A video recording not yet shown to any court "seriously undercuts" the government’s case that an Amherst man charged in the attack on a police officer amid the Jan. 6 storming of the Capitol in Washington, D.C., intentionally assaulted and robbed the officer of his police badge and radio, his defense lawyer said.
The recording, from a different angle than has been seen before, shows Michael Sibick before and briefly after his interaction with D.C. Police Officer Michael Fanone, defense lawyer Stephen F. Brennwald said in a court filing. The lawyer is seeking to reopen a detention hearing so he can argue for Sibick's release from custody as he awaits trial.
As Amherst resident Thomas F. Sibick remains in custody on charges connected to the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, the officer he is accused of assaulting told a congressional committee of the brutal beating he suffered that day.
"What it demonstrates is that the contact between Mr. Sibick and the officer was very brief, and that because of the press of bodies and the movement of the officer’s body, it would have taken an extraordinary feat of athleticism, for lack of a better word, for Mr. Sibick to have been able to see the police badge and radio on the officer’s vest, and then to reach in and grab them intentionally," Brennwald said in the filing filed earlier this month. "The movement of the mass of people and the short duration of the event were such that it strains credulity to conclude that Mr. Sibick was able to do what he did intentionally, rather than accidentally. The recording makes it appear more likely than not that the radio and the badge – as Mr. Sibick has claimed throughout – came off in his hand as he was reaching toward the officer to pull him to safety."
Prosecutors scoffed at the notion Sibick tried to help the wounded officer, and they oppose the request to reopen the hearing.
Sibick’s actions toward the officer "were not those of a good Samaritan, but part of a pattern of unlawful behavior," said Assistant U.S. Attorneys Cara A. Gardner and Tara Ravindra.
Thomas Sibick, under indictment on robbery, civil disorder and other charges, had appealed a federal judge's order that he be held without bond until he goes to trial.
The newly disclosed video supports keeping Sibick detained because it shows him intentionally assaulting and robbing the officer of his badge and police radio, the prosecutors said in reply papers.
"The video ... shows Sibick purposely moving toward (the officer) while the mob was attacking him," they said. "For a moment before Sibick reaches toward the officer, (the officer's) body is turned toward Sibick such that his upper torso would have visible to Sibick, including the officer’s badge.
"The video shows Sibick reaching toward the officer such that they were in close proximity for at least a couple seconds, although the angle of the video does not show Sibick taking the badge and radio," according to the prosecutors. "That Sibick stripped the officer of his badge and radio over the course of approximately two seconds in the middle of a chaotic attack is not new information."
The government's allegation that Sibick assaulted Fanone was central to Chief U.S. District Court Judge Beryl Howell's March 16 ruling in Washington, D.C., that he remain in custody, Brennwald said.
Sibick believes that had Howell seen the video at the March hearing, she would not have been so confident in her belief that Sibick engaged in violence toward the officer, or her decision to hold him without bond pending trial, his lawyer said.
A judge has reversed an earlier ruling that had allowed Thomas Sibick to remain free while awaiting trial on charges that could put him in federal prison for up to 15 years.
A federal appeals court months later affirmed her ruling denying pre-trial release, citing Sibick's "repeated lies" to investigators.
Sibick was indicted on 10 counts: obstruction of an official proceeding, and aiding and abetting; civil disorder; assaulting, resisting or impeding certain officers; robbery; entering and remaining in a restricted building or grounds; disorderly and disruptive conduct in a restricted building or grounds; impeding ingress and egress in a restricted building or grounds; engaging in physical violence in a restricted building or grounds; impeding passage through the Capitol grounds or buildings; and act of physical violence in the Capitol grounds or buildings.
He pleaded not guilty.
"Rather than making efforts to ward off the officer’s attackers, like those who actually did help the officer and escort him to safety, Sibick joined in the attack by reaching past others and ripping off the officer’s badge and radio," the prosecutors said in court papers filed Friday. "Then, rather than dropping or immediately returning the items to law enforcement, Sibick kept the evidence and took the items home with him to New York."
Prosecutors said Sibick feared being caught, so he buried the badge in his backyard, which he eventually turned over to authorities.
Alerted to his social media post about the Capitol attack, FBI agents interviewed Sibick, and he claimed he had not participated in the assault on the officer in any way. He told four separate stories to the FBI about what happened to the badge and radio. The radio has never been recovered.
Prosecutors say Thomas Sibick "enthusiastically participated" in the violent mob attack at the Capitol and then bragged about it on social media.
The video recording to which Sibick pins his hope for a new hearing was apparently uploaded to an evidence portal Aug. 12, his lawyer said. Brennwald viewed the video on his own, but said he did not realize its significance until he reviewed it with Sibick sometime later because the counsel did not recognize Sibick in the crowd of people.
When Sibick watched the video, he immediately recognized his clothing.
"He choked up when he grasped its significance to his case, exclaiming that 'I’ve been detained all this time because no one ever saw this?' ” Brennwald said in his court papers.
The video lasts one minute, but the portion that shows the incident lasts a few seconds, he said.
Another new factor the defense lawyer wants to tell the court about is Sibick’s "exemplary" behavior during his incarceration the past six months at the Correctional Treatment Facility in Washington, D.C., a medium security, eight-story structure next to the Central Detention Facility.
"While a number of his unit mates have been locked down or 'sent to the hole' because of defiant or disruptive behavior on the unit, Mr. Sibick has been a model prisoner – so much so that some of his fellow inmates have accused him of trying to 'cozy up' to the officers/guards," Brennwald said.
He is allowed to leave his cell to help clean the unit, bring food to other detainees and perform other tasks entrusted to those prisoners considered to be reliable and trustworthy, he said.
Brennwald included forms completed by eight corrections officers attesting to Sibick's good conduct.