Supporters of President Donald Trump clash with police as they storm the U.S. Capitol in Washington on Jan. 6, 2021.
By ALAN FEUER
With a sea of uniformed police officers looking on, a New Jersey man who pleaded guilty to shooting pepper spray into the face of Officer Brian D. Sicknick during the Jan. 6, 2021, storming of the Capitol was sentenced late last week to nearly seven years in prison.
The 80-month sentence handed down against the man, Julian Khater, brought an end to one of the wrenching cases involving Sicknick, who died one day after he was doused with pepper spray in the melee outside the Capitol.
At the same hearing, George Tanios, a second man who was accused in the attack, was sentenced to time served, having already spent five months in jail as his case moved through the courts. In July, Tanios pleaded guilty to misdemeanor charges after the government agreed to drop an assault count against him.
While early reports suggested that Sicknick died of his injuries, an autopsy later showed that he died of natural causes, after suffering multiple strokes that were not directly related to the violent riot in support of President Donald Trump. Still, prosecutors have noted in court filings that Washington’s medical examiner determined that Sicknick had engaged with rioters Jan. 6 and that “all that transpired played a role in his condition.”
The sentencing hearing, in U.S. District Court in Washington, was marked by the presence of perhaps 50 of Sicknick’s colleagues in the U.S. Capitol Police — so many that several dozen of them were asked to move to an overflow room. The hearing also featured emotional testimony from several members of Sicknick’s family.
Gladys Sicknick, Sicknick’s mother, told Khater that he had gone after her son “like he was an animal,” adding that whatever penalty he received was “not enough in my eyes.”
Gladys Sicknick also had lacerating words for the larger mob of rioters who had laid siege to the Capitol.
“All of you bear responsibility for the injuries sustained by Brian’s fellow officers — the broken bones, head trauma and the continuing mental anguish they suffer and will endure for the rest of their lives,” she said. “Imagine the emotional pain that would cause someone to take his own life. Four officers committed suicide. You and your ‘movement’ caused their deaths.”
Officer Caroline Edwards, who was injured in the same attack and testified about her experience to congressional investigators, also appeared in court to deliver remarks to Judge Thomas F. Hogan, who presided in the case.
“Sometimes when I close my eyes I can still see his face, white as a sheet,” Edwards said of Brian Sicknick, adding, “I would give anything to take the pain away from the Sicknick family and my fellow officers.”
Khater’s sentence was one of the longest given to any of the 950 people charged so far in connection with the Capitol attack. The most severe sentences, which have ranged from 7 1/2 years to 10 years in prison, have been handed down to defendants accused of assaulting police officers.
Sicknick was attacked with chemical spray at a key moment in the riot — just as the mob was overrunning police at bike rack barriers on the west side of the Capitol.
In court papers filed before the hearing, Khater said he had no intention of entering the Capitol on Jan. 6 and only went to Washington that day because Tanios invited him to tag along to a rally by Trump. Tanios, who is from West Virginia, later admitted buying two cans of bear spray and two canisters of a less potent pepper spray before the trip to Washington, but said they were only for self-protection.
In his papers, Khater acknowledged that he used pepper spray against at least three officers, including Sicknick, but explained that he had merely given into “his anxiety” in “a dangerous and chaotic atmosphere.”
When Khater addressed Hogan, he noted that he had already been in custody for 684 days — “a long, agonizing, but humbling experience,” as he put it.
“What happened on Jan. 6 — there’s no words for it,” he said. “It’s unfortunate, and I wish I could take it all back.”
Just before he handed down Khater’s sentence, Hogan said he could not understand why he had joined the mob and attacked officers who presented no threat to him.
“It just does not compute with me, this type of activity, and people thinking they can do this because they disagreed with the results of the election,” he said.