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Reporters challenged 'natural causes' ruling in death of Capitol Police officer Sicknick: watchdog

Reporters' emails show "skepticism and confusion about the conclusion," Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton told Just the News. 

Updated: August 11, 2021 - 11:28pm

The Facts Inside Our Reporter’s Notebook

Members of the media pressured officials when Capitol Police Officer Brian Sicknick's autopsy contravened the popular narrative that he essentially was beaten to death during the Jan. 6 Capitol riot, according to records obtained by Judicial Watch.

Journalists challenged the Washington, D.C. medical examiner's office regarding its finding that Sicknick in fact died of natural causes, according to those records.

The watchdog organization acquired the records via a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit, a spokesperson confirmed. The records include emails from journalists asking about the autopsy report that was released some three months after Officer Sicknick died.

"People will draw their own conclusions, but the emails suggest skepticism and confusion about the conclusion," Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton told Just the News. 

Officer Sicknick died on Jan. 7, one day after the U.S. Capitol building was breached by protesters. Initial media reports stated that Sicknick was bludgeoned on the head with a fire extinguisher and that he died from his injuries. Three months later, on April 19, findings from Sicknick's autopsy were released, saying that the 42-year-old man died of "natural causes."

One day later, journalists contacted the medical examiner's office to challenge the findings.

Reporter Jen Christensen of CNN sent an email asking "how someone could die of natural causes after a traumatic event."

Reporter Sarah Mimms of BuzzFeed News sent an email asking for "clarity" on the findings. "I'm really pressing on clarity here not only because of the importance of this case but also because USCP and the Justice Department initially said that Officer Sicknick died due to injuries he sustained at the Capitol," Mimms wrote. "We want to be accurate, which may mean updating those original stories about how he died, if the ME [medical examiner] can clarify this key point."

The emails read "as if the left media had an interest in pressing the false narrative that Officer Sicknick was killed by protesters," Fitton said.

Just the News was not immediately able to reach the journalists whose emails are included in the trove.

Reporters routinely are skeptical and push government officials for information, Fitton acknowledged; but, he noted, the journalists' autopsy questions are notable for what they left out.

"As opposed to saying, 'What took you so long? Why was this information withheld? Who knew what and when about the circumstances, because we've been told something completely different for months?' they expressed skepticism about the findings," Fitton told Just the News.

Initial media reports about Sicknick stated that the officer was killed by a berserk mob.

The New York Times on Jan. 8 published a story with the headline, "Capitol Police Officer Dies From Injuries in Pro-Trump Rampage." The first version of that article described a violent encounter.

"Mr. Sicknick, 42, an officer for the Capitol Police, died on Thursday from brain injuries he sustained after Trump loyalists who overtook the complex struck him in the head with a fire extinguisher, according to two law enforcement officials," The New York Times initially wrote. 

The newspaper later amended the story to reflect that "new information" had emerged to challenge its first version of events.

The autopsy results were released in April after Judicial Watch filed a FOIA lawsuit asking for documents pertaining to how Sicknick died.

"Pressure from this lawsuit helped lead to the April disclosure that Capitol Police Officer Brian Sicknick died of natural causes," the group wrote in a statement.

"The fact remains, we didn't know about how Sicknick died, we didn't have an official ruling, until we sued," Fitton told Just the News.

The organization has filed other lawsuits seeking information related to investigations surrounding the events of Jan. 6. These include records pertaining to Ashli Babbitt; the tracking of Americans' social media posts; and other matters.

In March, Judicial Watch sued the U.S. Department of Defense, seeking records regarding Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi's Jan. 8, 2021, telephone call with Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark Milley.