Federal appeals judges have ordered Morgantown restaurant operator George Tanios to be released on bond while awaiting trial on charges from the Jan. 6 riots at the U.S. Capitol.
In a short filing Monday, judges with the U.S. District Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit concluded Tanios does not represent a danger to the community.
“The record reflects that Tanios has no past felony convictions, no ties to any extremist organizations, and no post-January 6 criminal behavior that would otherwise show him to pose a danger to the community within the meaning of the Bail Reform Act,” the appeals judges wrote.
The appeals judges concluded a lower court order should be reversed and that the case should return to the district court level for Tanios’s release. Conditions include home detention and electronic monitoring.
Tanios is the president of Morgantown’s Sandwich University, which advertises over-the-top foods. The photos that investigators used to identify him at the U.S. Capitol showed him wearing clothing with the logo for Sandwich University.
For months Tanios has been trying to be released from jail while awaiting trial, which could take place next year given the heavy load on the federal court system in the District of Columbia.
Federal judges had earlier concluded he should continue to be detained, so Tanios asked for their conclusions to be overturned by the U.S. Court Of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit.
“Mr. Tanios is a family-oriented business owner who traveled to Washington, D.C., to attend what he believed would be an extremely important political rally. It seemed exciting, different, interesting, and an opportunity to express his support for his political party in a meaningful way,” his lawyers wrote in his bond appeal.
“Naturally, as one may imagine, he regrets going down to the U.S. Capitol in the first place.”
Tanios is accused of collaborating with longtime friend Julian Khater of New Jersey in assaulting U.S. Capitol police officers with pepperspray.
The appeals judges earlier rejected arguments that Khater should be let out of jail pending trial.
Tanios is accused of obtaining and carrying the pepperspray, and Khater is accused of spraying it at officers, causing them to be injured and resulting in a distraction that enabled others to breach a bike rack barrier outside the Capitol. One of the officers, Brian Sicknick, later died but a medical examiner ruled the chemical spray was not the direct cause.
Tanios and Khater have been held in jail while awaiting trial, which could be months and months considering the many cases. U.S. District Judge Thomas Hogan in D.C. and U.S. Magistrate Judge Michael Aloi in West Virginia each have rejected requests to release the two from jail.
In a brief filed last month, lawyers for Tanios acknowledged that he bought pepper spray at a Morgantown area supply shop but said he obtained it for self defense. The lawyers for Tanios also contend he pushed back against Khater’s desire to use the pepper spray as the rally turned chaotic.
“Tanios is not dangerous and he did not commit violent acts at the Capitol on January 6. Specifically, Tanios did not aid and abet his co defendant, Julian Khater,” lawyers for the Morgantown sandwich shop owner wrote in a new brief to appeals judges.
Federal prosecutors disagreed with all those points and argued in an earlier filing that the decision to keep Tanios in jail should stand.
“Appellant’s conversation with Khater before buying the sprays, his purchase of multiple sprays, his travel with Khater together with the sprays, and Khater’s access to the sprays at the Capitol showed appellant’s intent to share use of the sprays with Khater,” prosecutors wrote.
“The evidence that appellant and Khater talked together for several minutes as the crowd became excited and attacked police, coupled with appellant’s statement that it was ‘too early’ for the bear spray and that Khater should ‘hold on’ regarding using it, showed appellant’s intent that the chemical spray be used against police.”
Tanios and Khater are charged with nine counts including assaulting three officers with a deadly weapon. The charges are punishable by up to 20 years in prison.
Tanios has pleaded not guilty.
While awaiting trial, Tanios has proposed abiding by several conditions including home detention with electronic monitoring, 24-hour video surveillance, a restricted list of visitors, designated visiting hours, abstaining from use of smart phones or social media sites and reporting daily to pretrial services.
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. More than 400 people have been charged so far.
West Virginians 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.
Evans had a routine status hearing scheduled for today, but that was delayed as lawyers continue discussions about a possible plea agreement.