WASHINGTON — The US attorney’s office in Washington, DC, has released a series of video clips that show the moments before, during, and after the late US Capitol Police Officer Brian Sicknick was hit with a chemical spray as he and other officers defended the Capitol against rioters on Jan. 6.
Prosecutors have played the videos in court but did not immediately release them to the public. A coalition of media outlets that included BuzzFeed News petitioned a judge to order the government to release the clips, and, after initially opposing that effort, the US attorney’s office notified the court on Tuesday night that they were dropping the fight.
Sicknick died the day after the Capitol insurrection. Two men — Julian Khater and George Tanios — have been charged with conspiring to assault Sicknick using a chemical spray, but not in his death. According to a timeline from the DC medical examiner’s office, Sicknick collapsed at around 10 p.m. on Jan. 6 and died just under 24 hours later. The city’s chief medical examiner, Francisco Diaz, concluded that Sicknick died of natural causes — that he had multiple strokes caused by a blood clot.
But Diaz also told the Washington Post that “all that transpired played a role in his condition,” and his office has declined subsequent requests to explain what exactly Diaz meant by that.
The videos released on Wednesday show Sicknick and several other officers stationed behind a line of bike racks that police had set up as a barrier outside the Capitol, as a crowd of rioters yells and tries to push one of the bike racks over. They include a mix of footage from stationary surveillance cameras and police body-worn cameras. Prosecutors have identified Khater in one of the videos approaching the police line — he’s marked by a red arrow — and holding his arm up as he allegedly deploys the chemical spray toward Sicknick and other officers. Immediately after that, Sicknick — identified with a blue arrow — is seen walking away.
In another video depicting the incident from a different angle, Sicknick is seen turning away after the moment when prosecutors say Khater began deploying the chemical spray. One of the other officers, marked by a green arrow, is also seen suddenly turning away and reaching out as another officer assists her.
According to the government, Tanios went into a firearms store on Jan. 5 and bought four cans of chemical spray — two cans of bear spray and two cans of pepper spray; a store employee told investigators that Tanios had asked if he could bring a firearm or a pepper ball gun into DC, and was told that he could not. Prosecutors presented another video that they said recorded Khater asking Tanios for a spray can from his backpack, several minutes before Sicknick and other officers were sprayed at the Capitol. Khater says, “Give me that bear shit,” and Tanios replies, “Hold on, hold on, not yet, not yet... it’s still early.”
Prosecutors also played surveillance footage from the Capitol after Sicknick was sprayed that showed the officer walking back and forth and rubbing his face in a mostly empty open area elsewhere in front of the building.
Khater and Tanios were also charged with assaulting a second Capitol Police officer and a Metropolitan Police Department officer who were also hit by the chemical spray; prosecutors previously told a judge that all of the officers were temporarily blinded and unable to perform their duties, and that one reported scabbing under her eyes and required treatment from a dermatologist three weeks after the insurrection.
Khater and Tanios have been in jail since their arrest, but are arguing to be released while their cases are pending. At a hearing on Tuesday, their lawyers argued that judges had granted pretrial release to other defendants who were indicted for assaulting police — and accused of more serious and prolonged acts of violence against officers — and breaking into the Capitol; Khater and Tanios aren’t accused of going inside. The government has argued that the evidence showed the two men planned for a violent confrontation by arranging to bring chemical sprays and that the videos showed them working together to attack police.
During Tanios’s first detention hearing in West Virginia, members of the public and the press had access to a video feed and could watch the clips as they were shown by the government, but the US attorney’s office in Washington, DC, which is prosecuting the Jan. 6 riot cases, declined to release those video files to reporters afterward. The New York Times previously obtained and published some of the footage that prosecutors showed in court; the government on Wednesday released the full set of clips, which included edits and markings that prosecutors added as part of their presentation to guide judges.
On March 24, BuzzFeed News joined a coalition of media outlets petitioning the federal district court in Washington, DC, to order the US attorney’s office to release the videos that they’d shown in West Virginia. The coalition argued that the videos had already become public once they were shown in court and there were no “extraordinary circumstances” that justified restricting access; that there was a First Amendment right of public access to records in a criminal proceeding; and that there was a “common law” right of access, too.
The government originally opposed the request, arguing that the DC court lacked authority to order the release of exhibits filed with another court — most defendants charged in the Capitol insurrection have made initial court appearances in their home states before their cases are transferred to Washington — and that the media doesn’t have a First Amendment right to materials from a detention hearing.
While the media coalition’s petition was pending, a prosecutor showed the video clips again during this week’s detention hearing. The DC court allows the public to listen to hearings but doesn’t provide a remote video feed, so anyone calling in to Tanios and Khater’s hearing on Tuesday could hear the assistant US attorney narrate the videos to the judge, but couldn’t see them.
Several hours after that hearing ended — the judge hasn’t ruled yet and will hear more arguments on May 6 — the US attorney’s office notified the court that it was dropping its opposition to the media coalition’s request and would make the videos public.