Prosecutor: Bear spray not used in Capitol attack on officers, defendants seek bond

A federal prosecutor acknowledged Tuesday that two men indicted for assaulting three police officers outside the U.S. Capitol during the Jan. 6 riot used pepper spray or mace on the officers, despite earlier allegations that highly-irritating bear spray had been used on Officer Brian Sicknick and two other officers.

After a 90 minute hearing Tuesday, U.S. District Court Judge Thomas Hogan said he wanted to review video evidence and hear more arguments before deciding whether two defendants should be released on bond before trial.

Julian Elie Khater, 32, of State College, Pennsylvania, and George Pierre Tanios, 39, of Morgantown, West Virginia, are charged in spraying the chemical irritant at Capitol police officers Brian Sicknick and Caroline Edwards, as well as Metropolitan Police Department officer Damian Chapman.

However, during the hearing, Assistant U.S. Attorney Gilead Light acknowledged to Hogan that bear spray was never used, despite video clips presented earlier in the case.

“It does appear the bear spray that Mr. Khater was holding 10 minutes earlier was not used,” Light said, saying empty mace containers were recovered from Tanios and Khater’s homes.

However, Light maintained purchasing and carrying the bear spray showed intent: “Why else would you bring bear spray — it’s an uncontested fact there’s no bears in downtown D.C.”

The 42-year-old Sicknick suffered two strokes and died of natural causes a day later, according to the autopsy performed by D.C.’s Office of the Chief Medical Examiner. Initially, the U.S. Justice Department attributed Sicknick’s death to injuries from the riot.

During the hearing, Khater’s attorney disagreed with prosecutors’ argument that Khater and Tanos worked in tandem in “sinister coordination.”

Khater’s attorney, Joseph Tacopina, said while prosecutors alleged pre-meditation, they failed to mention the two defendants had been doused by pepper spray administered by police moments earlier.

“The act here was spontaneous — it was wrong — but it was in reaction to just being sprayed seconds before,” said Tacopina.

Federal prosecutors representing Acting U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia Channing Phillips are asking Judge Hogan to continue to hold Khater and Tanios without bond until trial, saying there are no combinations of conditions that can ensure the safety of the community.

Khater and Tanios’ lawyers are asking for home detention before trial, arguing many defendants charged in connection with the Jan. 6 uprising have been released with conditions before trial.

Despite a lack of previous problems with the law, prosecutors said in this case that Khater and Tanios schemed for trouble.

“They prepared together, traveled together, planned together, and executed their attack, giving rise to a separate charge of conspiracy to attack law enforcement officers,” prosecutors wrote. “This brazen, and ultimately cowardly act of spraying unprotected officers in the face while looking elsewhere speaks to the dangerousness of the defendants.”

However, attorneys for Khater and Tanios said prosecutors have only shown video and photos in which the two “appear” to be holding a canister, which was removed from a backpack.

In addition, the wind was blowing as much as 20 mph at the time of the incident.

“Given these circumstances, the Government will seemingly have difficulty establishing that it was Mr. Khater and not another, even possibly law enforcement, responsible for the ‘something’ that struck the officers in this case,” wrote Tacopina and co-counsel Chad Seigel and Alvin Thomas in their motion seeking pretrial bond.

Khater’s attorneys said 16 family members who can attest to his upstanding history are willing to post a $15 million bond, secured by five properties containing approximately $1.5 million in equity.

Tanios’ attorneys, Elizabeth Gross and Richard Walker, said their client has no history of violence or felony convictions: “He works 80 hours a week at a restaurant he operates and then comes home to help care for his children.”

During Monday’s bond hearing, two longtime friends of Tanios described him as a devoted father, who had never displayed disrespect toward law enforcement.

Prosecutors contend both Khater and Tanios are flight risks.

“Defendants have deep family ties to the country of Lebanon. The risk in a case where the defendants face potentially long periods of incarceration cannot be ignored. Defendant Khater’s pledge to provide a surety of 15 million dollars indicates a degree of family wealth that would make it possible to flee the country and escape prosecution,” prosecutors wrote.

The judge is scheduled to hear more arguments May 6, and expects to make a ruling that day on whether Khater and Tanios should be released on bond until trial.

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Neal Augenstein

Neal Augenstein has been a reporter at WTOP since 1997. Through the years, Neal has covered many of the crimes and trials that have gripped the region. Neal's been pleased to receive awards over the years for hard news, feature reporting, use of sound and sports.

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