Monday, January 11, 2021

Capitol Riot Officer-Involved Shooting

This page will organize a set of sources and commentary on the Officer-Involved Shooting during the 2021 US Capitol Riots on 6 January in which Alisha Babbitt was killed. The intent here is to have these sources and links in one place for ease of discussion and debate, including analysis of police use of force involved by myself or by others. Gathering sources will come first and commentary will be added later. It will need to be reorganized as I go.
Version 0.4: 15 January 2021 (Added a number of links including more videos and more background on Babbitt.)

Disclaimer: This page and any commentary on it is my own and not an official statement of any organization. There are clearly both political and non-political issues here (or, at least, some issues which should not be political). A subset of these issues, those dealing with use-of-force and the shoot/no-shot decision separated (as much as possible) from the political context, will be discussed using these sources at the 11 January meeting of the Lawrence County Sheriff's Auxiliary. This page, however, does not represent that discussion. The use of force analysis will almost certainly have to change over time in any case as more information is known, so no such analysis could be definitive at this time. Clearly, the videos linked here are going to contain graphic content and this discussion will be of a violent subject: if you do not wish to be exposed to such content, do not continue.

What Are the Questions?

Let's start out with a decent framing of the questions. LegalInsurrection does a decent job in "Video of Shooting Death of Ashli Babbitt Raises Questions About Use of Deadly Force". Deciding on major questions (and dispensing with less useful questions) should guide inquiry and gathering of sources. The primary issues I am interested in here are:

* Was the individual officer's use of force correctly made and justified?

* Who actually made the choice? Was it the individual officer or did he act in response to an order given? Or was the choice part of a mission parameter/rule of engagement? (e.g. "Do not fire unless the barrier is breached, but do not permit protesters to enter this lobby.")

* Why was the officer who made the shoot/no-shoot decision put in the position of having to make that choice? In other words, were other failures made in the larger response which might have prevented the necessity of fatal confrontation. Potential "lessons learned" are crucial for security planning in future events in this crazy political climate.

* What larger liability might apply to others involved in illegal activity (i.e. the Felony Murder question)

* What were the actual and perceived physical threats presented by Babbitt and the larger incident?

Questions which I do not feel are terribly useful:

* Was what Babbitt did wrong/illegal? The answer to this question is rather obvious and there can be little doubt that climbing a broken barricade was not a lawful or peacable act. The further intentions of the deceased cannot be gauged and, as she is deceased, there is no question of further punishment.

* Did Babbitt "deserve to die"? This is often too ill-defined a question to answer and too wrapped up in political/ideological perceptions. It is clear that her act was willful, illegal, and dangerous. There is no reason to suppose that she was unaware that her actions were risky and might lead to injury or death. Nor does answering such a question change the fact that she did, in fact, die whether she "deserved it" or not.

Videos of the Shooting

Information on the Capitol Riots is frequently taken down. There is no guarantee that the following sources will continue to exist indefinitely. Please inform me of broken links in comments (or better sources) and I will attempt to fix them. The video of the incident itself are crucial for looking at use-of-force questions. commentary with Twitter link to the original Sulivan video: This video is the first one widely shared but shows little context and it is not easy to get a sense of the space around the incident. The LegalInsurrection link above also has the same video.

Two videos with commentary by the Washington Post showing a different viewpoint than the Sullivan video and more context before the shooting: (MSN link) This link also contains a map of the Capitol showing the area of interest.
Bell?ngCat's "The Journey of Ashli Babbit" has several video links in one place, including a link to a YouTube video which combines and sinks four videos into one. 

TheResistance has a 44-minute video showing the entire progression from entry into the Capitol to the Officer-Involved Shooting.

The question of the shoot/no-shoot decision is more complicated than justification. There is also a larger safety question involved. Training and policy typically dictates discharging a weapon only with a clear target and clean background. As can be seen from these videos, the "background" to the shot was quite complicated and rapidly changing, something which may be hard for people to appreciate if they have not stood behind a gun (in training or a live incident) and had to try to make such a decision. To the left of the barrier (facing into the lobby, opposite to the shooter's perspective) were more protesters and people filming (whether or not 'protesters'). To Babbitt's right were Capitol Police staging on the descending stairwell. Behind the doors in the lobby were more Capitol Police and officials sheltering. Behind the frontline of protesters were other protesters who may not have presented an immediate threat and, seemingly, other police. Any weapon discharge might potentially hit friendly, neutral, or unknown targets. It is possible that the shooter had (or perceived) a background which was only momentarily clean, while Babbitt was elevated above others and before she made it into the lobby proper. Only at that moment (arguably) could a round aimed at Babbitt at an upward angle avoid striking others. This may have determined the timing of the shot; any additional video or information to this question may be very important.

Legal Commentary
The question of whether what Ashli Babbitt did was illegal is clear (it was not) and moot (she is dead and therefore there is no point in charging her with a crime). The incident has larger implications for the use-of-force inquiry into the shooting and the potential charges for others who were present. This section will gather some relevant commentary as I find it.

A discussion of Felony Murder  in the context of the Capitol Riot and the death of Ashli Babbitt. Includes definition of Felony Murder, references DC statutes, and looks through the circumstances of her death in that light.

Ashli Babbitt

Some background on Ashli Babbitt from and NYPost. Also some (limited) information about past charges for property damage and a restraining order. Bell?ngCat has a detailed article, "The Journey of Ashli Babbitt" describing the chnages in political views over time from Obama supporter to Trump supporter to QAnon.

John Sullivan

Sullivan is a controversial individual because he recorded the first widely-distributed video of Ashli Babbitt's death while standing in the Capitol nearby. Sullivan is not a Trump Supporter (nor does he appear to be a member of Antifa) but from Insurgence USA, an organization for "racial justice and police reform" who is decidedly anti-Trump. So, ineveitably, the question arises: what was he doing in the Capitol and what were his motives? This link from PJ-Media includes a number of other links discussing this question and the more general question of who might or might not have been associated with Antifa. It also includes a video of Trump Supporters stopping someone who is (claimed to be) Antifa from breaking into a Capitol window. It is clear, therefore that the situation may have been complex and more research is needed on who was there, why they were there, and just what they thought they were doing.

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