A West Virginia man accused of assaulting Capitol Police officer Brian Sicknick, who died after the Jan. 6 riot, was ordered jailed pending trial after a contentious court hearing where 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.
Tanios, who is charged with Julian Elie Khater, 32, of Pennsylvania, faces decades in prison if convicted on 10 criminal counts, including conspiring with Khater to attack officers with chemical repellent during the deadly siege. Neither suspect is charged with Sicknick’s death.
“We have created a culture radicalized by hate,” Aloi said. “There were no songs or 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.”
More:2 charged with assaulting Capitol Police officer Brian Sicknick, who died after Jan. 6 riot
More:‘We all want to know’: FBI, Capitol police remain mum on what killed Officer Brian Sicknick
Attorney Elizabeth Gross, representing Tanios, cast the government’s 10 video clips as “small limited snippets” offered to support a “story line” and suggested that there was no evidence that Tanios intended that officers would be targeted.
“There is no doubt that there is a serious offense alleged,” Gross told the judge. “But you are hearing their story line. Is it serious? Yes. But what do we know? Not much.”
Bear spray or pepper spray?
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, Khater is seen on video discharging spray from a white can with a black top into the face of Sicknick and other officers, the video showed.
“Give me that bear (expletive),” Khater allegedly said to Tanios before obtaining spray cannisters from Tanios’ backpack.
Prosecutors said Tanios allegedly purchased the chemical repellent at a store in West Virginia the day before the assault. In testimony Monday, Riley Palmertree, the FBI special agent leading the inquiry in the case against Tanios and Khater, said it was not clear yet whether Khater used highly toxic bear spray against the officers or pepper spray.
Among the items Tanios allegedly purchased the day before the attack were two cannisters of Frontierman bear spray and two cans of pepper spray.
Khater is seen in the video holding a canister and waving it from side to side, about five to eight feet away from three officers, including Sicknick. The videos showed each of the officer retreating after contact with the spray, as colleagues raced to their aide with water while guiding the temporarily blinded officers to safety.
‘I don’t raise bad kids’
In a bid to win Tanios’ release pending trial, defense attorneys called five witnesses, including the suspect’s mother who offered an emotional defense of her son.
“I raised my kids with the church,” Maguy Tanios said, offering testimony via a video conference call. “My son is not bad. I’ll be honest with you, I don’t raise bad kids.”
Later in tears, the mother, an immigrant from Lebanon, rejected a suggestion by prosecutors that if released prior to trial Tanios could flee to Lebanon where there are family connections.
“What are you talking about,” she said. “This is my country – the United States.”
Massive investigation may include sedition charges
Acting U.S. Capitol Police Chief Yogananda Pittman has described the Capitol siege and the officers’ assault as “an attack on our democracy.”
“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,” Pittman has said.
More than 400 suspects have been charged so far in one of the most far-reaching investigations in U.S. history. Michael Sherwin, the former federal prosecutor who had overseen the investigation said Sunday in an interview on 60 Minutes that evidence gathered so far supports possible charges of sedition.
Asked whether investigators are examining President Donald Trump’s possible role in inciting the riot, Sherwin said: “Everything’s being looked at.”