Acting U.S. Capitol Police Chief Yogananda Pittman pays respects to U.S. Capitol Police officer Brian Sicknick as an urn with his cremated remains lies in honor on a black-draped table at center of Capitol Rotunda, Tuesday, Feb. 2, 2021, in Washington. (Erin Schaff/The New York Times via AP, Pool) ORG XMIT: NYNYT413 (Photo: Erin Schaff, AP)
The pain in the voice of acting U.S. Capitol Police Chief Yogananda Pittman was as plain as the tragedy that had unfolded minutes before she stepped to the microphones Friday.
Not yet three months after rioters stormed the Capitol, leaving one officer dead and more than 130 others injured, Pittman announced the loss of another officer and injuries to a second in a new attack when a 25-year-old man rammed his vehicle into a barricade shielding Capitol’s north side.
The fallen officer in Friday’s attack was identified as William “Billy” Evans, an 18-year member of the force who served on the agency’s First Responder’s Unit.
US Capitol Police Officer William "Billy" Evans. (Photo: US Capitol Police)
“It is with a heavy heart that I come here this afternoon to shed some light on the incident that occurred at United States Capitol,” Pittman said in a halting voice before announcing the officer’s death and appealing for the public’s prayers.
“This has been a difficult time for the U.S. Capitol Police after the events of January 6th and now the events that have occurred here today,” Pittman said.
U.S. Capitol Police officers near a car that crashed into a barrier on Capitol Hill in Washington, Friday, April 2, 2021. (Photo: J. Scott Applewhite, AP)
That Pittman was the one leading Friday’s briefing was surely not lost on the traumatized agency’s law enforcement partners who stood with her.
Pittman assumed command shortly after the Jan. 6 riots when then-Capitol police chief Steven Sund resigned, along with the chief law enforcement officers of the House and Senate.
The leadership purge came as it was disclosed that Officer Brian Sicknick had died following a clash with the Jan. 6 rioters. The cause of Sicknick’s death has not yet been determined, but the department was staggered just days later by the suicide of another officer, Howard Liebengood, 51, a 16-year veteran of the force.
Julian Elie Khater and George Pierre Tanios were arrested for assaulting Capitol Police officer Sicknick but were not charged with his death.
On Friday, Evans joined the ranks of the fallen in an agency that has had little time to regain its footing.
President Joe Biden said he was “heartbroken” to learn of the attack and Evans’ death, and that he ordered the White House flags to be lowered to half-staff “as we mourn the loss of yet another Capitol Police officer.”
“We send our heartfelt condolences to Officer Evans’ family, and everyone grieving his loss,” Biden said in a statement. “We know what a difficult time this has been for the Capitol, everyone who works there, and those who protect it.”
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., called Evans “a martyr for our democracy.”
“May it be a comfort to his family that so many mourn with them & pray for them at this sad time,” she tweeted.”. He was so friendly and professional, and seeing him was always a plus,” he tweeted. “Today is a very sad day.”
David Popp, a spokesman for Senate GOP Leader Mitch McConnell, said Evans’ death was personal for him.
“Officer Evans was often at that barricade when we arrived for work. He was so friendly and professional, and seeing him was always a plus,” he tweeted. “Today is a very sad day.”
Rep. Tim Ryan, the Ohio Democrat who chairs the Appropriations Subcommittee which oversees funding of the Capitol Police, said the death of Evans hit very close to home.
“You know, the Capitol Hill police force, members of Congress, staff, especially over the last few weeks and months has become a family,” he said during a Friday briefing. “We lost a family member today, someone who showed up at work today to protect the Capitol.”
The physical and emotional toll on the Capitol police force has become agonizingly more clear by day since the Jan. 6 attacks.
Earlier this week, two Capitol officers who were repeatedly assaulted during the Capitol siege sued former President Donald Trump, accusing him of inciting the riot that left five dead and injured more than 100 officers.
James Blassingame and Sidney Hemby separately described beatings they suffered at the hands of rioters, who allegedly pinned Hemby and in a doorway while Blassingame was swarmed by attackers armed with flagpoles and chemical spray.
“The insurrectionists struck Officer Blassingame in his face, head, chest, arms, and what felt like every part of his body,” according to the court documents. “Insurrectionists used their fists and had weapons that ranged from flagpoles to stanchions and building directional signs, water bottles and other objects he could not identify,” the documents said.
“The threats and attacks on Officer Blassingame seemed endless.”
The FBI releases new videos and photos of the most violent rioters from the January 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol.
In a hearing last month involving a West Virginia man accused of assaulting Sicknick, prosecutors presented video clips showing the officer and two other colleagues being doused with chemical spray and struggling to recover.
Describing the video as “surreal,” U.S. Magistrate Michael Aloi said that he was “very satisfied with the government’s evidence” against George Pierre Tanios, a 39-year-old restaurant owner from Morgantown, one of two men accused in the assault. Neither suspect, however, is charged with Sicknick’s death.
“We have created a culture radicalized by hate,” Aloi said during a March hearing. “There were no songs of joy and peace (on Jan. 6) – nothing but hate and anger. … I understand this is a one-time event, but there are people serving life sentences for a one-time event.”
At one point, Sicknick, wearing a blue uniform jacket, is shown moving away from the chaotic police line, removing his headgear and rubbing his face and eyes in an apparent attempt to clear his vision.
Tanios’ co-defendant, Julian Elie Khater, 32, of Pennsylvania, is seen on video discharging spray from a white can with a black top into the face of Sicknick and other officers.
George Tanios was charged with three counts of assault against a federal officer with a dangerous weapon and conspiracy to injure an officer, relating to the death of Capitol Police officer Brian Sicknick during the Capitol riot. (Photo: U.S. Department of Justice)
“Give me that bear (expletive),” Khater allegedly said to Tanios before taking spray canisters from Tanios’ backpack.
Aside from the physical loss, experts have said the mental health toll from the hand-to-hand combat to the public perception that the agency failed protect the Capitol will be difficult to get over.
“Being characterized as overwhelmed and ill-prepared does tremendous damage to the psyche of police officers,” said Thomas Coghlan, adjunct professor of psychology at John Jay College of Criminal Justice and a former New York City police detective.
Rep. Ro Khanna, D-Calif., who was at the Capitol complex when Friday’s incident unfolded, said a Capitol officer he encountered after the incident was “shaken up” about Evans’ loss.
“That family’s life is never going to be the same. The officers who knew him are never going to be the same,” Khanna told CNN Friday. “So it has, I think, taken a toll on them emotionally. There is huge pressure on them to keep us safe.”
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