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Justice Department releases video of attack on Capitol Police officer

WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 6: Trump supporters clash with police and security forces as people try to storm the US Capitol on January 6, 2021 in Washington, DC. Demonstrators breeched security and entered the Capitol as Congress debated the 2020 presidential election Electoral Vote Certification. (photo by Brent Stirton/Getty Images)

(CNN) — Newly released police body-camera and surveillance video shows the chemical spray assault of Capitol Police Officer Brian Sicknick and others during the riot on Jan. 6.

The videos were obtained by CNN and provide graphic new details into how the tense standoff between supporters of former President Donald Trump and law enforcement deteriorated within seconds and injured the officers. They were shown in court proceedings in March and provided by the DC US Attorney’s Office this week.

All of the officers appear to suffer after they were hit with the chemical spraying. CNN and 13 other news outlets sued for access to the videos after the Justice Department played them in court as evidence to argue two Capitol riot defendants may be dangerous.

Police body camera footage and surveillance cameras outside the Capitol building captures defendant Julian Khater raising his arm to spray a canister of chemical into the faces of three officers from just feet away. The officers then recoil, rubbing their eyes and seeking water to wash their faces.

Khater’s advance to the police barrier, which was set up near the inaugural platform scaffolding on the Capitol’s west front, happened as police made their own push into the crowd spraying pepper spray, just after 2 p.m. ET on January 6.

The Justice Department has argued Khater’s attack broke the police line and that contributed to the security breakdown at the Capitol. The videos clearly show Sicknick and others being hit during a moment of chaos, and rioters trying to push forward toward the Capitol. Sicknick died the day after the riot after suffering strokes, Washington, DC’s chief medical examiner has determined.

Several other body camera videos released on Wednesday show multiple angles of the attack. Sicknick appears to be hit first, then two other cops react to being sprayed.

At times, the defendants and the officers are hard to pick out in the crowd, or to tell what is happening without investigators’ narration. To make some of the visuals clearer, the Justice Department added arrows to identify each person in court.

One female officer whose body camera footage is now public was helped away from the attack “by a fellow officer who had to give her verbal directions to her and physically lead her through the scaffolding to safety,” a DOJ prosecutor said during the March court proceeding. On the video, the officer helping pours water onto her face.

“The chemical spray burned her skin to such an extent that three weeks later she still had scabbing under her eyes,” the prosecutor said in court.

Another two clips, which the Justice Department has not yet made available, captured Sicknick pacing alone on a Capitol terrace away from the crowd, then cradling his head and kneeling in pain after the attack.

Khater and his co-defendant George Tanios are charged with 10 federal criminal counts related to their participation in the riot and for assaulting the three police with the spray. The Justice Department hasn’t linked Sicknick’s death a day after to the attack, and a medical examiner recently ruled he died of strokes, deemed to be natural causes.

At a court hearing in Clarksburg, West Virginia, previously, the Justice Department played these clips one after another, narrating the attack and the police officers’ physical reactions to it. At the hearing on Tuesday in Washington, DC, prosecutors played and narrated the clips to a judge.

Khater and Tanios are due in court again next week. Both have pleaded not guilty and argued the attack wasn’t intentional, and that they are not dangerous if they were to be released.

‘An assault on our nation’s home’

The judge who oversaw the March proceedings where the videos were first shown, Michael Aloi, reacted strongly to the videos shown in court, especially of the police officers suffering from the chemicals in their eyes.

“Seeing just that stream of spray going into their eyes. And then the woman officer just with her head rubbing her eyes, turning away. What did she do that day, other than show up to do her job, staring down thousands of angry people?” Aloi said. “And then the officer who is now no longer with us, it’s almost surreal, sort of walking in solitude rubbing his eyes on the Capitol steps.”

“It’s hard for me not to look at this as anything other than an assault on our nation’s home, and everything that is important to us as a people,” the judge added.

Nearly all of the body camera and other videos that the Justice Department has used as evidence in its court cases against some of the 400 federal criminal defendants in Washington, DC, has also stayed under wraps — heard but not seen by reporters covering the proceedings.

And what’s being shown undercuts former President Donald Trump and his supporters’ assertions that the crowd on January was peaceful and not violent toward police.

Several other cases against defendants accused of brutally beating police during the riot have also centered around video evidence.

Limited access

Public access to the videos in the court record has been extremely limited.

At the March hearing for a defendant in the alleged assault, reporters and the public were able to watch the proceeding over Zoom, and saw when the Justice Department played the video clips for the judge. But the proceedings couldn’t be recorded, and the West Virginia federal court and federal prosecutors refused to release the videos afterward.

They were shown again in court in Washington, DC, on Tuesday, but because of pandemic precautions, the public and media could only listen over the phone.

A CNN reporter later in the day Tuesday viewed the videos at the courthouse. But copies were provided for public dissemination on Wednesday.

A US Capitol Police spokesperson expressed disappointment at the videos’ release.

“We are disappointed new, graphic videos of USCP officers being assaulted on January 6 were released after a legal challenge filed by several media outlets,” the spokesperson said in a statement. “Although the Department acknowledges the public’s desire for information, and understands the legal obligation for the Department of Justice to provide the videos, USCP leadership requested the videos not be released to safeguard officers and their families from being forced to relive that traumatic day.”

Prosecutors have said all of the officers were incapacitated after they were hit with the chemical spray, which contributed to the security breakdown.

They have not linked Sicknick’s death to the attack, and a medical examiner recently ruled he died later from natural causes after having strokes. The ruling all but ensures that the Justice Department won’t be able to pursue homicide charges in Sicknick’s death.

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