With no apology, New York Times quietly changes “fire extinguisher” narrative in reporting the death of Officer Brian Sicknick

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NEW YORK, NY – The New York Times has quietly altered its reports on the events surrounding the death of Capitol Police Officer Brian Sicknick on January 7.

The headline of one initial report, archived at this link, read:

“He Dreamed of Being a Police Officer, Then Was Killed by a Pro-Trump Mob.”

This article, published January 8, 2021, announced:

“Then on Wednesday, pro-Trump rioters attacked that citadel of democracy, overpowered Mr. Sicknick, 42, and struck him in the head with a fire extinguisher, according to two law enforcement officials.”

The article went on to say:

“With a bloody gash in his head, Mr. Sicknick was rushed to the hospital and placed on life support. He died on Thursday evening.”

This same article as it presently stands features the same headline and includes the following preface in italics:

“UPDATE: 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 body of the article has been changed to read:

“Then on Wednesday, pro-Trump rioters attacked that citadel of democracy and overpowered Mr. Sicknick, 42, according to two law enforcement officials. 

The sentences regarding Officer Sicknick’s alleged “bloody gash” and being “rushed to the hospital” continue to stand as previously written.

However, the article now goes on to say:

“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.”

Another Times article, also published January 8 and archived at this Wayback Machine link, featured this headline:

“Capitol Police Officer Dies From Injuries in Pro-Trump Rampage.”

The original article stated that Officer Sicknick died from “injuries sustained ‘while physically engaging’ with pro-Trump rioters.”

It added that Sicknick “was struck with a fire extinguisher, according to law enforcement officials.”

Contradicting the other Times piece, the article also stated that Sicknick had collapsed in his office before he was taken to the hospital.

The current version of this article features the same title as before, but it now also features the same italicized preface as the other Times article described above.

This article also continues to state that Officer Sicknick died from injuries sustained while contacting “pro-Trump rioters,” but the portion of the article regarding the fire extinguisher has been replaced with the same paragraphs as the “He Dreamed of Being a Police Officer” article quoted above.

But the damage was done when the inaccurate story was originally published.

Other news outlets quickly picked up on the “fire extinguisher” narrative.

The Associated Press reported:

“Sicknick, 42, was hit in the head with a fire extinguisher during a struggle.”

The New York Daily News announced in a headline:

Hero Capitol Police cop killed by blow to the head with a fire extinguisher during Trump-inspired riot.”

MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough fumed:

“When you abuse police officers, jam police officers’ heads inside a door, and bash police officers’ brains with fire extinguishers, you don’t get a mulligan.”

The Washington Post announced:

“Officer Sicknick was pummeled by a rioter wielding a fire extinguisher, according to witnesses.”

The Wall Street Journal reported:

“The officer, Brian D. Sicknick, was struck in the head with a fire extinguisher during Wednesday’s unrest, according to a law-enforcement official.”

CNN repeatedly reported the fire extinguisher story as factual, with Ana Cabrera announcing:

“Officer Brian Sicknick died after being hit in the head with a fire extinguisher during the hours long attack.”

Poppy Harlow reported:

“We turn now to a tribute happening soon for fallen Capitol Hill police officer Brian Sicknick who died — was killed. 

“He was killed when one of the rioters hit him with a fire extinguisher.”

CNN has also quietly walked back that story, burying the following paragraph in a recent article:

“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.”

The fire extinguisher narrative was not limited to fodder for anti-Trump reporting by multiple media outlets.

The left also used this narrative in its impeachment case against former President Trump.  The pretrial House Impeachment memo itself referred directly to the Times article entitled “Capitol Police Officer Dies From Injuries in Pro-Trump Rampage” when it claimed:

“The insurrectionists killed a Capitol Police officer by striking him in the head with a fire extinguisher.”

In addition, despite the family’s wishes not to make Officer Sicknick’s death a “political issue,” the fire extinguisher narrative was sadly used to make political points.

Using the narrative as a way to paint Trump as anti-police, the Times reported: 

“the beating of an officer brought waves of condolences from lawmakers in both parties still reeling from the event. 

“It also exposed one of the many contradictions of the Trump presidency in his final weeks in the Oval Office.”

The article went on to allege:

“A president who campaigned as a “law and order” candidate, boasting about his relationships with police unions and demonizing those protesting racist policing, incited a riot that led to the death of a member of the law enforcement community.”

It remains to be seen whether additional media outlets will also retract the incorrect narrative surrounding the death of Officer Sicknick.

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The details surrounding the circumstances of Officer Sicknick’s death continue to be obscure.  No autopsy results have been released at this writing.

Below is our recent report on the status of the investigation:

Questions still swirling around the death of U.S. Capitol Police Officer Brian Sicknick – how did he really die?

WASHINGTON, DC — The U.S. attorney’s office in Washington opened a federal murder investigation into the death of U.S. Capitol Police Officer Brian Sicknick a month ago, but a lack of information on how he died or who allegedly murdered him has sparked questions.

ABC News reported that three law enforcement sources confirmed the existence of the federal murder investigation, which is being conducted jointly between the FBI and the D.C. Metropolitan Police Department, with cooperation from U.S. Capitol Police.

Acting Attorney General Jeffrey A. Rosen said in a statement that the Department of Justice “will spare no resources in investigating and holding accountable those responsible.”

According to a press release by Capitol Police, Sicknick, 42, responded to the Jan. 6 riot and “was injured while physically engaging with protesters.” Capitol Police said he returned to his division office and collapsed. Sicknick was then taken to a hospital, where he died the next evening at 9:30 p.m., police said.

On Feb. 2, CNN reported that investigators were struggling to build a murder case in the death of Sicknick:

“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.
 
“One possibility being considered by investigators is that Sicknick became ill after interacting with a chemical irritant like pepper spray or bear spray that was deployed in the crowd.
 
“But investigators reviewing video of the officer’s time around the Capitol haven’t been able to confirm that in tape that has been recovered so far, the official said.
 
“The case could also be complicated if Sicknick had a preexisting medical condition. It could not be learned if he did.
 
“A spokeswoman for the US Capitol Police declined to comment for this story citing the ongoing investigation.”
 

ABC News had also previously reported that according to its sources, authorities believed Sicknick’s death was driven by a medical condition.

In addition, ABC News noted that reports of Sicknick being attacked with a fire extinguisher or another item at the Capitol were not confirmed, but that authorities were hoping to locate video or photographic evidence to back up this allegation.

According to CNN, law enforcement officials have reviewed video and photographs that show Sicknick engaging with rioters amid the siege, but cannot “identify a moment in which he suffered his fatal injuries.”

Yet, WHAS11 reported that three sources close to the Capitol Police said Sicknick was indeed struck in the head with a fire extinguisher. The news station said despite a month going by, no suspect has been identified publicly and that both the DC Police and FBI are declining to comment because the case “remains under investigation.”

Fox News also reported on the inconsistencies about the use of a fire extinguisher against Sicknick:

“Exactly how Sicknick died still remains a mystery to the public, as an official cause of death has not been released.

“Media reports have been conflicting — unnamed law enforcement sources initially told outlets Sicknick was bludgeoned in the head by a fire extinguisher, while others speaking on condition of anonymity countered those claims, arguing there was no immediate evidence showing that Sicknick suffered any blunt force trauma.”

Few details have been publicly shared regarding the circumstances of Sicknick’s death, and the results of an autopsy that was conducted by DC’s medical examiner were not released, according to CNN.

Shortly after Sicknick’s death, his family released a statement:

“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.”

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According to a report by ProPublica, Sicknick’s family in New Jersey rushed to see him at a Washington-area hospital when social media was circulating that a Capitol Police officer had died as a result of injuries sustained from the riot.

Family members told ProPublica that Sicknick had texted them at some point during the evening of Jan. 6. Sicknick’s brother, Ken Sicknick, said the police officer confirmed he had been hit with pepper spray twice, but reported being in good shape.

Ken also told ProPublica that he learned his brother had collapsed in the Capitol and was resuscitated via CPR.

CNN reported that it is still not known publicly what caused him to collapse the night of the insurrection.

On Jan. 7, however, the family unexpectedly received word that Sicknick had a blood clot and experienced a stroke and that a ventilator was keeping him alive. At that point, the family had no details of any injuries he sustained in the Capitol. Ken told ProPublica, “We weren’t expecting it.”

Then premature news of Sicknick’s death spread in law enforcement circles, and when ProPublica contacted the U.S. Capitol Police Department for confirmation of Sicknick’s death, the agency remained silent, and the family learned from reporter phone calls that something was clearly wrong.

When first contacted by media, Ken said:

“We have not gotten any calls. We’re kind of overwhelmed right now. You guys are getting reports of his death before I even got anything.”

Approximately one hour later, a Capitol Police spokesperson issued a statement rebutting news reports that an officer had died, according to ProPublica’s report.

However, Capitol Police later confirmed through a press release that Sicknick had died at 9:30 p.m. on Jan. 7. The release noted:

“At approximately 9:30 p.m. this evening (January 7, 2021), United States Capitol Police Officer Brian D. Sicknick passed away due to injuries sustained while on-duty.

“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 death of Officer Sicknick will be investigated by the Metropolitan Police Department’s Homicide Branch, the USCP, and our federal partners.

“Officer Sicknick joined the USCP in July 2008, and most recently served in the Department’s First Responder’s Unit.

“The entire USCP Department expresses its deepest sympathies to Officer Sicknick’s family and friends on their loss, and mourns the loss of a friend and colleague.

“We ask that Officer Sicknick’s family, and other USCP officers’ and their families’ privacy be respected during this time.”

Capitol Police also posted a Jan. 11 statement from Sicknick’s family on its website, which read:

“There really aren’t enough kind words in any language to describe how sweet Brian was. He was truly a lovely, humble soul. We are missing him terribly.

“He was sweet natured through and through. Everyone who met him adored him. He also loved his dachshunds dearly, spoiling them, and ensuring they got the best care possible.

“He loved his job with the U.S. Capitol Police, and was very passionate about it. He also had an incredible work ethic. He was very serious about showing up to work on time and refused to call out sick unless absolutely necessary.

“Our loss of Brian will leave a large hole in our hearts.

“The tremendous support we have received from the U.S. Capitol Police, the law enforcement community, and the community as a whole has been overwhelmingly warm and generous. We’re very grateful for everyone’s kindness during this difficult time.

“We will have no further statements and will not be granting media interviews. We ask that our family’s privacy be respected during this time.”

The Office of the Chief Medical Examiner in Washington, D.C., told Fox News on Thursday that its medical examiners “comply with the National Association of Medical Examiners’ (NAME) standard to determine the cause and manner of death within 90 days; however, for cases that are more complex it could be longer.”

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