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Co-defendant in Jan. 6 Sicknick assault case pleads guilty

George Tanios, of Morgantown, W.V., pleaded to reduced charges Wednesday in the case of a police officer who died a day after the Capitol attack

A sign outside the Capitol Rotunda that honors U.S. Capitol Police officer Brian D. Sicknick, 42, who died the day after responding to the Jan. 6 riot. (Salwan Georges/The Washington Post)

One of two men charged in the Jan. 6, 2021, chemical-spray assault on three police officers at the U.S. Capitol, including Brian D. Sicknick, pleaded guilty to reduced charges Wednesday.

West Virginia sandwich shop owner George Tanios, 40, admitted to two counts of misdemeanor trespassing and disorderly conduct on restricted Capitol grounds, a reduction from an earlier 10-count indictment that included felony charges of rioting, assaulting law enforcement officers and obstructing of Congress’s certification of President Biden’s 2020 election victory.

Guidelines call for a sentence of up to a year behind bars; he has already served five months. He will be sentenced Dec. 6.

The case of Tanios and his co-defendant Julian Elie Khater is among the more high-profile Jan. 6 prosecutions, as both men were accused of assaulting Capitol police officer Sicknick, 42. Sicknick was injured while attempting to hold back a violent crowd on the West Terrace of the Capitol, collapsing hours later and dying the next day of natural causes, officials said. Neither Tanios or Khater is alleged to have caused Sicknick’s death.

In the plea, Tanios admitted to bringing two cans of chemical spray to Washington and giving one to Khater prior to arrival at the Capitol. During the riot, according to the plea, Khater reached into Tanios’s backpack to retrieve a can of bear spray. Later, Tanios filmed other rioters fighting police.

In a statement, Tanios’s attorney Assistant Federal Defender Elizabeth B. Gross said, “The parties here worked diligently toward a fair and just resolution short of trial. The proposed misdemeanor charges better reflect the limited actions of George Tanios on January 6, 2021, while outside the U.S. Capitol.”

A signed plea agreement makes no mention that Tanios will cooperate with prosecutors, although in plea papers he admitted “he does not have information to dispute or disprove the allegations as set forth in the indictment against his co-defendant, Julian Khater, in any way.”

Khater remains set for trial Oct. 5. In court, attorneys said they were discussing whether Khater would agree to plead guilty to two felony charges of assault on a law enforcement officer with a dangerous weapon.

More than 840 suspects have been charged in the Jan. 6 Capitol riot

Khater and Tanios, who ran smoothie and sandwich shops in their respective college towns, were arrested in March 2021 and had pleaded not guilty to the assaults on Sicknick, a fellow Capitol Police officer and a D.C. officer.

Prosecutors in detention hearings alleged that Khater deployed the spray at close range against Sicknick, U.S. Capitol Police officer Caroline Edwards, and a D.C. police officer identified as B. Chapman from the police line, incapacitating them.

“Give me that bear sh--,” Khater allegedly 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 charging papers.

“Hold on, hold on, not yet, not yet … it’s still early,” Tanios allegedly replied.

Tanios’s attorney has argued that he was 30 feet away from Khater when he sprayed the officers and did not aid or abet any crime.

Sicknick had two strokes after his time at the Capitol that day, officials said. The medical examiner said an autopsy found no evidence Sicknick suffered an allergic reaction to chemical irritants. There was also no evidence of internal or external injuries, the medical examiner said.

Khater has been jailed since then, but an appeals court in August ordered Tanios to be released, saying that he had “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.”

Battle for the West Terrace: Capitol riot charges reveal details of police attacks on Jan. 6

U.S. District Judge Thomas F. Hogan had earlier ordered both men held pending trial, saying government videos of the assaults on the three officers showed a degree of premeditation and future dangerousness.

“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.