The New York Times quietly updated a month-old report about the siege of Congress which perpetuated the idea that U.S. Capitol Police officer Brian Sicknick might have died after being struck by a fire extinguisher.
Now affixed to the top of the report, headlined: Capitol Police Officer Dies From Injuries in Pro-Trump Rampage, is an update note. “New information has emerged regarding the death of the Capitol Police officer Brian Sicknick that questions the initial cause of his death provided by officials close to the Capitol Police,” the missive states in italic letters.
Capitol Police announced that Sicknick, a 42-year-old who joined the agency in 2008, died at around 9:30 p.m. on Jan. 7, one day after rioters sieged the U.S. Capitol as lawmakers counted electoral votes to affirm President Biden’s victory.
“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 Capitol Police said in a statement. Capitol Police said Sicknick’s death would be investigated by the Metropolitan Police Department’s Homicide Branch, the USCP, and federal partners. Charges have yet to be filed in the case.
The next day, the New York Times reported Sicknick “was struck by a fire extinguisher,” citing two law enforcement officials, prompting other news outlets to echo this reporting. The following week, a retired Pennsylvania fireman, Robert Sanford, 55, was arrested and charged with assaulting law enforcement. Sanford was caught on video and accused of throwing a fire extinguisher at police, but he was not suspected in the death of Sicknick.
In recent days, CNN reported that investigators have determined that initial reports about Sicknick being hit with a fire extinguisher are not true and that medical examiners “did not find signs that the officer sustained any blunt force trauma” as they “struggle to build a murder case” in the officer’s death. One leading theory is that Sicknick was sprayed by an irritant such as bear spray and had a fatal reaction. It is not publicly known if Sicknick had a pre-existing condition which could have contributed to his death. Two days after the Capitol riot, ABC News cited “sources familiar with the matter” to report that “authorities believe Sicknick’s death was driven by a medical condition.”
According to the Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine, the New York Times did not add the update about the fire extinguisher until sometime on Friday.
The way the report appeared as of Sunday evening said the fire extinguisher theory was in dispute: “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. Medical experts have said he did not die of blunt force trauma, according to one law enforcement official.”
This was preceded by a separate New York Times report on Thursday, which added: “Investigators have found little evidence to back up the attack with the fire extinguisher as the cause of death, the official said. Instead, they increasingly suspect that a factor was Officer Sicknick being sprayed in the face by some sort of irritant, like mace or bear spray, the law enforcement official said.” That report also states this development “has complicated efforts to arrest suspects in Officer Sicknick’s death, as both the police and rioters used spray in the siege. It is difficult to prove who sprayed irritant on Officer Sicknick.”
The Washington Examiner reached out to the New York Times for comment.
Sicknick’s eldest brother, Ken Sicknick, told ProPublica last month that Brian Sicknick had texted the family hours after the siege to say he was pepper-sprayed but doing Okay. “He texted me last night and said, ‘I got pepper-sprayed twice,’ and he was in good shape,” Ken Sicknick recounted. “Apparently he collapsed in the Capitol and they resuscitated him using CPR.” He went on to blame the “political climate” for getting his brother killed.
“Many details regarding Wednesday’s events and the direct causes of Brian’s injuries remain unknown, and our family asks the public and the press to respect our wishes in not making Brian’s passing a political issue,” Ken Sicknick told Fox News a couple days after his brother’s death.
Brian Sicknick received the rare tribute of lying in honor in the U.S. Capitol Rotunda, where his casket was visited by President Biden, and Sicknick’s cremated remains were sent to Arlington National Cemetery to be laid to rest.
Several others died amid the chaos of the Capitol riot. Ashli Babbitt, an Air Force veteran and Trump supporter, was shot and killed by a Capitol Police officer while she attempted to climb through a window into the Speaker’s Lobby. Three others died from “medical emergencies,” according to officials. And two other officers who responded to the siege, one from Capitol Police and another from MPD, died by suicide, local police said.
A federal homicide investigation was quickly opened into Sicknick’s death in early January, and acting U.S. Attorney Michael Sherwin, the federal prosecutor leading the Capitol riots investigation, said “specialized teams” were still investigating the deaths of Sicknick and Babbitt during a Jan. 26 press conference.
“We can’t comment on those grand jury investigations at this point, but we’re hopeful we’re going to be able to have results soon in those cases,” Sherwin said. The results of those inquiries have not yet been made public, almost three weeks later. Investigators have also not yet publicly identified a suspect behind who planted pipe bombs outside the RNC and DNC the night before the Capitol riot.
Former acting Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen said the day after Sicknick’s death that the officer “succumbed last night to the injuries he suffered defending the U.S. Capitol against the violent mob who stormed it.” He added that the Justice Department “will spare no resources in investigating and holding accountable those responsible.”
The House impeached former President Donald Trump last month on a charge of inciting insurrection in connection to the Capitol riot. He was acquitted by the Senate on Saturday, but before that, the National Review‘s Andrew McCarthy raised concerns about how the House impeachment managers mentioned Sicknick as they made their case against Trump. In fact, a pretrial memo 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.”
“Clearly, if Officer Sicknick died because of something the rioters did, that is a serious matter. If that happened, former President Trump should be accountable, because he was instrumental in arranging the January 6 rally that turned violent, because he stirred up his supporters with provocative rhetoric, and because — as commander in chief of the armed forces — he failed to take action to repel the siege on the Capitol,” McCarthy, a former assistant U.S. attorney, wrote in a column published on Thursday.
“But if it did not happen the way the House Democratic impeachment manners have represented that it happened, we should be told that — and be told why such an inflammatory allegation was made in the impeachment article and repeated in the pretrial memo,” he added.
The article of impeachment itself alleged that the mob that was “incited” by Trump “unlawfully breached and vandalized the Capitol, injured and killed law enforcement personnel, menaced Members of Congress, the Vice President, and Congressional personnel, and engaged in other violent, deadly, destructive, and seditious acts.”
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said on Thursday she was introducing legislation to pay tribute to the Capitol Police and other law enforcement personnel who protected the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 with the Congressional Gold Medal, including Sicknick. 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” in a statement issued after the Senate acquitted Trump.
Mike Brest contributed to this report.