Capitol police officer dies of wounds after clashes with Trump mob

A member of the Capitol police covers his face as pro-Trump protesters storm the US Capitol to contest the certification of the 2020 presidential election results by Congress, at the US Capitol Building in Washington, DC, on January 6, 2021.
A member of the Capitol police covers his face as pro-Trump protesters storm the US Capitol to contest the certification of the 2020 presidential election results by Congress, at the US Capitol Building in Washington, DC, on January 6, 2021. © Ahmed Gaber, Reuters

A US Capitol Police officer has died of injuries sustained during clashes with a mob of President Donald Trump’s supporters who overran a session of Congress, police said late Thursday.

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Officer Brian D. Sicknick died Thursday due to injuries sustained while on-duty, physically engaging with protesters at the US Capitol, a statement said.

It was the first law enforcement death stemming from Wednesday's violence at the Capitol which saw flag-waving crowds overwhelm police and break into the legislature as Congress was tallying the Electoral College votes to confirm Democrat Joe Biden won the election.

Sicknick, a 12-year veteran of the force, was “responding to the riots on Wednesday, January 6, 2021, at the US Capitol and was injured while physically engaging with protesters", Capitol Police said in a statement.

“He returned to his division office and collapsed. He was taken to a local hospital where he succumbed to his injuries” on Thursday night, it said.

Democratic leaders of the House Appropriations Committee said the “tragic loss” of a Capitol police officer “should remind all of us of the bravery of the law enforcement officers who protected us, our colleagues, Congressional staff, the press corps and other essential workers″ during the hours-long takeover of the Capitol by pro-Trump protesters.

Four protesters died in the violence, including a woman who was shot by police. Three other deaths were reported on the Capitol grounds, but the circumstances remained unclear.

Sicknick's death will be investigated by the Metropolitan Police Department’s Homicide Branch, the USCP, and federal law enforcement.

‘A failure of leadership at the top’

The rioting and loss of control has raised serious questions over security at the Capitol for future events. Despite plenty of warnings of a possible insurrection and ample resources and time to prepare, the Capitol Police planned only for a free speech demonstration. 

“This was a failure of imagination, a failure of leadership,” said Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo, whose department responded to several large protests last year following the death of George Floyd. “The Capitol Police must do better and I don’t see how we can get around that.” 

Acevedo said he has attended events on the Capitol grounds to honour slain police officers that had higher fences and a stronger security presence than what he saw on video Wednesday. 

Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy said that as the rioting was under way, it became clear that the Capitol Police were overrun. But he said there was no contingency planning done in advance for what forces could do in case of a problem at the Capitol because Defence Department help was turned down. “They’ve got to ask us, the request has to come to us,” said McCarthy.

US Capitol Police Chief Steven Sund, under pressure from Senator Chuck Schumer, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other congressional leaders, was forced to resign. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell asked for and received the resignation of the Sergeant at Arms of the Senate, Michael Stenger, effective immediately. Paul Irving, the longtime Sergeant at Arms of the House, also resigned.

“There was a failure of leadership at the top,” Pelosi said.

The US Capitol had been closed to the public since March because of the Covid-19 pandemic, which has now killed more than 360,000 people in the US. But normally, the building is open to the public and lawmakers pride themselves on their availability to their constituents. 

It is not clear how many officers were on-duty Wednesday, but the complex is policed by a total of 2,300 officers for 16 acres of ground who protect the 435 House representatives, 100 US senators and their staff. By comparison, the city of Minneapolis has about 840 uniformed officers policing a population of 425,000 in a 6,000-acre area. 

There were signs for weeks that violence could strike on January 6. On far-right message boards and in pro-Trump circles, plans were being made.

The leader of the far-right extremist group Proud Boys was arrested coming into the nation’s capital this week on a weapons charge for carrying empty high-capacity magazines emblazoned with their logo. He admitted to police that he had made statements about rioting in Washington, local officials said.

Planning failures 

Both Acevedo and Ed Davis, a former Boston police commissioner who led the department during the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing, said they did not fault the responses of clearly overmatched front-line officers, but the planning and leadership before the riot. 

“Was there a structural feeling that well, these are a bunch of conservatives, they’re not going to do anything like this? Quite possibly," Davis said. “That’s where the racial component to this comes into play in my mind. Was there a lack of urgency or a sense that this could never happen with this crowd? Is that possible? Absolutely.” 

Trump and his allies were perhaps the biggest megaphones, encouraging protesters to turn out in force and support his false claim that the election had been stolen from him. He egged them on during a rally shortly before they marched to the Capitol and rioted. His personal attorney Rudy Giuliani, a former New York mayor known for his tough-on-crime stance, called for “trial by combat”.

McCarthy said law enforcement's intelligence estimates of the potential crowd size in the run-up to the protests “were all over the board”, from a low of 2,000 to as many as 80,000.

The Capitol Police had set up no hard perimeter around the Capitol. Officers were focused on one side where lawmakers were entering to vote to certify Biden’s win.

Barricades were set up on the plaza in front of the building, but police retreated from the line and a mob of people broke through. Lawmakers, at first unaware of the security breach, continued their debate. Soon they were cowering under chairs. Eventually they were escorted from the House and Senate. Journalists were left alone in rooms for hours as the mob attempted to break into barricaded rooms.

Sund, the Capitol Police chief, said he had expected a display of “First Amendment activities” that instead turned into a “violent attack”. But Gus Papathanasiou, head of the Capitol Police union, said planning failures left officers exposed without backup or equipment against surging crowds of rioters. 

“We were lucky that more of those who breached the Capitol did not have firearms or explosives and did not have a more malign intent," Papathanasiou said in a statement. "Tragic as the deaths are that resulted from the attack, we are fortunate the casualty toll was not higher.”

(FRANCE 24 with AFP and AP)

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