The evidence-free claim that Capitol Police Officer Brian Sicknick died from injuries suffered in the Jan. 6 riot reemerged Tuesday during the first day of hearings in the Democratic-led House select committee’s inquiry of the event.
Sicknick, 42, died the day after responding to the riot, which broke out as lawmakers counted electoral votes to affirm President Joe Biden’s victory over Donald Trump. In the days that followed, news outlets reported the 13-year veteran was beaten with a fire extinguisher, but the medical examiner concluded Sicknick suffered two strokes and that his death was from “natural” causes.
Still, committee Chairman Bennie Thompson, a Mississippi Democrat, said in his opening remarks that “seven people lost their lives” in the riot. The number would appear to include Sicknick, two officers who died by suicide in the following days, a protester shot by police, two protesters who suffered fatal heart attacks, and another who died of a suspected drug overdose.
Capitol Police Officer Harry Dunn also perpetuated the claim regarding Sicknick in his remarks.
“I’d like to take a moment of my time to ask for a moment of silence for my fallen colleague, Officer Brian Sicknick, who died from injuries he sustained in the line of duty defending the Capitol of our beloved democracy,” Dunn said.
And Capitol Police Officer Aquilino Gonell said that “as a result of that day, we lost officers — some really good officers.”
The only person killed during the riot was Ashli Babbitt, a 35-year-old Air Force veteran and Trump supporter who was shot by an as-yet unidentified Capitol Police officer as she attempted to climb through a broken window near the Speaker’s Lobby. The officer was not charged.
The Office of the Chief Medical Examiner, led by Francisco Diaz, told the Washington Examiner in April that Sicknick’s death was “natural” and caused by two strokes. The medical examiner said Sicknick was sprayed with a chemical substance at about 2:20 p.m. on Jan. 6, collapsed at the Capitol at about 10 p.m., and was taken to a local hospital. He died at about 9:30 p.m. on Jan. 7. Although Diaz told the Washington Post that Sicknick suffered neither an allergic reaction to chemical irritants nor any injuries, he said “all that transpired played a role in his condition.“
The medical examiner’s office directly noted that the term “natural” is “used when a disease alone causes death” and that “if death is hastened by an injury, the manner of death is not considered natural.”
Dunn’s lawyer, Mark Zaid, told the Washington Examiner, “Officer Dunn’s comments were in line with what his law enforcement colleagues believe, which is that they consider the events of Jan. 6 to have been a factor in Officer Sicknick’s death. Whether it was a primary cause or even just 1% is irrelevant. Officer Sicknick died in the line of duty. That’s all they need to know.”
When the Washington Examiner noted the differences between Dunn’s claims and the medical examiner’s report, asking whether Dunn was disagreeing with the medical examiner’s conclusions, Zaid said, “Officer Dunn’s statement reflects his personal view of how Officer Sicknick lost his life, and that was in the line of duty fighting against insurrectionists who tried to overthrow the U.S. government. His comments were not meant to be interpreted as a medical diagnosis.”
In its initial January statement on Sicknick, the Capitol Police said he “was injured while physically engaging with protesters” and that he “was taken to a local hospital where he succumbed to his injuries.” The Capitol Police released a statement after the medical examiner’s findings were made public, saying it accepted the findings but noting it considered his death as occurring in the line of duty.
In the days following the Capitol riot, Metropolitan Police Officer Jeffrey Smith and Capitol Police Officer Howard Liebengood both died by suicide. Their families want their deaths to be recognized as having come in the line of duty.
The claim that Sicknick died directly at the hands of violent protesters was perpetuated in a Jan. 8 report in the New York Times, citing “two law enforcement officials” who said Sicknick was beaten with a fire extinguisher and died hours later, with those claims making it into a Democratic impeachment memo. In February, the New York Times updated its report about the Capitol riot to say that “law enforcement officials initially said Mr. Sicknick was struck with a fire extinguisher, but weeks later, police sources and investigators were at odds over whether he was hit.”
The Justice Department stated in early July that at least 165 rioters had been charged with assaulting, resisting, or impeding officers. No one has been charged with causing Sicknick’s death.
Despite the medical examiner’s report, the initial claim about Sicknick’s cause of death continues to circulate.
In a statement issued after the Senate acquitted Trump, Biden said that Sicknick died “protecting the Capitol from a riotous, violent mob.” Biden later mischaracterized Sicknick’s death at a Geneva press conference following a June summit with Vladimir Putin, rejecting comparisons of the Jan. 6 rioters to political dissidents.
“It’s one thing for literally criminals to break through cordon, go into the Capitol, kill a police officer, and be held unaccountable than it is for people objecting and marching on the Capitol and saying, ‘You are not allowing me to speak freely. You are not allowing me to do A, B, C, or D.'”