Death of Brian Sicknick
President Joe Biden and First Lady Jill Biden attend the viewing for Sicknick's remains at the Capitol.
DateJanuary 7, 2021; 12 months ago (2021-01-07)
LocationWashington, D.C., U.S.

Brian Sicknick, a United States Capitol Police (USCP) officer, died on January 7, 2021, after having two strokes the day after he responded to the attack on the Capitol.[1] The District of Columbia chief medical examiner found that Sicknick had died from stroke, classifying his death as natural[a] and additionally commented that "all that transpired played a role in his condition."[3][1][4] His cremated remains were lain in honor in the Capitol Rotunda on February 2, 2021, before they were buried with full honors at Arlington National Cemetery.[5]

The cause of Sicknick's death was first thought to be from injuries, but months later the medical examiner reported there were none.[3] Within a day after his death, the U.S. Capitol Police and the U.S. Justice Department each said that his death was due to injuries from the riot.[6][7][8] Meanwhile media, citing two unnamed law enforcement officials, incorrectly reported for weeks that Sicknick had died after being struck in the head with a fire extinguisher during the unrest.[3][9][10]

Brian Sicknick's death was investigated by the Metropolitan Police Department's Homicide Branch, the USCP, and the FBI.[7] On March 14, two men were arrested for assaulting Sicknick with a chemical spray and for other charges.[11] The medical examiner found no evidence that Sicknick had an allergic reaction to the chemical spray.[3] Prosecutors later said on April 27 that the chemical spray was pepper spray.[12] Neither of the two men have been charged with causing Sicknick's death.[1][13][14]

Brian Sicknick

Brian Sicknick
Born(1978-07-30)July 30, 1978
DiedJanuary 7, 2021(2021-01-07) (aged 42)
Resting placeArlington National Cemetery
Alma materUniversity of Phoenix (BS)
Police career
Department
United States Capitol Police
Service years2008–2021
Military career
Allegiance United States
Service/branch United States Air Force
Years of service1997–2003
Rank
Staff sergeant
Unit New Jersey Air National Guard
Battles/wars

Brian David Sicknick (July 30, 1978 – January 7, 2021) was born in New Brunswick, New Jersey, to Gladys and Charles Sicknick. He grew up in South River, New Jersey, as the youngest of three sons.[15][1] Sicknick attended East Brunswick Technical High School to study electronics but later aspired to become a police officer.[16] He graduated from the high school in 1997.[17]

Sicknick's basic training photo in 1997
Sicknick's basic training photo in 1997

After struggling to find a job as a police officer, Sicknick joined the New Jersey Air National Guard in 1997, toward that end.[16] He served on the 108th Wing at Joint Base McGuire–Dix–Lakehurst, as a fire team member and leader with the security force squadron.[18] In 1998, he wrote a letter to Home News Tribune, his local newspaper, expressing his skepticism towards America's soft stance against Saddam Hussein.[19]

He was deployed to Saudi Arabia to support Operation Southern Watch in 1999, and to Kyrgyzstan to support Operation Enduring Freedom in 2003.[18] Sicknick later criticized U.S. motivations for the War in Afghanistan and the government's strategy in the Iraq War. In 2003, he wrote again to Home News Tribune, noting a decline in morale among troops.[19] He was honorably discharged in the same year as a staff sergeant.[18]

Sicknick also worked as a school custodian in Cranbury, New Jersey.[19] He later moved to Springfield, Virginia,[20] and joined the United States Capitol Police in July 2008.[21] One of his first assignments occurred during the first inauguration of Barack Obama.[16] On December 31, 2013, he earned a Bachelor of Science in Criminal Justice degree from the University of Phoenix.[15] Sicknick was an outspoken supporter of Donald Trump during the 2016 presidential election,[19][1] but those who had met him "said his political views did not align neatly with one political party": he opposed Trump's impeachment, supported gun control, opposed animal cruelty and was concerned about the national debt.[1] He was remembered by Caroline Behringer, a staffer for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, for comforting her as she returned to work at the Capitol following Trump's 2016 victory.[19]

Events of January 6

During the attack on the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021, Sicknick was on duty with the Capitol Police outside the Capitol's west side,[22] at the lower west terrace, on the front line facing protesters.[23] At 2:23 p.m., rioters attempted to breach the police line formed by barricades of bicycle racks. Sicknick and some other officers there were pepper sprayed and became unable to perform their duties for about 20 minutes.[3][24][12] Sicknick retreated, bent over, and used water to wash out his face. Within five minutes of the pepper spray attack, rioters breached the police line and seized control of the west side of the building.[22]

Sicknick texted his brother on Wednesday night after the riot, reporting that he had been twice attacked with pepper spray and was "in good shape".[16] Shortly before 10 p.m., however, nearly 8 hours after he was sprayed,[1] and after he had returned to his division office,[25] Sicknick collapsed.[b] He was taken to a hospital in the D.C. area.

Death

Brian Sicknick died around 9:30 p.m. on January 7, 2021, after being in the hospital for almost a day. Earlier that day, he had two strokes. The strokes were due to a basilar artery blood clot, which caused damage to his brainstem and cerebellum.[28]

Shortly after his passing, the Capitol Police announced Sicknick's death in a press release stating that "Sicknick passed away due to injuries sustained while on-duty" and that "Officer Sicknick was responding to the riots on Wednesday, January 6, 2021, at the U.S. Capitol and was injured while physically engaging with protesters. He returned to his division office and collapsed. He was taken to a local hospital where he succumbed to his injuries. The death of Officer Sicknick will be investigated by the Metropolitan Police Department’s Homicide Branch, the USCP, and our federal partners."[25][29]

On January 8, 2021, an article in ProPublica explained that the family had been informed, at some point, that Sicknick had been treated for a stroke caused by a blood clot, and had been surviving on a ventilator but "family members did not have details of his injuries."[c] Family members had not yet arrived at the hospital when he died. The Sicknick family urged the public and press not to politicize Sicknick's death.[16]

Subsequent developments

Confusion and controversy about cause of death

Accounts of Sicknick's death changed over time, amid an atmosphere of confusion.[30][10] As his condition deteriorated in the hospital, rumors had begun to circulate of an officer's death. On Thursday afternoon, January 7, the Capitol Police Department issued a statement rebutting such reports.[16][31] Within hours of Sicknick's death, the Capitol Police released a statement late January 7 that Sicknick died "due to injuries sustained while on-duty" while "physically engaging with protesters" at the Capitol.[29] On January 8, the United States Department of Justice published a statement by Acting Attorney General Jeffrey A. Rosen, which attributed Sicknick's death "to injuries he suffered defending the U.S. Capitol, against the violent mob who stormed it".[8] That day, the Capitol Police opened a homicide investigation into Sicknick's death,[32] joined by the Metropolitan Police Department and other federal agencies.[33]

Some initial media reports regarding Sicknick's cause of death were incorrect.[3][30][10] On January 8, the Associated Press,[19] the Wall Street Journal,[34] and separate stories in The New York Times cited two anonymous law enforcement officials as saying that Sicknick was struck in the head by a fire extinguisher.[35][36] Similar reports followed on January 9.[37] Meanwhile, Sicknick's father said Sicknick was pepper-sprayed and hit in the head, reported Reuters on January 10.[38][10]

In February 2021, the U.S. House of Representatives included a reference to the New York Times article about Sicknick's death in their official proceedings of the second impeachment trial of Donald Trump, alongside a reference to over 140 other injuries inflicted by "insurrectionists" against the Capitol Police and D.C. Metropolitan Police.[39] On the same day, CNN reported, citing a law enforcement official, that medical examiners had not found evidence of blunt force trauma on Sicknick's body, and that investigators were considering a chemical irritant as a possible cause of death rather than trauma injury from a fire extinguisher.[40][10]

On February 11, The New York Times reported that "police sources and investigators are at odds" over whether Sicknick had been hit with an extinguisher.[41][10]

On February 25, Yogananda Pittman, who became acting chief of the Capitol Police after the storming, told the House Appropriations Subcommittee on the Legislative Branch that Sicknick had died in the line of duty.[23]

The Associated Press on February 28, citing two people briefed on the investigation, reported that investigators originally believed that Sicknick was struck in the head by an extinguisher due to statements collected early in the investigation.[42] Other police officers were targeted by the pro-Trump mob with hurled fire extinguishers on January 6, in incidents unrelated to Sicknick.[43]

In April, after the medical examiner's autopsy findings were released, the Wall Street Journal reported that a law enforcement official said that the erroneous information had been privately spread by Capitol Police officers.[3] In April and May 2021, Senator Ron Johnson (R-WI) sent letters to the acting U.S. Capitol Police chief requesting information on the handling of Sicknick's death. USCP General Counsel Thomas DiBiase replied that the department did not put out a release that Sicknick was assaulted with a fire extinguisher, and that DiBiase was unaware of any communication between the USCP and House Impeachment Managers about Sicknick's death.[44]

Investigation and charges

The FBI had narrowed its list of suspects throughout February.[45][46] On March 14, Khater, of State College, Pennsylvania, and Tanios, of Morgantown, West Virginia, were arrested and charged with nine federal counts associated with the riot, including assaulting Sicknick and two other officers (one Capitol Police officer and one Metropolitan Police officer) with a deadly weapon.[23][22][47][48][49] The two men were also charged with civil disorder, obstructing an official proceeding, and conspiring to injure an officer.[23][49] A federal district judge ordered both Khater and Tanios detained pending trial.[13][50] In August 2021, this decision was reversed on appeal by Tanios, with U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for D.C. unanimously deciding that the lower court had clearly erred, as there was no evidence that Tanios was dangerous to the community.[51]

D.C. medical examiner report

On April 19, 2021, the office of the chief medical examiner of the District of Columbia, Dr. Francisco J. Diaz, reported that the manner of death was natural and the cause of death was "acute brainstem and cerebellar infarcts due to acute basilar artery thrombosis" (two strokes at the base of the brain stem caused by an artery clot).[1][26][52][28] Diaz told the Washington Post that there was no evidence that Sicknick had an allergic reaction to chemicals or was otherwise injured, but stated that "all that transpired played a role in his condition."[1] The actual autopsy report has not been released to the public. The medical examiner's office did not say why it took more than 100 days to release the results of that autopsy.[24]

The medical examiner's determination rendered murder charges unlikely.[1] Because stress and traumatic events can lead to a stroke, some neurologists and other experts questioned the medical examiner's classification of the manner of death as natural: Dr. Cyril Wecht, a forensic pathologist, said that Sicknick's manner of death could have been classified as accidental, a homicide, or undetermined.[53]

After the ruling, the Capitol Police issued a statement saying that the ruling "does not change the fact Officer Brian Sicknick died in the line of duty, courageously defending Congress and the Capitol."[1]

Memorials and funeral

Flag at the Capitol at half-staff on January 12 in honor of Sicknick
Flag at the Capitol at half-staff on January 12 in honor of Sicknick

On January 8, 2021, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi ordered flags at the Capitol to be lowered to half-staff in honor of Sicknick.[54] Vice President Mike Pence called Sicknick's family to offer his condolences, and a deputy press secretary for the Trump administration issued a written statement.[55] The following weekend, Trump ordered flags to be flown at half-staff at all federal buildings, grounds, and vessels for three days.[56] The governors of New Jersey and Virginia also ordered flags to be flown at half-staff in their respective states.[57][58] On January 12, 2021, a memorial service was held in Sicknick's hometown of South River, New Jersey. His family, New Jersey Senator Bob Menendez, and local officials were in attendance. Menendez presented to Sicknick's family the flag that had flown over the Capitol in his honor.[59] Sicknick's high school, East Brunswick Technical High School, announced plans to plant an oak tree on campus in his honor.[17]

On January 29, Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer announced that Sicknick would lie in honor at the Capitol rotunda.[60] The arrival ceremony began on the evening of February 2, 2021, at the Capitol's east front, followed by a viewing period attended by President Joe Biden, who had taken office on January 20, and First Lady Jill Biden.[61] Vice President Kamala Harris and Second Gentleman Doug Emhoff paid their respects on February 3, along with several legislators and police officers.[62] Later that day, Sicknick's cremated remains, accompanied by a procession, departed the Capitol for Arlington National Cemetery, where burial took place.[63][64]

Members of Sicknick's family attended Super Bowl LV in February 2021 as honored guests of the National Football League, along with three officers of the Metropolitan Police Department.[65]

On August 5, 2021, Brian Sicknick, along with Capitol Police officers Howard Liebengood and Billy Evans, and Metropolitan Police officer Jeffrey L. Smith, was posthumously honored in a signing ceremony for a bill to award Congressional Gold Medals to Capitol Police and other January 6 responders. His name is noted in the text of the bill, and Biden remarked on his death.[66][67]

See also

Notes

  1. ^ "Natural: Used when a disease alone causes death. If death is hastened by an injury, the manner of death is not considered natural."[2]
  2. ^ On April 19, a news report from The Washington Post affirmed that he 'returned to his office' before collapsing, but also contained contradictory statements about the time of his collapse.[26] Other sources affirmed that he collapsed in the Capitol.[3][27]
  3. ^ According to a Snopes fact-checking report in mid-February, "... early on [i.e. January 8], Sicknick’s brother, Ken Sicknick, had told the non-profit news outlet ProPublica that Brian Sicknick’s family was informed the officer had suffered a stroke resulting from a blood clot."[16][30]

References

  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Hermann, Peter; Hsu, Spencer S. (April 19, 2021). "Capitol Police officer Brian Sicknick, who engaged rioters, suffered two strokes and died of natural causes, officials say". The Washington Post. Retrieved April 19, 2021.
  2. ^ Hardy, Jennifer (April 19, 2021). "Officer's death after insurrection was ruled "natural causes"". KLKN. Retrieved April 24, 2021.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h Viswanatha, Aruna (April 21, 2021). "Officer Brian Sicknick: What We Know About His Death". Wall Street Journal. Archived from the original on April 21, 2021.
  4. ^ Multiple sources
  5. ^ Santucci, Jeanine (February 2, 2021). "Capitol Police officer Brian Sicknick lies in honor at the Capitol; Biden pays respects". USA Today.
  6. ^ Diaz, Jaclyn; Chappell, Bill; Moore, Elena (January 7, 2021). "Police Confirm Death Of Officer Injured During Attack On Capitol". NPR. Retrieved April 27, 2021.
  7. ^ a b "Loss of USCP Officer Brian D. Sicknick" (Press release). Washington, D.C.: United States Capitol Police. January 7, 2021. Archived from the original on January 8, 2021. Retrieved January 8, 2021.
  8. ^ a b Ciaramella, C.J. (April 20, 2021). "The Confusion Surrounding Brian Sicknick's Death Was a Failure of Government Transparency". Reason. Retrieved May 13, 2021.
  9. ^ Palma, Bethania (February 16, 2021). "Did U.S. Capitol Police Officer Brian Sicknick Die After Hit With a Fire Extinguisher?". Snopes. Retrieved April 24, 2021.
  10. ^ a b c d e f Greenberg, Jon; McCarthy, Bill (April 20, 2021). "Update: Capitol police officer Brian Sicknick died of natural causes". Politifact. Retrieved April 24, 2021.
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  12. ^ a b Cohen, Marshall; Polantz, Katelyn (April 27, 2021). "US Capitol rioters charged in Sicknick case were armed with bear spray but only used pepper spray, prosecutors say". CNN. Retrieved January 24, 2022.
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    ...
    Police said that Sicknick, who joined the Capitol Police in 2008, collapsed after he had returned to his office following the riot and was taken to a hospital, where he died.
  27. ^ Wise, Alana (April 19, 2021). "Capitol Police Officer Brian Sicknick Died Of Natural Causes, Medical Examiner Rules". NPR. Event occurs at 7:00 p.m. At approximately 10 p.m., Sicknick collapsed at the Capitol and was transported to a local hospital. He died nearly 24 hours later.
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  30. ^ a b c Palma, Bethania (February 16, 2021). "Did U.S. Capitol Police Officer Brian Sicknick Die After Hit With a Fire Extinguisher?". Snopes. Retrieved April 24, 2021. Updated 19 April 2021((cite web)): CS1 maint: postscript (link)
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  32. ^ Lynch, Sarah; Reid, Tim (January 8, 2021). "Homicide Investigation Opened Into the Death Of Capitol Police Officer". Reuters. Archived from the original on March 5, 2021. Retrieved March 14, 2021.
  33. ^ Perez, Evan; LeBlanc, Paul (January 8, 2021). "Homicide Investigation Opened Into the Death Of Capitol Police Officer". CNN. Archived from the original on February 4, 2021. Retrieved February 1, 2021.
  34. ^ Duehren, Andrew (January 8, 2021). "Capitol Police Officer Brian Sicknick Dies of Injuries Sustained at Riot". The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved May 4, 2021.
  35. ^ Santora, Marc; Specia, Megan; Baker, Mike (January 8, 2021). "Capitol Police Officer Brian Sicknick Dies from Injuries in Pro-Trump Riot". The New York Times. Archived from the original on February 2, 2021. Retrieved February 3, 2021.
  36. ^ Kanno-Youngs, Zolan; Tully (January 8, 2021). "He Dreamed of Being a Police Officer, Then Was Killed by a Pro-Trump Mob". The New York Times. Archived from the original on January 9, 2021. Retrieved May 4, 2021.
  37. ^ Daly, Matthew; Balsamo, Michael (January 9, 2021). "Deadly siege focuses attention on Capitol Police". Associated Press. Retrieved May 4, 2021.
  38. ^ So, Linda (January 10, 2021). "U.S. Capitol police officer who died after violent assault 'loved his job'". Reuters. Retrieved May 4, 2021.
  39. ^ "Trial Memorandum of the United States House of Representatives in the Impeachment Trial of President Donald J. Trump" (PDF). February 2, 2021. p. 31. The insurrectionists killed a Capitol Police officer by striking him in the head with a fire extinguisher.[n.131:Santora, et.al., NYTimes, Jan. 8, 2021]
    They injured over 140 police officers, including at least 81 U.S. Capitol Police officers and 65 members of the Metropolitan Police Department, with many requiring hospitalization and significant medical treatment.
  40. ^ Perez, Evan; Shortell, David; Wild, Whitney (February 2, 2021). "Investigators struggle to build murder case in death of US Capitol Police officer Brian Sicknick". CNN. Archived from the original on February 5, 2021. Retrieved February 3, 2021.
  41. ^ Schmidt, Michael; Broadwater, Luke (February 11, 2021). "Officers' Injuries, Including Concussions, Show Scope of Violence at Capitol Riot". The New York Times. Archived from the original on February 12, 2021. Retrieved May 4, 2021.
  42. ^ Balsamo, Michael (February 28, 2021). "AP sources: Feds pinpoint suspect in officer's riot death". Associated Press. Retrieved May 4, 2021.
  43. ^ Dreisbach, Tom; Mak, Tim (March 19, 2021). "Yes, Capitol Rioters Were Armed. Here Are The Weapons Prosecutors Say They Used". Delaware Public Media. Early news reports appear to have gotten this wrong. Some officers were attacked with fire extinguishers, but Capitol Police officer Brian Sicknick was actually attacked with an unidentified chemical spray, per court documents...even though Sicknick does not appear to have been attacked with a fire extinguisher, other defendants allegedly did use fire extinguishers as weapons. Matthew Miller is accused of discharging a fire extinguisher on the steps leading to an entrance to the Capitol building. And Robert Sanford allegedly struck three U.S. Capitol police officers in the head with a fire extinguisher.
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  64. ^ [Local First Responders Help Bring Fallen Capitol Officer to Arlington National Cemetery], ARLnow.com (February 4, 2021).
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  66. ^ Pelosi, Nancy (August 5, 2021). "H.R.3325 - 117th Congress (2021-2022): To award four congressional gold medals to the United States Capitol Police and those who protected the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021". congress.gov. Retrieved August 7, 2021.
  67. ^ "President Biden Delivers Remarks and Signs H.R. 3325". The White House. Retrieved August 7, 2021 – via YouTube.
Honorary titles Preceded byRuth Bader Ginsburg Persons who have lain in state or honorin the United States Capitol rotunda February 2–3, 2021 Succeeded byWilliam Evans