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Seth Stoughton on the Shooting of Ashli Babbitt

On January 6, a mob of pro-Trump supporters stormed the U.S. Capitol during the certification of the Electoral College vote. As lawmakers were being evacuated by Capitol police, Ashli Babbitt, a 35-year-old Air Force veteran, tried to climb through a shattered window in a barricaded door. Capitol Police Lt. Michael Byrd shot Babbitt as she was climbing through the window and Babbitt died later that day. In the polarized debate over January 6, the death of Ashli Babbitt has become a focal point and one of unusual political valence. Many on the right view her as a martyred hero and the police officer that shot her as an example of excessive force. Those on the left, who have traditionally been outspoken about police killings, have largely stayed quiet. To the extent they've commented, it's been to emphasize the unique circumstances of the Capitol insurrection as justification for the use of lethal force. The Department of Justice, having reviewed the incident, determined that there was insufficient evidence to charge Officer Byrd with violating Babbitt's civil rights, although DOJ did not conclude one way or the other, whether the shooting was justified under the Fourth Amendment.

To work through the legal issues around the shooting of Ashli Babbitt, Alan Rozenshtein spoke with Seth Stoughton, associate professor of law at the University of South Carolina and the coauthor of a recent Lawfare post on the shooting. Stoughton is a nationally recognized expert on police use of force. A former police officer himself, he was a key witness for the murder prosecution of Derek Chauvin, the police officer who killed George Floyd. Alan spoke with Stoughton about the murky factual records surrounding the Babbitt shooting, the complex constitutional and statutory issues that it raises and what its political effects say about the broader prospects for police reform.

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