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Justice Department backs off opposition to releasing videos of attack on Capitol Police officer

The Justice Department told a court it is backing down from its unwillingness to share with media outlets videos of the alleged chemical spray assault of Capitol Police Officer Brian Sicknick and others on January 6, according to a new court filing.

The Justice Department wrote on Tuesday night that it would “provide” the videos in the Sicknick assault case to the news outlets. Sicknick died the day after the riot after suffering strokes, Washington, DC’s chief medical examiner has determined.

Previously, the Justice Department opposed releasing any videos that had already been used as evidence in court, then largely backed down and said investigators only sought to protect surveillance footage of the Capitol, citing security concerns.

The videos — shown in court proceedings first in March and again on Tuesday — are the most graphic depictions publicly seen so far of the attack and of Sicknick’s and other officers’ reaction to it. But the videos still aren’t available for broadcasting, even after 14 major news outlets, including CNN, sued for access.

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.

A judge is set to hear arguments in court on Thursday regarding the video release.

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 have not been provided for public dissemination.

The videos show a series of angles of defendants Julian Khater and George Tanios in the crowd near inaugural scaffolding on the west front of the Capitol building just after 2 p.m. ET. Khater edges toward the front of the crowd, and when some law enforcement officers pepper spray a section of the crowd nearby, he stretches out his arm and sprays the officers still holding the police line and protecting a metal barrier.

Captured on police body cameras and surveillance tapes, one by one, the three police officers, including Sicknick, recoil from Khater’s spray after it hits them each in the face. Some grab water bottles to wash out the chemicals, as the protected area that was keeping the crowd out of the Capitol begins to disintegrate.

Khater and Tanios have pleaded not guilty. They are charged with 10 criminal counts, including assaulting police with a weapon, and prosecutors accuse Tanios of bringing the spray to the Capitol so Khater could use it.

The men are asking to be released from jail pending trial, and are due back in court next week.

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.

In two of the surveillance video clips, Sicknick retreats by himself away from the crowd several minutes after the attack, on an upper level terrace of the Capitol, clearly still suffering. He leans against an architectural barrier, his head in his hands, then paces around, stopping to wipe his face and douse his face with water.

Article Topic Follows: National Politics

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