WASHINGTON — George Tanios, one of two men charged with conspiring to assault police officers during the Jan. 6 insurrection, including Capitol Police Officer Brian Sicknick, will remain behind bars pending trial, a judge ruled Monday.
Tanios and his codefendant, Julian Khater, are charged with assaulting Sicknick and two other officers at the Capitol. So far, the case hasn’t provided any more concrete information about how Sicknick died. Khater is accused of deploying a chemical spray and coordinating with Tanios to bring it to the Capitol that day. The two men aren’t charged with killing Sicknick, and the charging documents do not link the alleged assault to his death. US Capitol Police has not released a cause of death.
Sicknick’s death was barely mentioned during Monday’s detention hearing. Assistant US Attorney Sarah Wagner didn’t bring it up as part of her arguments to keep Tanios in jail. One of the only references to the officer’s death was when Tanios’s lawyer L. Richard Walker asked an FBI agent involved in the investigation if he’d interviewed the three officers whom Tanios and Khater are charged with conspiring to assault. After a brief pause, the agent replied that he’d only interviewed two of them because one was “deceased.”
US District Magistrate Judge Michael John Aloi announced that he would immediately hold Tanios behind bars pending trial after hearing arguments and tearful testimony from his family. The judge said he believed the Capitol insurrection was the result of a culture “radicalized by hate” and a refusal to accept the results of the presidential election. He said he didn’t understand what drew someone to participate in such an event, and that worried him “deeply” as he weighed whether to let Tanios go home while his case is pending.
“My obligation is to the safety of our community, and I don't think I've ever seen anything play out in a way that was more dangerous to our community,” Aloi said. “I have no question that, in your own way, Mr. Tanios, you chose to be part of that.”
Walker indicated they would appeal Aloi’s decision, and he clashed at times with the judge over how much he could use Monday’s detention hearing to probe the government’s evidence. Tanios, who owns a sandwich shop in Morgantown, West Virginia, was arrested on March 14. He made his first court appearances in his home state, but his lawyers can now appeal the detention issue to a federal district judge in Washington, DC, where the case — along with the rest of those from Jan. 6 — are being handled.
Wagner presented evidence Monday that Tanios had gone into a firearms store in West Virginia on Jan. 5 and bought two cans of bear spray and two containers of pepper spray. She said a store manager told investigators that Tanios had asked about buying a pepper ball launcher, but the manager said he couldn’t legally carry that into Washington, DC. She said investigators had found an empty canister of chemical spray at Khater’s home and two canisters of bear spray and a container of another chemical spray in Tanios’s home. Wagner also said the government had evidence that Tanios was on the phone with Khater around the time he went into the store to buy the sprays.
Wagner also showed videos from the Capitol on Jan. 6, including one that the government has alleged shows Khater asking Tanios for “that bear shit” and Tanios saying no because it was “still early.” In another video, an officer wearing a blue uniform, whom Wagner identified as Sicknick, is seen walking around and rubbing his face in what appears to be a mostly deserted area in front of the Capitol building. The officers were temporarily blinded and unable to perform their duties, Wagner said; one reported scabbing under her eyes and required treatment from a dermatologist three weeks after the insurrection.
The government also argued that Tanios posed a flight risk; Wagner said that a tipster had said Tanios’s family planned to try to get him to Lebanon, where they have connections, if he were released. Wagner didn’t share more details about that claim, however, and Tanios’s mother denied it when questioned by one of his lawyers.
Wagner didn’t present testimony from the FBI agent who had signed the affidavit supporting Tanios’s arrest. She objected when Walker argued he should be allowed to question the agent. The judge granted Walker's request but then cut him off after he began asking a series of questions about the evidence supporting each count Tanios is charged with. A federal grand jury returned a 10-count indictment on March 19.
Tanios’s lawyers presented several character witnesses, including his mother, his longtime partner and the mother of his three young children, his sister, and his friends. At the end of the hearing, Aloi said he took into consideration how difficult detention was on a person’s family, adding, “The context of everything that happened on that day and before are what inform me in my decision-making, and I think it needs to.” He cited the government’s evidence about Tanios buying cans of chemical spray, saying there was “no good reason” to bring those to the Capitol.
“This isn't a weekend visit to see the blossoms in DC,” he said.
The judge quoted a sermon by Martin Luther King Jr. about how the greatest danger facing civilization was an “atomic bomb which lies in the hearts and souls of men, capable of exploding into the vilest of hate and into the most damaging selfishness.” He questioned why Tanios and Khater didn’t turn around and go home once they saw rioters trying to attack a police line in front of the Capitol.
“The fact that all of them weren’t thinking about that is just frightening to me. And that was a choice. Choices all along the way,” the judge said.
He continued later on: “I struggle because I don’t know if that represents who you are, Mr. Tanios … but what is it that causes that behavior? And all I can think of is that there’s something that causes such hate, such irrational behavior, such desire to attack the country and officers in such ways that gives me little confidence as to whether it will stop.”
Khater is in jail pending an as-yet-unscheduled detention hearing.