A top GOP senator is demanding to know why the U.S. Capitol Police claimed Officer Brian Sicknick suffered mortal injuries while on duty and after clashing with protesters during the Capitol riot in light of the District of Columbia’s chief medical examiner's ruling that Sicknick died of natural causes.
The Capitol Police announced Sicknick, 42, died on Jan. 7, one day after rioters broke into the Capitol as lawmakers counted electoral votes to affirm President Joe Biden‘s victory over former President Donald Trump. In its statement, the department said Sicknick “was injured while physically engaging with protesters” and that he “was taken to a local hospital where he succumbed to his injuries.” While the department did not provide further details on the record, the New York Times would falsely report Jan. 8, citing “two law enforcement officials,” that the 13-year veteran was beaten with a fire extinguisher and died hours later at a hospital.
Sen. Ron Johnson, a Wisconsin Republican, on Thursday sent a letter to acting Capitol Police Chief Yogananda Pittman, contending the determination from Chief Medical Officer Francisco Diaz, who told the Washington Examiner last week that Sicknick’s cause of death was a stroke, “raises more questions about what USCP knew and what actions USCP took to confirm certain facts regarding Officer Sicknick’s death before it released its Jan. 7 statement.”
“The death of any police officer is a tragedy, and the use of any officer’s death for political purposes or to create a false narrative is reprehensible,” Johnson added.
Diaz told the Washington Post last week that Sicknick died Jan. 7 after suffering two strokes, did not suffer an allergic reaction to chemical irritants, and bore no evidence of either external or internal injuries. Diaz contended, however, that “all that transpired played a role in his condition,” and the outlet said Diaz’s ruling doesn’t mean “the violent events at the Capitol did not contribute to his death.” The outlet said that Diaz could not comment on whether Sicknick had a preexisting medical condition.
The medical examiner’s office said Sicknick was sprayed with a chemical substance around 2:20 p.m. on Jan. 6, collapsed at the Capitol around 10 p.m. that evening, and was transported by emergency services to a local hospital. He died around 9:30 p.m. on Jan. 7. Julian Elie Khater and George Pierre Tanios were charged in March with coordinating to assault Sicknick and two other officers with a chemical spray but were not accused of killing Sicknick.
Johnson wrote that “it remains unclear why the USCP released a statement regarding Officer Sicknick’s cause of death months before the medical examiner made an official determination” and pressed Capitol Police about “the basis” for its assertion about how Sicknick died, adding that following the Capitol Police’s claim that Sicknick died from on-duty injuries, “false reports about those injuries began to emerge.”
In February, the New York Times quietly updated its report about the Capitol riot, headlined “Capitol Police Officer Dies From Injuries in Pro-Trump Rampage.” It now says 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.”
A Democratic pretrial impeachment memo had already cited the New York Times's reporting, saying, “The insurrectionists killed a Capitol Police officer by striking him in the head with a fire extinguisher.”
Johnson asked whether House impeachment managers contacted Capitol Police to confirm how Sicknick had died. The Republican wanted to know “if USCP became aware before or during the February 2021 Senate impeachment trial that Officer Sicknick was not struck with a fire extinguisher or did not die from related injuries, did USCP contact, or attempt to contact, the House impeachment managers to address the claim.”
Johnson’s letter also noted that on Feb. 26, “absent any official rulings from the medical examiner’s office and following unsupported claims regarding Officer Sicknick’s cause of death,” the Capitol Police stated that “Officer Sicknick’s family has asked for privacy during this difficult time and that the spreading of misinformation stop regarding the cause of his death.”
“What did the USCP consider to be misinformation regarding Officer Sicknick’s death?” Jonson asked in his letter. “How did the USCP become aware of misinformation regarding Officer Sicknick’s death? How did the USCP determine that certain reports regarding Officer Sicknick’s death were misinformation? What actions, if any, did the USCP take to address misinformation regarding Officer Sicknick’s death? When did the USCP become aware that Officer Sicknick was not struck with a fire extinguisher?”
Johnson also noted FBI Director Christopher Wray had declined to provide details on Sicknick to the Senate in March.
“I have to be careful at this stage because it’s ongoing, not to get out in front of it,” Wray said. Johnson asked the Capitol Police what information it had provided to the bureau and requested it be provided to him too.
Johnson also asked the Capitol Police chief if she had directed the Office of Professional Responsibility or the Office of Inspector General to investigate how the Jan. 7 press release was developed and approved, whether the Capitol Police are investigating whether its members “provided inaccurate information” to the New York Times, and whether the Capitol Police had contacted the outlet to request a correction. He requested the responses by May 6.
The Capitol Police released a statement after the medical examiner’s findings were made public last week, saying it accepted the findings but that “this does not change the fact Officer Sicknick died in the Line of Duty.”
In a statement issued after the Senate acquitted Trump, Biden said that “it was nearly two weeks ago that Jill and I paid our respects to Capitol Police officer Brian Sicknick, who laid in honor in the Rotunda after losing his life protecting the Capitol from a riotous, violent mob.”
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