Officials in the United States have arrested and charged two men with attacking U.S. Capitol Police officer Brian Sicknick with bear spray during the riot on January 6, but they have yet to determine if the officer’s death was caused by the bear spray.
George Tanios, 39, of Morgantown, West Virginia, and Julian Khater, 32, of Pennsylvania, were arrested on a number of charges on Sunday, including assault with a deadly weapon, conspiracy, and other offenses. In recent weeks, a new hypothesis in the case has surfaced: Sicknick died after being sprayed with a chemical irritant.
The arrests are the closest federal authorities have come to finding and charging those involved in the riot deaths. A woman was shot by a police officer inside the Capitol, killing five people. However, several rioters face charges of assaulting police officers, who were struck with bats, irritants poured on them, punched and kicked, and rammed with metal gates intended to keep the insurgents out of the Capitol.
According to two people familiar with the case, investigators originally suspected Sicknick was struck in the head with a fire extinguisher based on statements taken early in the investigation. However, as more information has been gathered, authorities suspect Sicknick may have consumed a toxic agent — probably bear spray — that may have led to his death, according to officials.
When the crowd marched on the Capitol on Jan. 6, Sicknick and other officers stood guard behind metal bicycle racks.
According to court documents, Khater said, “Give me the bear piss,” before reaching into Tanios’ backpack. Tanios said, “Not yet,” because it was “too early,” but Khater retorted, “They just f—-ing sprayed me.” Prosecutors say Khater was then seen carrying a can of chemical spray.
Khater pushed his way through the throng to the bike rack fence. Authorities said Khater was seen with his arm in the air and the canister in his hand while standing just 5-to-8 feet away from the officers when rioters started pulling on one of the racks.
According to court documents, video footage shows the officers responding one by one after being sprayed with the spray, putting their hands to their faces and running to find water to wash out their eyes.
Authorities said another officer finally found Khater using the drug and sprayed him.
On Monday, the men appeared in court via videoconference from jail and will remain incarcerated awaiting further proceedings. Tanios has a detention hearing set for Thursday.
Tanios’ lawyer was contacted via email for comment. A individual who answered the phone at Khater’s lawyer’s office said they didn’t have anything to say.
Acting Capitol Police Chief Yogananda Pittman called the attack on the Capitol and its officers “an attack on our democracy” in a statement released Monday.
“Those who committed these heinous crimes must be kept accountable, and — let me be clear — this Department will not accept these illegal actions,” Pittman said.
The FBI had collected video of the incident and released photographs of both men, but they were not listed as wanted in connection with Sicknick’s death on wanted posters. According to court records, Khater was discovered by a former employee, and the FBI received a tip from Tanios’ former business partner, who also believed he embezzled hundreds of thousands of dollars from their company.
Tanios owns and runs Sandwich U, a greasy spoon in Morgantown, the birthplace of West Virginia University.
He has referred to himself as the “Sandwich Nazi” on social media and has engaged in public debates with consumers and former employees. He gleefully promoted a one-star Google rating in 2019 on Instagram, saying, “If Donald Trump were a restaurant boss, this is who he would be.”
In a photo quoted in his charging document taken at the Capitol, he is wearing a sweatshirt with the logo of his restaurant.
Sicknick died after protecting the Capitol from a crowd storming the building as Congress voted to certify Joe Biden’s electoral victory over Donald Trump. It came after Trump told supporters on the National Mall that he would “fight like hell” to avenge his loss.
The circumstances of Sicknick’s death are uncertain, and the cause of death has yet to be determined. He died after being wounded “when physically interacting with demonstrators,” according to Capitol Police, and the agency’s acting chief said authorities consider it a line-of-duty suicide.
Sicknick later collapsed and died in a hospital on January 7. According to officials, the Justice Department has launched a federal murder investigation into his death, but prosecutors are still determining whether other possible charges might be brought in the case, and the investigation is ongoing.
Capitol siege is covered in detail.
Sicknick’s death report is incomplete, and no cause of death has been made public. According to Capitol Police, toxicology reports are pending.
Around 250 photographs of people wanted for attacking federal law enforcement officers during the riot have already been released by the FBI. Some have already been detained, and the Justice Department has announced that about 300 people have been charged with federal crimes in connection with the riot.