Capitol Police Officer Brian D. Sicknick had multiple strokes hours after sparring with a pro-Trump mob during the Jan. 6 riot and died of natural causes, Washington’s medical examiner said on Monday.
The determination likely complicates the Justice Department’s efforts to prosecute anyone in the death of Mr. Sicknick, 42; two men have been charged with assaulting him by spraying an unknown chemical on him outside the Capitol.
But the autopsy found no evidence that Officer Sicknick had an allergic reaction to chemicals nor of any internal or external injuries, the medical examiner, Dr. Francisco J. Diaz, told The Washington Post, which first reported his finding.
Still, Dr. Diaz added of the riot, “All that transpired played a role in his condition.”
Mr. Sicknick was one of five people left dead after the attack. One rioter, Ashli Babbitt, was shot to death by another Capitol Police officer. Two others died of complications from heart disease and one death was accidental, Dr. Diaz has ruled.
Officer Sicknick died from “acute brainstem and cerebellar infarcts due to basilar artery thrombosis,” Dr. Diaz ruled, meaning a serious stroke. The artery that supplies the brain stem — the master controller of the body’s functions like breathing and heart rate — was blocked by a clot, and the blood flow to the cerebellum at the back of the brain was blocked.
Strokes that involve the brainstem are devastating and usually fatal, said Dr. Lee Schwamm, a stroke expert at Harvard. They typically are caused by atherosclerosis in the artery that feeds the brain stem or by a big clot that originates in the heart and lodges in that artery.
Two men were charged last month with assaulting Officer Sicknick, but prosecutors stopped short of linking the attack to his death. He was injured “as a result of being sprayed in the face” with an unidentified substance, according to court papers.
The Justice Department has accused the suspects, George Pierre Tanios, 39, of Morgantown, W.Va., and Julian Elie Khater, 32, of State College, Pa., of working together “to assault law enforcement officers with an unknown chemical substance by spraying officers directly in the face and eyes.”
The Capitol Police had previously said in a statement that Officer Sicknick died from injuries sustained “while physically engaging with protesters.” The men sprayed Officer Sicknick and others minutes before the police line on the west side of the Capitol collapsed and rioters gained control over it, video obtained by The New York Times has shown.
The determination by Dr. Diaz is likely to be used by supporters of former President Donald J. Trump and others who have tried to downplay the storming of the Capitol.
About 140 police officers were assaulted during the riot, including about 80 U.S. Capitol Police and about 60 from Washington’s Metropolitan Police Department, according to the Justice Department. More than 410 defendants have been arrested in at least 45 states.
Gina Kolata contributed reporting.
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