The FBI has singled out an assailant in its investigation into the death of a Capitol Police officer who died from injuries sustained while guarding the Capitol against a pro-Trump mob that laid siege on the building last month, according a report from The New York Times.
Two law enforcement officials familiar with the inquiry told the Times that investigators have homed in on a person seen on video of the riot who attacked Capitol Police officer Brian Sicknick and several other officers with bear spray, although they have not yet identified the assailant by name.
The development comes after the FBI opened a homicide investigation into Sicknick’s death following the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol. Investigators initially suggested he had been hit with a fire extinguisher before uncovering that his death was likely related to inhaling an irritant, like mace or bear spray during the riot.
One official told the Times that video evidence shows that the assailant discussed attacking officers with bear spray before the encounter.
Both officers and members of the pro-Trump mob were armed with chemical irritants during the attack.
According to the Times, the available evidence surrounding Sicknick’s death could prompt prosecutors to bring charges of assaulting an officer, rather than murder, in the case. Sicknick’s death a day after the riot as he succumbed to injuries, however, could increase the penalties that prosecutors could seek if they took such a case to court.
The Capitol Police had issued a statement upon Sicknick’s death saying the officer “was injured while physically engaging with protesters,” and later “returned to his division office and collapsed.”
FBI officials have since identified the use of chemical irritants by the assailant as a likely key factor in his death.
The Times pointed out that while irritants like bear spray, pepper spray and mace are typically classified as nonlethal, they can cause physical reactions, including disorientation, which could lead to further injury. Their use also comes with additional risks for people with underlying health conditions, although it was not immediately clear whether Sicknick had preexisting conditions that would have increased his susceptibility to a particularly adverse reaction.