WASHINGTON - A Pennsylvania man pleaded guilty Thursday to a chemical-spray assault on three police officers in the Jan. 6, 2021, Capitol attack, including Brian Sicknick, who later collapsed and died the following day.
In a plea deal with federal prosecutors, Julian Khater, a smoothie-shop owner of State College, Pa., admitted to assaulting and injuring law enforcement officers with a dangerous weapon. Along with co-defendant George Tanios, Khater had faced a 10-count indictment that included felony charges of rioting and obstructing Congress’s confirmation of Joe Biden’s 2020 election victory. Tanios pleaded guilty on July 27 to reduced misdemeanor charges.
Khater pleaded guilty to counts punishable by up to 20 years in prison but faces a likely sentence of 78 to 97 months under federal guidelines negotiated with prosecutors. He has spent 17 months behind bars since his arrest and will be sentenced Dec. 13.
Khater’s plea resolves one of the most high-profile attacks on police in the Jan. 6 riot, in which nearly 140 defendants have been charged with felony assault against an officer. Childhood friends Khater, 33, and Tanios, 40, deployed chemical spray against officers holding back a violent crowd on the West Terrace of the Capitol, injuring Sicknick and others at a thin point in police lines.
Sicknick, 42, collapsed hours later and died the next day of natural causes, officials said. Neither Tanios or Khater is alleged to have caused Sicknick’s death.
In his plea, Tanios admitted bringing both bear and pepper spray to Washington and giving one canister to Khater before their arrival at the Capitol.
Tanios’s plea agreement did not require that he cooperate with prosecutors, although he admitted that he did not have information to dispute or disprove the allegations against Khater in the indictment.
Khater admitted deploying pepper spray at close range in the faces of Sicknick, Capitol Police Officer Caroline Edwards and a Washington, D.C., police officer identified as B. Chapman from the police line, forcing them to abandon their posts. In a bond hearing, prosecutors alleged that Khater moved to spray a second group before he was repelled by a police lieutenant who fired a chemical irritant at him using a “Super Soaker”-type device.
“Give me that bear sh—,” Khater told Tanios on video recorded nine minutes earlier, at 2:14 p.m. at the Lower West Terrace of the Capitol, where Sicknick and other officers were standing guard behind metal bicycle racks, according to the plea.
“Hold on, hold on, not yet, not yet … it’s still early,” Tanios allegedly replied.
In charging papers, an FBI agent said the exchange showed that the two were “working in concert and had a plan to use the toxic spray against law enforcement.” The agent asserted that Khater “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.”
Tanios’s attorney has argued that his client was 30 feet away from Khater when he sprayed the officers and did not aid or abet any crime.
Khater attorney Joseph Tacopina has said his client never coordinated or planned to attack police and never entered the Capitol building.
“It wasn’t a plan. It was a reaction” to being sprayed by police, Tacopina said. “He used a defensive spray.”
Sicknick had two strokes after his time at the Capitol that day, officials said. The medical examiner said an autopsy found no evidence that Sicknick suffered an allergic reaction to chemical irritants. There was also no evidence of internal or external injuries, the medical examiner said.
Khater and Tanios were arrested in March 2021. In a hearing last year ordering Khater’s detention pending trial, U.S. District Judge Thomas F. Hogan said videos of the assaults on the three officers showed a degree of premeditation and potential for future danger.
“These two gentlemen are law-abiding, respected individuals in the community, and it makes it very difficult for the court to make this conclusion, but they still committed this attack on uniformed police officers. I don’t find a way around that,” Hogan said at the time.
Local journalism is essential.
Give directly to The Spokesman-Review's Northwest Passages community forums series -- which helps to offset the costs of several reporter and editor positions at the newspaper -- by using the easy options below. Gifts processed in this system are not tax deductible, but are predominately used to help meet the local financial requirements needed to receive national matching-grant funds.
Subscribe now to get breaking news alerts in your email inbox
Get breaking news delivered to your inbox as it happens.