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Officials say they still don't know why Officer Brian Sicknick died following Capitol riot

Unofficial speculation has included a head injury, chemical poisoning via bear spray, and a stroke.

Published: February 11, 2021 5:32pm

Updated: February 12, 2021 8:53am

More than a month after the siege on the U.S. Capitol, the Washington, D.C. medical examiner's office says it does not know when it will reveal why Capitol Police Officer Brian Sicknick died after responding to the Jan. 6 melee. 

"The Office of the Chief Medical Examiner will release the cause and manner of death when this information is available," spokesperson Cheryle Adams said in an email to Just the News. 

"OCME medical examiners comply with the National Association of Medical Examiners' standard to determine the cause and manner of death within 90 days; however, for cases that are more complex it could be longer," Adams said.

A longtime officer with Capitol Police, Sicknick died on Jan. 7, one day after the riot. Official explanations about what killed him have evolved and softened, leaving questions surrounding his death and the reason it remains unresolved. Unofficial speculation in media reports has included a head injury, chemical poisoning via bear spray, and a pre-existing medical condition that led to a stroke.

Sicknick "passed away due to injuries sustained while on-duty," officials initially said, explaining that he "was injured while physically engaging with protesters" during the Jan. 6 riot.

"He returned to his division office and collapsed," Capitol Police wrote in a Jan. 7 statement. "He was taken to a local hospital where he succumbed to his injuries." Sicknick's death would be investigated by homicide detectives, officials noted. 

According to early media reports based on unnamed sources, Sicknick died in a particularly gruesome manner, after being clubbed in the head with a fire extinguisher.  

Professional and amateur sleuths scoured social media and other sources to uncover the alleged killer — and in the process, found a video posted to YouTube that appears to bolster the notion that someone threw a fire extinguisher at police. The video depicts a man apparently hurling a metal cylinder Jan. 6 at a group of officers on the Capitol's Lower West Terrace.

"The object appears to strike one officer, who was wearing a helmet, in the head," an FBI Special Agent wrote Jan. 13 in a statement of facts. "The object then ricochets and strikes another officer, who was not wearing a helmet, in the head. The object then ricochets a third time and strikes a third officer, wearing a helmet, in the head. Immediately after throwing the object, the Subject moves quickly in the opposite direction."

According to the FBI agent, Capitol Police Officer William Young later identified himself as among those who were hit. 

"While Officer Young was on duty and attempting to control the crowd, he felt a hard strike to the back of his helmet," the agent wrote. "When he turned to see where the blow had originated, Officer Young saw a fire extinguisher on the ground but could not determine who had struck him. Officer Young was subsequently evaluated at a hospital and cleared to return to duty."  

According to court documents, the FBI claimed that the assailant was Pennsylvania resident Robert Sanford. In charging documents, Sanford was accused of assault, disorderly conduct, and other alleged crimes — but not murder, leaving unresolved what happened to Brian Sicknick.

This week, the Capitol Police department seemed to soften its language when describing the deaths of its officers.

"The events of January 6 were tragic and heartbreaking," the department said in a Wednesday statement. "Two of our own died and others were subjected to inexcusable violence during the attack."

Police made those comments as part of a larger statement, after the police union said it would vote no confidence in certain department officials, including acting Chief Yogananda Pittman.

In the statement, police did not address whether homicide investigators still are investigating whether Sicknick were murdered. 

Capitol Police did not respond to a query from Just the News.

The Medical Examiner's office confirmed that there is no expected date for an autopsy report. "Therefore, when this information is available and the decedent's next of kin has been notified, I will provide you with the cause and manner of death," Adams wrote in an email to Just the News.

Police officers and national officials honored Sicknick in a Feb. 3 ceremony in the Capitol Rotunda.

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