Did U.S. Capitol Police Officer Brian Sicknick Die After Hit With a Fire Extinguisher?

Officials and news outlets have walked back initial reports about his death.

  • Published 16 February 2021
Person, Human, Military Uniform
Image via KEVIN DIETSCH/POOL/AFP via Getty Images

Claim

U.S. Capitol Police Officer Brian Sicknick died after being struck with a fire extinguisher during the pro-Trump Capitol riot on Jan. 6, 2021.

Origin

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On Jan. 8, 2021, The New York Times reported that U.S. Capitol Police Officer Brian Sicknick succumbed to injuries sustained during his on-duty efforts to protect the Capitol from a violent mob of pro-Trump rioters. The latter stormed the building in an effort to stop Congress from formalizing the electoral win of former President Donald Trump’s political rival, U.S. President Joe Biden.

Citing two unnamed law enforcement sources, the Times initially reported Sicknick “was struck with a fire extinguisher,” but on Feb. 16, 2021, the Times updated the story to note that those sources may not have provided accurate information, reporting:

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.

The Times’ story update resulted in a round of stories about it, primarily in right-leaning outlets. “New York Times quietly updates story that spread now-debunked claim about police officer Brian Sicknick’s death,” a headline on the Blaze website reported.

No further details about the circumstances of Sicknick’s death have been forthcoming from official sources, as of this writing. On Jan. 7, Capitol Police issued a news release stating Sicknick “was injured while physically engaging with protesters, and passed away at 9:30 p.m. the following day “due to injuries sustained while on-duty.”

Capitol Police said in that news release that Sicknick collapsed after returning to his division office the day of the assault on the Capitol, then was taken to a local hospital, where he died the following night.

The release stated Sicknick’s death was being investigated by the Washington, D.C., Metropolitan Police Department’s (MPD) homicide branch, Capitol police, and federal law enforcement.

As of this writing, authorities have announced no suspects or arrests in connection with Sicknick’s death.

We reached out to MPD, the Washington, D.C., Office of the Medical Examiner, and the U.S. Department of Justice for further information about the cause and manner (homicide, suicide, natural, or accident) of Sicknick’s death, and we received no new information. “There is no further information available to provide as this case remains under active investigation,” an MPD spokesperson wrote in an email to Snopes.

News outlets reporting such information cite either other news reports or unnamed sources. CNN reported on Feb. 2, 2021:

Authorities have reviewed video and photographs that show Sicknick engaging with rioters amid the siege but have yet to identify a moment in which he suffered his fatal injuries, law enforcement officials familiar with the matter said.

CNN additionally reported:

According to one law enforcement official, medical examiners did not find signs that the officer sustained any blunt force trauma, so investigators believe that early reports that he was fatally struck by a fire extinguisher are not true.

Sicknick’s brother, Ken Sicknick, told the non-profit news outlet ProPublica that Brian Sicknick’s family had been informed the officer had suffered a stroke resulting from a blood clot. (The term “stroke” means an event in which blood flow to the brain is interrupted, resulting in brain cell death.) Ken Sicknick also said his brother told him in a text message sent before he collapsed that he had been hit with bear spray wielded by rioters. 

There isn’t enough information from official sources available at this time to state either way what the cause and manner of Sicknick’s death was, or what mechanisms contributed to it. We will update this story with further information when it becomes available.

Sicknick’s wasn’t the only law enforcement death. Police were overwhelmed and overrun, and outnumbered officers tried to fend off rioters who were assaulting them from all sides. Roughly 140 police officers were injured, some seriously. Two other Capitol police officers, Howard Liebengood and Jeffrey Smith, took their own lives in the days following the attack.

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