Topline

Federal prosecutors closed the investigation into the death of Ashli Babbitt with no charges filed Wednesday, and without ever naming the U.S. Capitol Police officer who fatally shot her during the Jan. 6 insurrection, prompting criticism and comparisons to the relative transparency with which authorities are handling the shooting of Daunte Wright—a difference that comes down to the unique structure of the U.S. Capitol Police force.

Key Facts

Congress has not required the U.S. Capitol Police to follow the same public reporting or transparency protocols that govern most large municipal police forces like its neighbor, the Washington, D.C. Metropolitan Police Department (MPD). 

While D.C. police are required by law to release the names of officers involved in deaths or serious uses of force within five days of the incident, the Capitol Police force is not—and has often chosen to withhold that information in previous cases. 

U.S. Capitol Police officers are also not equipped with body cameras, unlike the MPD, which must, along with disclosing names, release the video from the cameras of officers involved in serious incidents. 

In Minnesota, where Wright was shot on Sunday during a traffic stop, the state’s Bureau of Criminal Apprehension publicly releases the names of officers involved in shooting deaths, identifying the Brooklyn Center officer who shot Wright as Kim Potter the night after the fatal encounter.

In a bid to increase transparency in the wake of Geroge Floyd’s death, the state has also enacted a strict body camera policy which requires officers to keep their cameras on at all times during most calls, even while having casual conversations with colleagues. 

Crucial Quote 

When asked why it’s chosen not to disclose the name of Babbitt’s shooter, the U.S. Capitol Police told Forbes in an email that this is “standard procedure when there are concerns for an officer’s safety, as there are in this case.” 

Chief Critics

The withholding of the officer’s identity has been criticized by Babbitt’s brother, Roger Witthoeft, who said “that decision shouldn’t be made behind the scenes.” Meanwhile, Tucker Carlson, who hosts the most-watched show on Fox News, ran a segment Wednesday night accusing authorities and the media of treating Babbitt’s death differently because of her political views. “You can’t just shoot people without warning because they’re in the wrong place. That’s not allowed,” Carlson said. “Except now, apparently, it is allowed. When did these rules change? And, once again, who exactly shot Ashli Babbitt?”

Key Background

The U.S. Capitol Police has come under scrutiny for its lack of transparency, with lawmakers considering changes periodically over the past 15 years. However, the force has ultimately been left to its own devices in terms of dictating its level of transparency with the public—and has repeatedly exercised that freedom. As pointed out by The Washington Post in a recent investigation, the Capitol Police has offered few details in previous investigations, including in a 2013 incident where officers fired into the car of a Connecticut woman driving erratically on Capitol Hill, killing her. The names of the officers were never released.  “Congress hasn’t made the rules apply to the department, so we didn’t have to meet the expectations that a state or city police agency have,” Terrance W. Gainer, who served as the chief of the Capitol Police from 2002 to 2006, told The Post. 

Further Reading

“Capitol Police Officer Who Shot Ashli Babbitt In Jan. 6 Riot Won’t Face Criminal Charges” (Forbes)

“With big budget but little accountability, long-troubled Capitol Police face questions after siege” (The Washington Post)