A West Virginia man is among two suspects arrested and charged with assaulting U.S. Capitol Police officer Brian D. Sicknick with a strong chemical spray during the Jan. 6 Capitol riot.
Authorities have not yet determined whether exposure to the substance, possibly bear spray, caused Sicknick’s death. The spray, meant to deter aggressive bear, inflames the eyes and upper respiratory system.
George Pierre Tanios, 39, of Morgantown was arrested Sunday, with an initial appearance in federal court expected today. Tanios was listed among the inmates at the Central Regional Jail in West Virginia.
He had an initial hearing today by video before U.S. Magistrate Judge Michael Aloi of the Northern District of West Virginia. A detention hearing was set for 10 a.m. Thursday, although it’s possible that could be delayed.
Tanios had his photograph previously published on flyers distributed by law enforcement and had been identified as number 254. Investigators then were provided photos of Tanios at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 from social media.
The other suspect facing charges is Julian Elie Khater, 32, of Pennsylvania. A tipster told the FBI Khater and Tanios knew each other and grew up together in New Jersey.
A federal agent wrote in an affidavit that he observed surveillance footage that showed the two “working together to assault law enforcement officers with an unknown chemical substance by spraying officers directly in the face and eyes.”
The agent said the two men appeared to time their spraying to coincide with other rioters’ efforts to remove bike rack barriers meant to prevent the crowd from moving closer to the Capitol.
Tanios and Khater are charged with nine counts including assaulting three officers with a deadly weapon — Sicknick, another U.S. Capitol Police officer identified as C. Edwards, and a D.C. police officer identified as B. Chapman. The two are also charged with civil disorder and obstruction of a congressional proceeding.
The charges are punishable by up to 20 years in prison.
The Washington Post first reported the charges.
Tanios is listed as the president of Morgantown’s Sandwich University, which advertises over-the-top foods. Under the “education” section of his LinkedIn profile, Tanios uses the term “Sandwich Nazi” to describe his experience. The photos that investigators used to identify him at the U.S. Capitol showed him wearing clothing with the logo for Sandwich University.”
Tanios is the third West Virginian to be charged in the U.S. Capitol mob.
The mob storming the U.S. Capitol disrupted the constitutional duty of counting Electoral College votes and prompted the evacuations of representatives, senators and Vice President Mike Pence. One woman was fatally shot while trying to climb into the chambers, three others died from “medical emergencies” and more than 100 police officers were injured.
Of the thousands of protesters in Washington, D.C., that day, about 800 went into the Capitol, police have said. About 300 people have been charged so far.
Facing federal charges of entering the Capitol that day are former Parkersburg Councilman Eric Barber, former state Delegate Derrick Evans of Wayne County, who resigned after being charged, and college senior Gracyn Courtright of Hurricane.
But the allegations against Tanios would be the most serious by far.
Sicknick, 42, died a day after the Jan. 6 U.S. Capitol assault. On Jan. 8, the Capitol Police opened a homicide investigation into his death. The Post reported that autopsy results were still pending today.
In recent weeks, the investigation focused on video and honed in on the possible effects of chemical irritants.
The federal affidavit describes video showing men identified as Khater, wearing a beanie and dark jacket, and Tanios, wearing a red hat, black backpack and dark hooded sweatshirt walking from a south grassy area toward the Lower West Entrance shortly after 2 p.m. that day.
Khater instructs Tanios to give him the bear spray and reaches into the backpack worn by Tanios.
“Hold on, hold on, not yet, not yet… it’s still early,” Tanios replies.
The affidavit concludes, “This verbal exchange between Khater and Tanios, together with Khater’s retrieval of the spray can from Tanios, reveals that the two were working in concert and had a plan to use the toxic spray against law enforcement.”
Body camera video from Capitol Police officers shows Khater walking through the crowd within a few steps of the bike rack barrier and directly across from a line of law enforcement officers including Sicknick, Edwards and Chapman.
As rioters begin pulling on the bike rack barrier, Khater can be seen holding his right arm up, apparently holding the canister and aiming it in the officers’ direction while moving his arm from side to side.
The surveillance footage shows the three officers reacting one by one to something striking them in the face, according to the affidavit.
“The officers immediately retreat from the line, bring their hands to their faces and rush to find water to wash out their eyes,” the affidavit states.
The affidavit indicates all three officers were temporarily blinded, temporarily disabled from performing their duties and needed medical attention.
Khater continued spraying in their direction, according to the affidavit, until another officer approached and started pepper spraying him back.
Sicknick collapsed later on and died at a hospital on Jan. 7.