WASHINGTON — Federal prosecutors want a judge to sentence a Pennsylvania man who pepper sprayed U.S. Capitol Police Officer Brian Sicknick and at least two others on Jan. 6 to serve 90 months, or more than seven years. in prison – arguing in a sentencing memo this week he contributed to the collapse of the police line outside the Capitol.
In a filing Monday, Assistant U.S. Attorney Gilead Light described Julian Khater as “visibly incensed” when he deployed pepper spray for 30 seconds against a line of police.
“Khater’s tone of voice and his facial expressions… betray his emotion, his anger, and his loss of control,” Gilead said about video of the assault. “He is incensed at having been personally sprayed by police chemical spray while standing on the front line of a riot, as if he had been an innocent victim.”
Khater pleaded guilty last year to two felony counts of assaulting a police officer with a dangerous weapon. His co-defendant, George Tanios, of West Virginia, pleaded guilty in July to two misdemeanor counts. Both were scheduled to be sentenced Friday. Prosecutors have asked for Tanios to receive a time-served sentence of five months and six days.
Prosecutors had initially accused the men of using bear spray against officers, but later walked back that claim after it was determined they had purchased it, but never deployed it. In court filings, prosecutors have argued Khater sought to use the more potent chemical irritant but was dissuaded by Tanios. Both men were arrested on March 15, 2021. Tanios was released in August of that’s year. Khater has remained in pretrial detention since his arrest.
Khater and Tanios’ case drew significant attention after their arrest because one of the officers sprayed by Khater, Sicknick, collapsed later in the day at the Capitol and died the following day at a D.C. hospital. The D.C. Office of the Chief Medical Examiner ultimately ruled Sicknick died of natural causes – specifically of a series of strokes. Despite that, Sicknick’s long-time partner Sandra Garza filed a $10 million wrongful death lawsuit earlier this month against Khater, Tanios and former President Donald Trump. In the suit, Garza argued Trump’s supporters were “stirred to violence” by his lies about the election.
In a letter to U.S. District Judge Thomas Hogan included with the government’s filing this week, Sicknick’s mother, Gladys Sicknick, addressed Khater directly, saying he has been “center stage in our recurring nightmare.”
“Just when raw nerves have begun to heal, we are carried back to the scene of your crime,” she wrote in her letter. “You, among all the other crazies – you are the reason Brian is dead, Mr. Khater.”
In their own memo filed Tuesday, Khater’s attorneys Joseph Tacopina and Chad Seigel asked for a time-served sentence covering the approximately 22-and-a-half months their client has already served in pretrial detention. Tacopina and Seigel described Khater’s decision to deploy pepper spray against police as a momentary lapse of judgment.
“Indeed, Mr. Khater’s conduct on January 6th was not part of some orchestrated plan to attack democracy but rather constituted a fleeting and impulsive response to a moment of hysteria fueled by his preexisting diagnosed anxiety coupled with the potent influence of a mob mentality,” the attorneys wrote. “Notwithstanding that circumstance, as a testament to his rehabilitative outlook, he feels genuine remorse for his conduct.”
Tacopina and Seigel said Khater has admitted to pepper spraying the officers from the beginning of the case and also identified his co-defendant, Tanios. They also highlighted what they described as the inhumane conditions he experienced while serving pretrial detention at D.C.’s Correctional Treatment Facility – much of it spent in isolation due to COVID-19 restrictions.
“Mr. Khater recognizes that his conduct, however impulsive and transitory, was wrong and merits punishment,” Tacopina and Seigel wrote. “We simply ask that such punishment reflect the mitigating circumstances surrounding the offense, consider the aberrational nature of such conduct, account for Mr. Khater’s exemplary background and character, and recognize that Mr. Khater has already been sufficiently penalized by means of detention during his extraordinarily harsh pretrial incarceration.”
Khater and Tanios were scheduled to be sentenced Friday afternoon by Judge Hogan. If Hogan grants the Justice Department’s request, Khater would receive one of the longest sentences to date in a Capitol riot case. Two men – Texas Three Percenter Guy Reffitt and former Virginia police officer Thomas Robertson – have been sentenced to 87 months in prison, or seven years, after going to trial on multiple felony charges. The longest sentence to date was handed down to Thomas Webster, a former NYPD officer who was ordered to serve 10 years in prison for assaulting a DC Police officer on Jan. 6.
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