2 men charged with assaulting U.S. Capitol Police officer who died following Jan. 6 riot

U.S. officials have arrested and charged two men with assaulting U.S. Capitol Police officer Brian Sicknick with bear spray during the Jan. 6 riot, but they do not know yet whether it caused the officer's death.

Brian Sicknick's cause of death is not final, but investigators say suspects used bear spray against him

Acting U.S. Capitol Police Chief Yogananda Pittman pays respects to U.S. Capitol Police officer Brian Sicknick as an urn with his cremated remains lies in honor at the Capitol Rotunda on Tuesday, Feb. 2, 2021, in Washington, D.C. Police have charged two men with assaulting Sicknick, who died following the Jan. 6 riot on the Capitol building. (Erin Schaff/The New York Times via The Associated Press)

U.S. officials have arrested and charged two men with assaulting U.S. Capitol Police officer Brian Sicknick with bear spray during the Jan. 6 riot, but they do not know yet whether it caused the officer's death.

George Tanios, 39, of Morgantown, W.Va., and Julian Khater, 32, of Pa., were arrested Sunday on multiple charges, including assaulting a federal officer with a dangerous weapon, conspiracy and other offences.The idea that Sicknick died after being sprayed by a chemical irritant has emerged in recent weeks as a new theory in the case.

The arrests are the closest federal prosecutors have come to identifying and charging anyone associated with the deaths that happened during and after the riot.

Five people died, including a woman who was shot by a police officer inside the Capitol. But many rioters are facing charges of injuring police officers, who were attacked with bats, sprayed with irritants, punched and kicked, and rammed with metal gates meant to keep the insurrectionists from the Capitol.

Investigators initially believed that Sicknick was hit in the head with a fire extinguisher, based on statements collected early in the investigation, according to two people familiar with the case.

But as they've collected more evidence, the theory of the case has evolved and investigators now believe Sicknick may have ingested a chemical substance — possibly bear spray — that may have contributed to his death, officials have said.

Suspects in custody

Khater is the man in a video obtained by the FBI that showed him spraying Sicknick and others with bear spray, according to court papers.

Sicknick collapsed and died one day after the Jan. 6 riot. The final cause of death has not been established, but investigators say one theory is that he was sprayed with a chemical irritant. (U.S. Capitol Police/The Associated Press)

"Give me that bear (expletive)," Khater said to Tanios on the video, according to court papers. Sicknick and other officers were standing guard near metal bike racks, the papers said.

Khater then says, "they just (expletive) sprayed me," as he's seen holding a white can with a black top that prosecutors said "appears to be a can of chemical spray."

After he sprayed the officers, they "immediately retreat from the line, bring their hands to their faces and rush to find water to wash out their eyes," according to the court papers.

The men each made brief court appearances from jail via videoconference on Monday and will remain locked up pending future hearings. A detention hearing was scheduled for Thursday for Tanios.

An email seeking comment was sent to Tanios's lawyer. A person who answered the phone at the office of Khater's lawyer said they had no comment.

FBI received tips about suspects

The FBI had obtained video of the altercation and released photos of both of the men but did not indicate in wanted posters that they were being sought in connection with Sicknick's death. A former colleague identified Khater, and the FBI received a tip from Tanios's former business partner, who also alleged he embezzled hundreds of thousands of dollars from their business, court papers said.

Tanios operates a greasy spoon called Sandwich U in Morgantown, home of West Virginia University.

George Tanios at his sandwich shop in Morgantown, W.Va., in April 2017. U.S. officials have arrested and charged Tanios and a Pennsylvania man with assaulting U.S. Capitol Police officer Brian Sicknick with bear spray during the Jan. 6 riot in Washington. (Andrew Spellman, The Daily Athenaeum via The Associated Press)

On social media, he has referred to himself as the "Sandwich Nazi" and has tangled with customers and former employees in online comments. In 2019 on Instagram, he gleefully promoted a one-star Google review that said, "If donald trump was a restaurant manager, this is who he would be."

A photo at the Capitol cited in his charging document shows him wearing a sweatshirt with the logo of his restaurant. 

Final cause of death not yet determined

Sicknick died after defending the Capitol against the mob that stormed the building as Congress was voting to certify Joe Biden's electoral win over Donald Trump. It came after Trump urged supporters on the National Mall to "fight like hell" to overturn his defeat.

The circumstances surrounding Sicknick's death remain unclear, and a final cause of death has not been determined.

Capitol Police have said he died after he was injured "while physically engaging with protesters" and the agency's acting chief said officials consider it a line-of-duty death.

Sicknick later collapsed and died at a hospital on Jan. 7. The Justice Department opened a federal murder investigation into his death, but prosecutors are still evaluating what other specific charges could be brought in the case, and officials have said the probe is continuing.

The medical examiner's report on Sicknick's death is incomplete. Capitol Police say they are awaiting toxicology results.

The FBI has already released about 250 photos of people being sought for assaulting federal law enforcement officers during the riot.

Some have already been arrested, and the Justice Department said about 300 people have been charged with federal offences related to the riot.