rest of his life by now.

A real police lieutenant who is a leader takes command. A leader would have positioned himself behind the barricade, in the open, to present police authority and command presence. A leader would have communicated through the window with the other officers across the barricade, and issued orders and directions to reestablish order. A leader would have instructed his three officers to remain in front of the barricaded doors, prevent protesters from breaking the windows, and arrest any who tried. A leader would have positioned the four SWAT officers with them to create a barrier of at least seven officers in front of the door—and no protester would ever have gotten through. Yes, that’s 20-20 hindsight but it’s also just Police Leadership 101. 

Let’s get back to what really happened. As Byrd saw Babbitt climb into the window (only several feet from him), he had commonsense options to resolve the situation quickly and without deadly force. He could have quickly holstered his gun, emerged from his hiding place, and gone to the window—taking one or two seconds at most. From there, he easily could have pushed Babbitt back to the other side so officers could arrest and handcuff her or just pull Babbitt through the window to his side and handcuff her himself. 

During his pathetic NBC interview, Byrd self-righteously proclaimed that he “showed the utmost courage” and that killing Ashli Babbitt was his “last resort.” Both claims are false. It is not courageous to shoot an unsuspecting and unarmed woman from ambush. And killing Babbitt was not Byrd’s last resort—it was his first option.     

As we continue the fight to uncover the truth, the reality is that it will take a long time to see justice for these victims. And we won’t, unless  Congress under different leadership launches a legitimate investigation into what really happened on January 6 and a new president cleans out the rot at the Justice Department and begins the hard work of restoring its integrity. 

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About Maurice Richards

Maurice Richards is the former chief of the Martinsburg Police Department in West Virginia. He served as chief from 2015 to 2020 after a 24-year career in the Chicago Police Department. Richards holds a doctorate in adult education from Northern Illinois University. His writing has been featured in Human Events, The Federalist, The Hill, and The Daily Caller

Photo: Stephanie Keith/Getty Images