The New York Times reports that two law enforcement officials briefed on the investigation say the FBI has zeroed in on an assailant in the death of Capitol Police officer Brian Sicknick, who was injured while fending off the pro-Trump mob on Jan. 6 and later died.
The F.B.I. opened a homicide investigation into Officer Sicknick’s death soon after the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol. Investigators initially struggled to determine what had happened as he fought assailants. They soon began to suspect his death was related to an irritant, like mace or bear spray, that he had inhaled during the riot. Both officers and rioters were armed with such irritants during the attack.
In a significant breakthrough in the case, investigators have now pinpointed a person seen on video of the riot who attacked several officers with bear spray, including Officer Sicknick, according to the officials. And video evidence shows that the assailant discussed attacking officers with the bear spray beforehand, one of the officials said.
While investigators narrowed potential suspects seen in video footage to a single person this week, they have yet to identify the assailant by name.
A Justice Department spokesman declined to comment.
The Times reported that despite initial reports that Sicknick had been struck with a fire extinguisher, officials later said there was no evidence to support that he died from blunt force trauma. “More recently, F.B.I. officials homed in on the potential role of an irritant as a primary factor in his death,” the newspaper reported.
Given the evidence available to investigators, prosecutors could be more likely to bring charges of assaulting an officer, rather than murder, in the case. But the death of Officer Sicknick, a 42-year-old Air National Guard veteran who served in Saudi Arabia and Kyrgyzstan, could increase the penalties that prosecutors could seek if they took such a case to court.
Irritants like bear spray, pepper spray and mace are considered to be nonlethal crowd control deterrents, but they can cause physical reactions that could create risks for people with underlying health conditions and disorientation that could lead to injury.
Image credit: Screengrab / WUSA9 / YouTube