SAN DIEGO — The shooting death of Ashli Babbitt at the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021 was a call to action for Gerhardt Fox, who volunteered on a legal fundraising effort in the wake of Babbitt’s death.
“I feel that a person who was unarmed and who wasn't engaging in an assault should not be shot by a police officer,” said Fox, a resident of New Braunfels, Texas.
Fox said he spent a year working to drive web traffic to an online crowdfunding campaign set up by a law firm to raise money to file a wrongful death lawsuit on behalf of Ashli Babbitt's estate.
"I created a fundraising effort... @j4j6campaign on Twitter, and the law firm had created and operated the GiveSendGo crowdfund and @forashli on Twitter," Fox wrote in an email to CBS 8.
“It wasn't easy. It wasn't like a GoFundMe you put up, and 24 hours later, it's all full up. After a year of very, very difficult work, we raised $462,000 -- approximately out of the $500,000 they were asking for -- so it's nearly half a million dollars. It's a very big pot of gold,” said Fox.
In early 2022, Fox said, his legal fundraising effort fell apart. Fox said he had a falling out with other fundraising organizers, who he said were working in connection with Babbitt family members. Fox blamed one individual in particular -- who was not affiliated with the law firm -- and who he declined to name.
“He tried to capitalize on the tragedy and profit financially from it by generating merchandise and business ventures related to Ashli Babbitt's likeness,” said Fox.
In February 2022, the Maryland law firm linked to the main crowdfunding effort, Roberts and Wood, withdrew from the case, according to court records.
In April 2022, the law firm’s namesake, attorney Terry Roberts, wrote a letter to Ashli Babbitt's husband, Aaron Babbitt, telling him, “...if you have not retained a lawyer by May 30, 2022, I will take for granted that a lawsuit is not going to (be) filed, and I will refund the crowd-funding money back to the donors."
Fox said the fundraising effort specifically was meant to fund a lawsuit.
“The law firm raised nearly half a million dollars, under two terms: to be received by Terry Roberts; and for the wrongful death civil suit of Ashli Babbitt. And if those two terms are not met, just by normal legal standards, we would have to refund the money,” said Fox.
But the money did not get refunded. Instead, Aaron Babbitt hired a new attorney, Rachel King, and in May of 2022, filed a petition in San Diego County probate court to get the money transferred to Ashli Babbitt's estate.
In June 2022, a probate judge denied Aaron Babbitt’s petition without prejudice, court records showed, leaving the half million dollars in limbo.
CBS 8 reached out to Aaron Babbitt, but he did not respond to questions about the status of a wrongful death lawsuit. Babbitt’s pool service company in Spring Valley appears to be closed down.
Attorney Terry Roberts told CBS 8 the half million dollars from the crowdfunding account remained under control of his law firm in Maryland.
In an email to CBS 8, Roberts wrote that Gerhardt Fox "had nothing to do with my firm’s crowd funding account. He may have encouraged others to contribute to it, or he may have made his own contributions, but I am personally unaware of it. He had no direct involvement in the crowd fund raising account I ran."
Roberts claimed the window to file a wrongful death lawsuit had not yet closed, even though the Federal Tort Claims Act generally has a two-year statute of limitations, as does Washington DC.
Roberts said, in some cases, federal courts track state courts to determine the deadline to file a wrongful death lawsuit, and court-imposed COVID restrictions may affect the tolling of the statute of limitations.
Meanwhile, in Washington DC, the controversy over Ashli Babbitt's death continues.
“There's a woman in this room whose daughter was murdered on January 6, Ashli Babbitt,” U.S. Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Georgia) said last month during a meeting of the House Oversight Committee.
“Ashli Babbitt, there's never been a trial. As a matter of fact, no one has cared about the person that shot and killed her,” said Greene.
Days later, a reporter asked House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-California), “Do you think Ashli Babbitt was murdered? Or do you think the police officer who shot her was doing her job?”
“I think the police officer did his job,” McCarthy responded.
The U.S. Department of Justice closed its criminal investigation into Babbitt’s death in 2021, saying there was insufficient evidence to support prosecution of Capitol Police Lt. Michael Byrd, the officer who shot Babbitt.
For now, the status of a wrongful death lawsuit is still undetermined.
“I believe that there is cause to pursue litigation. I believe that it could very possibly be successful and I think it should still be pursued,” said Fox, the fundraising volunteer.
Editor's note: This article was updated on Feb. 25 to include comments from attorney Terry Roberts and additional information, which clarified Gerhardt Fox had no direct involvement in the law firm's fundraising account.
WATCH RELATED: Ashli Babbitt wrongful death lawsuit still not filed (Jun. 2022).
HERE ARE MORE WAYS TO GET CBS 8:
ADD THE CBS8+ APP TO YOUR STREAMING DEVICE Roku | Amazon Fire