WASHINGTON — Two men were charged with assaulting Officer Brian D. Sicknick of the Capitol Police and other officers with a chemical spray during the Jan. 6 riot, the Justice Department said on Monday, but prosecutors stopped short of linking the attack to Sicknick’s death the next day.
The FBI arrested George Pierre Tanios, 39, of Morgantown, West Virginia, and Julian Elie Khater, 32, of State College, Pennsylvania, on Sunday. Tanios was arrested at home and Khater as he stepped off a plane in Newark, New Jersey, the department said.
They were charged with conspiracy to injure an officer, assaulting an officer with a dangerous weapon, civil disorder, obstruction of an official proceeding and other crimes related to violent conduct on the grounds of the Capitol, the Justice Department said.
Both appeared via video before federal magistrate judges on Monday. Tanios, who joined his hearing dressed in orange, will appear in court again on Thursday to determine whether he will remain detained while awaiting trial. In a separate hearing, a lawyer for Khater indicated that his client intended to plead not guilty.
Among other charges, they face up to 20 years for assaulting a federal officer with a dangerous weapon.
Sicknick and two other police officers were injured “as a result of being sprayed in the face” with an unidentified substance by Khater and Tanios, the FBI said in search warrant applications filed in court. The officers were temporarily blinded and had to stop working to get medical attention, the bureau said.
Sicknick was one of five people left dead by the attack, and his death was a major focus for law enforcement officials conducting the sprawling inquiry into the riot. The Justice Department has said in court filings that the investigation is most likely “one of the largest in American history,” with more than 900 search warrants executed in nearly every state.
The Capitol Police thanked federal prosecutors in a statement for charging the two men. “Those who perpetrated these heinous crimes must be held accountable,” the acting chief of the force, Yogananda D. Pittman, said in the statement.
Law enforcement officials described the suspects briefly plotting before the attack. The men, who were among the thousands who traveled to the Capitol to protest Congress’ certification of the election results on Jan. 6, spoke to each other animatedly, surveillance video showed, and worked together “to assault law enforcement officers with an unknown chemical substance by spraying officers directly in the face and eyes,” an FBI agent said in a court document.
Khater and Tanios were seen on video early in the afternoon standing 5 to 8 feet away from police officers, including Sicknick, the FBI said.
In a video of the attack, Khater said, “Give me that,” and then reached into Tanios’ backpack, the FBI said. Tanios protested that it was too early, apparently to attack the officers with the spray. Khater countered that he had just been sprayed and held up the can of chemical spray.
At 2:23 p.m., as other rioters began to pull away a barrier between them and the Capitol, Khater aimed his spray can toward officers, the FBI said, citing video footage including a body camera worn by an officer from Washington’s Metropolitan Police Department. The officers reacted “one by one, to something striking them in the face,” the FBI said. “The officers immediately retreat from the line, bring their hands to their faces and rush to find water to wash out their eyes.”
They were unable to defend the Capitol for at least 20 minutes while they recovered, video showed, according to the FBI. Two other officers who were assaulted “described the spray to their face as a substance as strong as, if not stronger than, any version of pepper spray they had been exposed to during their training as law enforcement officers,” the FBI said, and one said she had scabs on her face for weeks.
Sicknick was later rushed to a hospital, where he died. Investigators opened a homicide investigation immediately after the death of the officer, a 42-year-old Air National Guard veteran who served in Saudi Arabia and Kyrgyzstan.
Both officers and rioters deployed spray, mace and other irritants during the attack. Given that evidence, prosecutors brought assault charges rather than a murder charge, law enforcement officials said, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss a continuing investigation.
It remains unclear whether Sicknick died because of his exposure to the spray. On Jan. 7, the day that he died, the Capitol Police said in a statement that he “was injured while physically engaging with protesters” at the riot and then “returned to his division office and collapsed.”
In the hours after Sicknick was taken to the hospital, Capitol Police officials initially said that he had been struck with a fire extinguisher, but later said that his death was not caused by blunt force trauma. In the following days, investigators homed in on the potential role of an irritant as a primary factor in his death.
The arrests came weeks after investigators pinpointed one of the men in a video of the riot, in which he was seen attacking officers with an unidentified spray, according to two law enforcement officials.
After the FBI posted flyers with photographs of Khater and Tanios seeking information about the Jan. 6 attack, a tipster told the FBI that the two men had grown up together in New Jersey.
Another person told the FBI that one of the men in the photos looked “very close” to Tanios, who had “bragged about going to the insurrection at the Capitol on Facebook.” And one of Tanios’ former business partners identified him as the rioter and told investigators that he had allegedly embezzled $435,000 from their business.
A tipster also identified Khater as a former colleague at a food establishment in State College.The assault on the Capitol was among the worst days for law enforcement injuries since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Two other officers who tried to stop the siege died by suicide, according to the local police. At least 138 officers were injured.
The FBI has collected a staggering amount of evidence in its investigation into the riot, including 15,000 hours of police body-camera footage, data from 1,600 electronic devices, more than 210,000 tips from the public, and about 80,000 reports related to suspects and witnesses.