WASHINGTON — A federal judge sentenced the Pennsylvania man who pepper sprayed U.S. Capitol Police Officer Brian Sicknick on Jan. 6, 2021, to six years and eight months in prison Friday, saying he found his assault on outnumbered officers inexcusable.
Julian Khater, 33, appeared before U.S. District Judge Thomas Hogan on Friday afternoon to be sentenced on two counts of assaulting police with a dangerous weapon. His co-defendant George Tanios, who purchased the pepper spray Khater used on officers, sat a short distance away while he awaited his own sentencing on two misdemeanor counts.
“This defendant committed cowardly and premeditated assault on at least three uniformed officers,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Gilead Light told Hogan.
Light spoke Friday to advocate for a 90-month prison sentence for Khater. He said Khater, a Pennsylvania resident who’d traveled to D.C. in support of former President Donald Trump, had timed his assault in coordination with other rioters who were trying to break through police lines outside the U.S. Capitol Building.
“The line fell five minutes after Julian Khater’s pepper spray,” Light said. “The line fell and we know what happened next."
Khater and Tanios were arrested in March 2021 and accused of assaulting at least three officers with chemical irritant. One of those officers, Sicknick, collapsed later in the day and died after suffering a series of strokes. A medical examiner determined Sicknick died of natural causes and neither Tanios nor Khater were charged with his death. However, Khater pleaded guilty last year to assaulting both Sicknick and USCP Officer Caroline Edwards with pepper spray.
Edwards, who testified last summer before the January 6th Committee about the traumatic brain injury she received while defending the Capitol, spoke Friday during the hearing about the attack – saying she remembered looking at Sicknick’s face and seeing it “ghostly pale and in pain.”
“I felt like the absolute worst kind of officer,” Edwards said. “Someone who didn’t help their friend. Couldn’t help their friend. Every time I looked in the mirror I was reminded of this. My eyes were red and scabbed for a month.”
“Sometimes when I close my eyes I can still see his face,” Edwards said, “white as a sheet.”
Dozens of Capitol Police officers attended the hearing Friday to watch the sentencing and listen to the victim impact statements from Sicknick’s long-time partner, Sandra Garza, and four members of his family. His mother Gladys, older brothers Craig and Kenneth, and sister-in-law Nicholle all read statements asking Hogan to impose a lengthy sentence on Khater.
Gladys Sicknick, who spoke first, wrote an emotional letter placing the blame for her son’s death on Khater and other “crazies” who attacked the Capitol on Jan. 6.
“Did you feel like a tourist, Mr. Khater, watching my son fighting for his life?” she asked Friday.
Kenneth Sicknick described the final text he’d received from his younger brother, saying Brian had told him he smelled like pepper spray and CS gas. Both Kenneth and Craig told Hogan they’d have to leave their jobs because they were unable to deal with the stress. Craig said he’d watched his parents age a decade over the past two years, and watched as his own face became nearly unrecognizable in the mirror. His wife Nicholle, who gave her own statement, said Brian’s death had
"I was lucky to find a family who helped my heart to become better. And you, Mr. Khater, snuffed all that out with a spray can of chemicals,” Nicholle said, adding, “You destroyed the hearts of every member of Brian’s family just because it suited your whims.”
Speaking on Khater’s behalf, attorneys Chad Seigel and Joseph Tacopina argued he deserved a downward variance due to his “blameless” life prior to Jan. 6 and his family’s flight from the 2006 Israel-Hezbollah war in Lebanon in 2006 when he was a child. While they were fleeing, Seigel said, a bomb struck the road in front of his family, nearly killing them. Seigel said that traumatic event shaped Khater’s psychological state and left him with an anxiety disorder that has exacerbated his lengthy time in pre-trial detention.
In their sentencing memo, the attorneys also argued the government was wrong in describing the assault as premeditated.
“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,” Seigel and Tacopina wrote.
Khater himself read a brief written statement Friday, describing the 684 days he'd spent in pre-trial detention as "long, agonizing, humbling."
"I understand that to many people Jan. 6 is not just a date in history, but a day that lives on in people's minds and memories," Khater said.
He added that the families and officers affected by the riot "definitely don't deserve that," and that he has prayed extensively for them, but did not mention either Sicknick or Edwards by name. He later said that was because he's facing a pending wrongful death civil suit from Garza.
Before delivering his sentence, Hogan admonished Khater for what he described as a "self-centered approach" to accepting responsibility.
“Your thoughtful statement right now did not really include any apology to the officers you sprayed," Hogan said. "I didn’t hear any expression or sorry about the employees of the Capitol, many who hid for their lives and resigned and never came back to work.”
The judge ultimately sentenced Khater to 80 months in prison and a $10,000 fine. Khater will receive credit for the approximately 22 months he has already served in prison.
Sentencing for Khater's co-defendant, George Tanios, 41, of West Virginia, commenced after Hogan delivered his ruling for Khater. The sandwich shop owner pleaded guilty in July 2022 to two misdemeanor counts of entering a restricted grounds and disorderly and disruptive conduct. Tanios purchased the pepper spray used in the assault on Sicknick. Though he didn't plead guilty to any felony charges, prosecutors told Hogan he'd brought Khater "the mechanism to do it."
"On Jan. 6, 2021, Mr. Tanios was a player in an attempt to undermine what the United States was built on and what the United States stands for," Assistant U.S. Attorney Anthony Scarpelli said Friday.
Hogan sentenced Tanios to a time-served sentence for the approximately five months spent in pre-trial detention following his arrest in March 2021. He also ordered him to complete 100 hours of community service and set a fine equal to the amount left in a GoFundMe account started on Tanios' behalf which, according to Hogan, had at one point contained as much as $60,000.
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