The 10 video clips, shown by the Justice Department at a court hearing this week, have become public records and are key to a major criminal case against two men accused in the assault of the police, lawyers for the media companies wrote to the court.
The clips are also the most graphic depictions publicly seen so far of the attack, and of Sicknick’s reaction to it.
“Without question, the public has a powerful interest in closely observing the Government’s administration of justice in the prosecutions against people accused of committing violent crimes during the January 6, 2021 riot at the United States Capitol,” the media companies write to the Washington, DC, federal district court in a new filing. “The courts can best reinforce public confidence in the sanctity of our political institutions, the safety of the law enforcement officers who protect them, and the fair administration of justice, by ensuring public access to these unprecedented proceedings.”
Reporters from several of the media outlets and members of the public watched the videos on Monday in a real-time broadcast from the Clarksburg, West Virginia, courtroom.
But federal rules prohibited the hearing from being recorded or livestreamed, and the Justice Department and courts have not yet made the videos available. When CNN asked federal prosecutors and the court in West Virginia for access this week, they deferred to their counterparts in Washington, DC. The news outlets that went to court this week for access also include CBS, ABC, NBC, the New York Times, Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal, the Associated Press, ProPublica, National Public Radio, Buzzfeed, Gannett and the broadcasters Tegna and Gray Media Group.
At the court hearing on Monday, prosecutor Sarah Wagner played the clips one after another, narrating the attack and the police officers’ physical reactions to it.
The police body camera footage shown in court allegedly captures riot defendant Julian Khater spraying a canister of bear spray into the faces of three officers from just feet away, and the officers then recoiling.
“The officers, all three, immediately retreat from the line, bringing their hands to their faces and rushing to find water to rinse out their eyes,” Wagner, the prosecutor, said in court as she played the footage.
Another two clips captured Sicknick walking alone on the Capitol steps, then kneeling in pain, after the attack, according to Wagner.
“Even 10 minutes after the incident, Officer Sicknick appears to be attempting to walk off the effects of the pepper spray. He is rubbing and rinsing his eyes with more water, and pausing at times while crouched over with his hands on his knees,” the prosecutor said in court.
Two men, Khater and George Tanios, are charged with 10 federal criminal counts related to their participation in the riot and for assaulting the police, including Sicknick, with the bear spray. The Justice Department hasn’t linked Sicknick’s death the day after the riot to the bear spray.
The judge, 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.