WASHINGTON — A West Virginia man indicted in connection with a pepper spray assault on U.S. Capitol Police Officer Brian Sicknick and two others pleaded guilty Wednesday to two misdemeanor counts.
George Tanios, 40, of Morgantown, West Virginia, appeared virtually before U.S. District Judge Thomas F. Hogan to enter his plea of guilty to entering and remaining in a restricted building or grounds and disorderly and disruptive conduct.
Tanios and another man, Julian Khater, 33, of Pennsylvania, were arrested last March and indicted on multiple felony counts. In court documents, prosecutors said Tanios and Khater conspired to purchase pepper spray and bear spray and then used the former on at least three police officers during the Capitol riot. Those officers included U.S. Capitol Police Officer Caroline Edwards, who testified before the January 6th Committee about being assaulted and knocked unconscious during the riot, and Sicknick. Sicknick collapsed after hours defending the Capitol on Jan. 6 and died the following day. The D.C. Medical Examiner’s Office found he died as a result of multiple strokes. His death was attributed to natural causes.
According to the DOJ, in video discovered from Jan. 6, Khater can be heard asking Tanios to "give me that bear s***."
In charging documents, prosecutors said Tanios replied, 'Hold on, hold on, not yet, not yet… it’s still early.'” The DOJ said Khater then retrieved a canister from Tanios’ backpack and walked through the crowd to within a few steps of the police perimeter. A video obtained by the FBI shows Khater with his right arm up high in the air, appearing to be holding a canister in his right hand and aiming it at the officers’ direction while moving his right arm from side to side. An affidavit filed in the case states that Officers Sicknick, Edwards, and another, Chapman, who were all standing within a few feet of Khater, each reacted to being sprayed in the face. The officers then retreated, "bringing their hands to their faces and rushing to find water to wash out their eyes.”
In his statement of offense Wednesday, Tanios confirmed Khater pulled a canister of chemical irritant out of his backpack while they were near the police line at the Lower West Terrace. Tanios also admitted that while he was on the grounds he "encouraged other rioters, videotaped the rioters assaulting police, and thus engaged in disruptive conduct."
Both men were initially ordered held without bond, but the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals ordered Tanios released in August. Khater, accused of being the one to actually spray the officers, has been held in pretrial detention for more than a year. In April, more than a dozen members of Khater’s family offered to put up $1.5 million in collateral to secure his release on a $15 million bond. Hogan rejected that offer.
According to the FBI, Tanios was identified by two tipsters, including one who reported Tanios had "bragged about going to the insurrection at the Capitol." Another identified him as the owner of the "Fat Sandwich" restaurant in Morgantown. A former business partner also reportedly told the FBI they had known each other for 15 years and that Tanios had allegedly embezzled $435,000 from their business.
Hogan set sentencing in the case for Dec. 6. Tanios will face a recommended sentencing range of 0-6 months on each count. He will receive credit toward any sentence of incarceration for the five months he already served in pretrial detention.
Khater was scheduled to begin a jury trial on Oct. 5 on 10 counts, including felony counts of conspiracy to impede or injure an officer and multiple counts of assaulting police using a dangerous weapon. However, on Wednesday his attorney asked Hogan for additional time to consider a plea offer presented by the government. According to assistant U.S. attorney Anthony Scarpelli, that offer would require Khater to plead guilty to two felony counts of assaulting a federal officer with a dangerous weapon. Khater would face an estimated recommended sentencing guideline of 78-97 months in prison – which, if imposed, would result in the longest Capitol riot sentence to date. Two defendants have been sentenced to 63 months in prison, both for assaulting police with a dangerous weapon. Khater has until Aug. 24 to inform Hogan if he will be accepting the government’s plea offer.
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