WASHINGTON (CN) — Two men are set to appear in federal court Monday on charges that they deployed bear spray at law enforcement during the Jan. 6 siege on the U.S. Capitol.
Authorities say one of those assaulted was Capitol Police officer Brian D. Sicknick, who later died of injuries sustained in the riot, though the extent of those injuries is still under investigation.
Julian Elie Khater, 32, of Pennsylvania, and George Pierre Tanios, 39, of Morgantown, West Virginia, were arrested Sunday in connection to a criminal complaint dated March 6.
They join the more than 300 people to be charged to date from the mob that stormed the Capitol building as Congress was voting to certify President Joe Biden’s electoral victory on Jan. 6.
As described in a warrant to search an address in Morgantown, the FBI received multiple tips about Tanios and Khater, in particular pointing out that Tanios had bragged about his involvement in the riot on Facebook.
Another tipster who identified Tanios from widely disseminated footage of the insurrection said Tanios embezzled $435,000 from their former business — a matter that is now the subject of a legal dispute.
Tanios owns a sandwich shop in Morgantown, and authorities say he grew up in New Jersey with Khater, employed of late at a restaurant in State College, Pennsylvania. Footage shows they also worked together in the riot.
“Give me that bear shit," Khater said, as quoted in the court filings, before reaching into Tanios’ backpack. Multiple photos from the riots are included both in the complaint and affidavit; the comments about the bear spray are attributed to a photo showing the two men in a crowd nearby a line of law enforcement standing near metal bike racks.
“Hold on, hold on, not yet, not yet… it's still early,” replied Tanios, who can be identified in the footage by his beard, dark hooded sweatshirt, black backpack and red hat.
“They just fucking sprayed me,” said Khater, who is also bearded, wearing a dark jacket and beanie with a pom-pom on top.
After Khater took the bear spray from Tanios, body-cam and other footage from the riots shows that he walked up through the crowds up to where rioters were pulling bike racks away. Sicknick and two other officers identified only as C. Edwards and B. Chapman were sprayed in the face, from only 5 to 8 feet away, according to the complaint.
“These defendants appeared to time the deployment of chemical substances to coincide with other rioters’ efforts to forcibly remove the bike rack barriers that were preventing the rioters from moving closer to the Capitol building,” the complaint states.
The bear spray incapacitated the officers for over 20 minutes as they covered their faces and ran to find water. Later, they would say the spray was stronger than any version of pepper spray they had been exposed to during their trainings.
Edwards reported lasting injuries underneath her eyes, including scabbing which remained on her face for weeks.
Sicknick later collapsed and died at a hospital on Jan. 7. An autopsy on the 42-year-old officer remains ongoing, and the Justice Department has opened a federal murder investigation into his death. The arrests of Khater and Tanios are the closest prosecutors have come to charging anyone associated with the five deaths that occurred as a result of the riot, but questions remain as to whether anyone will be held criminally responsible.
Investigators initially believed that Sicknick was hit in the head with a fire extinguisher, but, as new evidence is collected, a theory has emerged that exposure to the bear spray may have contributed to his death.
Khater and Tanios are charged with nine counts including assaulting three officers with a deadly weapon, civil disorder and obstruction of a congressional proceeding. They face up to 20 years in prison.