2 Charged with Spraying Slain Officer, an Air Force Veteran, During Capitol Riot

Brian D. Sicknick
Brian D. Sicknick enlisted in the New Jersey Air National Guard in 1997 and served for six years. (U.S. Air Force)

Two men have been arrested and charged with assaulting a Capitol Police office with a chemical substance -- possibly bear spray -- during the violent Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol.

Officer Brian Sicknick, an Air Force veteran, later died.

Julian Elie Khater, 32, of State College, Pennsylvania, and George Pierre Tanios, 39, of Morgantown, West Virginia, face multiple charges for their alleged roles in the Capitol riot, the Justice Department said Monday.

Among other charges, Khater and Tanios are accused of working together to assault law enforcement officers, including Sicknick, by spraying them in the face and eyes with an unknown chemical substance.

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Both men face three counts of assault on a federal officer with a dangerous weapon; one count of conspiracy to injure an officer; one count of civil disorder; one count of obstructing or impeding an official proceeding; one count of physical violence on restricted grounds while carrying a dangerous weapon and resulting in significant bodily injury; and one count of violent entry and disorderly conduct by committing an act of physical violence on Capitol grounds.

Sicknick died Jan. 7 from injuries he sustained two days earlier while protecting the Capitol from a mob of Trump supporters who sought to interfere with Congress' certification of the presidential election.

Sicknick, 42, was a former staff sergeant with the New Jersey Air National Guard who served from 1997 to 2003. He deployed overseas multiple times, including to Saudi Arabia in 1999 in support of Operation Southern Watch and Kyrgyzstan in 2003 in support of Operation Enduring Freedom.

He joined the Capitol Police in 2008 and recently had been assigned to its First Responder's Unit. After his death, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi had flags at the Capitol lowered to half-staff in his honor. Sicknick also lay in honor at the Capitol, a rare recognition that is typically reserved for members of the federal government who served their country with distinction.

According to the criminal complaint and arrest warrant, which was filed March 6 in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia and released by the Justice Department, Khater and Tanios were caught on surveillance cameras spraying the officers.

The complaint said the two men "appeared to time" their spraying of the chemical substance to coincide with other rioters' attempts to forcibly take down makeshift bike rack barriers that were keeping them away from the Capitol building.

At about 2:14 p.m., the complaint said, the two men were filmed having an animated conversation with each other. Video of the incident shows that Khater moved toward Tanios, said, "Give me that bear s--t," and reached into Tanios' backpack, according to the complaint.

Tanios replied, "Hold on, hold on, not yet, not yet ... it's still early," it adds.

Video then shows Khater "emphatically" telling Tanios, "They just f---ing sprayed me," the complaint states, and he can be seen holding a white can with a black top, which appears to be a can of chemical spray.

According to the criminal complaint, that exchange and Khater's retrieval of the spray can show they were working together and planned to use the spray against law enforcement.

A few minutes later, video shows Khater walking through the crowd toward the bike rack barrier, where he stood directly across from a line of officers, including Sicknick, the complaint states.

A Metropolitan Police officer's body camera showed that rioters began pulling on a bike rack with ropes and their hands at 2:23 p.m. A few seconds later, the complaint adds, Khater can be seen on the video holding a canister high in the air in the officers' direction, moving it from side to side. He was standing about five to eight feet away from the officers, according to the document.

Three officers, including Sicknick and the officer with the body camera, can be seen on video reacting to something striking them in the face, the complaint states. They "immediately retreat from the line, bring their hands to their faces, and rush to find water to wash out their eyes," it details.

Khater allegedly continued spraying the canister toward officers until another Metropolitan Police officer sprayed him, the complaint says.

The three officers who were sprayed were blinded temporarily and needed medical attention, according to the complaint. The two who survived said the spray was at least as strong as any pepper spray they had been exposed to during their law enforcement training. One officer had scabbing on her face that remained for weeks and other lasting injuries under her eyes.

Law enforcement released photographs of Khater and Tanios, along with other suspected rioters at the Capitol. According to the complaint, the FBI received a tip that the two men knew each other and grew up together in New Jersey.

Another tipster told an FBI investigator that he used to work with Khater at a restaurant. When shown a photograph of the suspect who sprayed the officers, the witness said he was "100% sure" it was Khater.

Law enforcement also received tips that Tanios had posted a photograph of himself at the Capitol on Facebook. The suspect in the surveillance video was wearing a hooded sweatshirt with the logo of Sandwich University, a sandwich shop in Morgantown owned by Tanios. It appears to be identical to the sweatshirt Tanios wore in the photograph he posted, the complaint states.

Tanios also is wearing Sandwich University clothing in his Facebook profile picture, which was not taken at the Capitol, according to the complaint. And one of Tanios' former business partners positively identified him to law enforcement as one of the rioters when shown photographs.

In a release Monday, the U.S. Capitol Police thanked its investigators, and partners from the FBI and Metropolitan Police Department, for their work to identify and arrest the alleged assailants.

“The attack on the U.S. Capitol and on our police officers, including Brian Sicknick, was an attack on our democracy,” Acting Capitol Police Chief Yogananda Pittman said. “Those who perpetrated these heinous crimes must be held accountable and -- let me be clear -- these unlawful actions are not and will not be tolerated by this department.”

The Capitol Police said in the release that the investigation into Sicknick’s death, which crosses multiple jurisdictions, is ongoing, and the department will comment further after it is complete.

The department said that Sicknick was injured while protecting Congress during the riot, was taken to a hospital, and “succumbed to his injuries” the next night.

Editor's note: This story has been updated to correct the date of Sicknick's death.

-- Stephen Losey can be reached at stephen.losey@military.com. Follow him on Twitter @StephenLosey.

Related: Air Force Vet, Capitol Police Officer Brian Sicknick to Lie in Honor at US Capitol

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