The night of Jan. 6, 2021, Brian D. Sicknick texted his brother exhausted but in good spirits after an hours-long battle defending the U.S. Capitol: “I smell like BO, weed, OC spray and CS gas.”
On Friday, a man who attacked Brian D. Sicknick with chemical spray at the Capitol was sentenced to 80 months — nearly seven years — behind bars. Julian Khater, 32, pleaded guilty in March to assaulting officers with a dangerous weapon.
“I don’t find any excuse for anyone attacking officers doing their duty facing a mob of thousands,” Judge Thomas F. Hogan said. “There are officers who lost their lives, there’s officers who committed suicide after this, there’s officers who can’t go back to work.”
Before the sentence, Kenneth Sicknick told the court that Khater, upon his release, “will still be free and still be younger than Brian was when he died.”
D.C.’s chief medical examiner previously found that Sicknick suffered two strokes and died of natural causes a day after he confronted rioters, and that “all that transpired on that day played a role in his condition.” George Tanios, a childhood friend who was with Khater that day and admitted buying and handing chemical spray to him, was sentenced Friday to the five months he already spent in detention.
Hogan said that a longer sentence “would be appropriate” but that prosecutors limited his options by letting Tanios plead to two misdemeanors. He compared the riot to “a lynch mob of 150 years ago,” and lamented how many Americans have become “hate-filled.” The judge said he was concerned that Tanios, who declined to address the court, would participate in another riot “when Mr. Trump tries to run again.”
Neither Khater, 32, nor Tanios, 41, was charged in Sicknick’s death. Sandra Garza, Sicknick’s girlfriend, has filed a civil suit alleging former president Donald Trump, Khater and Tanios bear responsibility.
Scores of Capitol Police officers attended the hearing Friday, filling the courtroom where Khater and Tanios were sentenced. Garza came with the Virginia state trooper who escorted her from the hospital where her partner for the past 11 years died. She and Sicknick’s two brothers and mother broke open in court the pain and anger they feel over his death — blaming Khater and other rioters, in addition to Trump.
“How does it feel to be headed to jail for a baldfaced lie?” Gladys Sicknick asked the two defendants. She wore a shirt that had belonged to her son, describing him as “a good boy who grew up to be a good man,” killed by “lawlessness, misplaced loyalty to a deranged autocratic ideal and hate.”
A clinical social worker, Garza said she initially had “some empathy” for two men “brainwashed by our former president.” But she said their lack of apparent remorse “shows a callousness and maliciousness that disgusts me.”
In court, Khater said what happened on Jan. 6, 2021, was “extremely unfortunate,” and that the officers and their families didn’t deserve it. “I wish I could take it all back,” he said.
But as Hogan told him, the “self-centered” pronouncement “did not include any apology to the officers who you sprayed.” While Sicknick’s loved ones marked the 751 days since Jan. 6, Khater began his statement by counting the 684 “agonizing” days he has spent in jail.
Khater said he was advised not to apologize directly due to the pending civil suit.
The family said that they can never know all the details of Sicknick’s death, because it is too painful to delve into what happened that day and they don’t want to force other police officers to relive the experience.
“The United States Capitol Police are so busy taking care of my family, I wonder who is taking care of them,” Kenneth Sicknick said.
Hogan said that if not for the coroner’s report, Khater might be facing a murder charge. “I am concerned about what you did do regardless of whether you’re responsible directly for the death of Officer Sicknick,” he said. He also said he would have imposed more time if Khater had not spent a year at the D.C. jail, which Hogan called “a disgrace.” Hogan also imposed a $10,000 fine on Khater and ordered Tanios to pay whatever money he had left in a crowdfunding account.
The average sentence for those convicted of assaulting law enforcement officers is more than 48 months, in line with the nationwide average for that offense in recent years, according to a Washington Post database and data from the U.S. Sentencing Commission. The longest Jan. 6 sentence issued so far has been 10 years to retired New York Police Department officer Thomas Webster, who swung a flagpole at police before tackling one officer and pulling his gas mask off his face.
January 27, 2023
Khater’s defense attorneys, in court filings, also blamed Trump.
“A climate of mass hysteria, fueled by the dissemination of misinformation about the 2020 election, originating at the highest level, gave rise to a visceral powder keg waiting to be ignited,” Khater’s attorneys Joseph Tacopina and Chad Seigel wrote. They asked for a sentence of time served.
Tacopina represented Kimberly Guilfoyle, Donald Trump Jr.’s fiancee, in front of the House committee investigating the attack on the Capitol. Guilfoyle, a Trump fundraiser, spoke at the Jan. 6 rally that preceded the attack, saying that “patriots … will not let them steal this election.” Tacopina is also representing Trump in a dispute over a book written by a former prosecutor in New York.
Seigel said in court that while Khater was remorseful, the spray’s impact was “temporary” and he was “not directly or indirectly” responsible for Sicknick’s death.
Prosecutor Gilead Light countered in court that the attack was “cowardly and premeditated,” targeted at officers who lacked protective gear and contributing to the collapse of the police line on the Lower West Terrace that allowed rioters to climb closer to the building’s doors. “He didn’t get his way,” Light said, so “he chose violence.”
Light said Khater assaulted at least three police officers: Caroline Edwards, an unnamed D.C. police officer and Sicknick. He is accused of spraying Sicknick directly in the face, according to court documents, which caused the officer to retreat to an empty terrace of the Capitol and pour water on his eyes.
Edwards was near Sicknick on the West Terrace when he was sprayed in the face by Khater, she said; she saw him turn “ghostly pale” and knew he needed help. But before she could go to his aid, she was sprayed by Khater herself. She was half-awake in recovery from a traumatic brain injury when she learned he had died; she hoped it was a nightmare.
What followed was “months of survivor’s guilt and asking God why it wasn’t me,” Edwards said. Appearing in her uniform, she told the court, “I felt like the worst kind of officer. Someone who didn’t help their friend, someone who couldn’t help their friend.” The red scabs over her eyes from the chemical burns lasted over a month, “mocking” her inability to save him.
“That day, these choices, those moments will affect all of us for the rest of our lives,” Edwards said. “Brian gave some of the very last breaths that he had to defending the Capitol, our symbol of democracy. He shouldn’t have had to, but he did.”
An earlier version of this article misspelled the name of defense attorney Chad Seigel. The article has been corrected.
Emily Davies and Tom Jackman contributed to this report.