WASHINGTON (AP) — A New Jersey man who joined a mob's attack on the U.S. Capitol was sentenced Friday to more than six years in prison for using pepper spray to assault police officers, one of whom died a day after the siege.
Julian Khater didn't mention the death of Capitol Police Officer Brian Sicknick or address the officer's family in a written statement he read aloud before U.S. District Judge Thomas Hogan sentenced him to six years and eight months of imprisonment.
Khater wasn't charged in the officer's death. A medical examiner concluded that Sicknick, 42, suffered two strokes and died of natural causes a day after he and other officers tried to hold off the mob that stormed the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021.
Hogan said Sicknick's death was the “elephant in the room” but stressed that the coroner's report didn't give him any basis to use that as a sentencing factor. However, the judge noted that Khater did not apologize to the officers whom he attacked or express any sorrow for hurting them.
“Somewhere along the line, we've lost the sense of acceptance of responsibility,” Hogan said.
Khater replied that he changed his prepared statement to the court on his lawyer's advice after he was recently named as a defendant in a civil lawsuit over his actions on Jan. 6.
“I wanted to apologize to everybody,” he said.
The judge gave Khater credit for the nearly two years he has served in pretrial detention. Hogan also ordered him to pay a $10,000 fine.
Khater's friend and co-defendant, George Tanios, pleaded guilty to misdemeanor charges of disorderly and disruptive conduct and spent nearly six months in jail before an appeals court ordered his release. Hogan sentenced Tanios, 41, of Morgantown, West Virginia, on Friday to the jail time he already served.
Dozens of police officers filled the courtroom gallery, with many others watching the proceedings on a television in an overflow courtroom. Capitol Police Chief Tom Manger said in a statement that they will “never forget Officer Sicknick's bravery, nor his dedication to our country."
“Officer Brian Sicknick died an American hero and he will forever be remembered as one,” Manger said.
Although Tanios and Khater weren’t charged in Sicknick’s death, the officer's relatives believe they bear responsibility. Sicknick's mother, two brothers, a sister-in-law and his longtime girlfriend addressed the judge in court before he imposed the sentences.
"Your selfish actions have caused more pain than you could ever imagine," said an older brother, Craig Sicknick. “My family is a wreck, and none of us have been even remotely unscathed as the result of your actions that day.”
Gladys Sicknick, the officer's mother, told Khater he is “center stage in our recurring nightmare.”
“You attacked my son like he was an animal. You are the animal, Mr. Khater,” she said.
Federal prosecutors had recommended a prison sentence of seven years and six months for Khater, 34, of Somerset, New Jersey.
The medical examiner’s office in Washington determined in April 2021 that Sicknick died from natural causes after suffering two strokes near the base of his brain stem. The medical examiner also noted that Sicknick had engaged with rioters on Jan. 6 and that “all that transpired played a role in his condition," according to prosecutors.
Defense attorney Chad Seigel said the medical examiner's autopsy confirmed that Khater didn't directly or indirectly cause the officer's death.
“If there was any evidence to the contrary, they would have charged him," Seigel said.
Prosecutors said Sicknick’s “tragic demise, so close in time to the traumatic events of that day, underscores the seriousness of the offense committed by Khater and his fellow rioters."
“Officer Sicknick’s death should serve as a solemn reminder to Khater, and to all of the rioters who committed acts of violence against police officers on that day, that their actions contributed to immense trauma, stress and suffering for all police officers who were physically attacked at the Capitol,” they wrote in a court filing.
Khater drove from New Jersey to pick up Tanios in West Virginia before driving to the Washington area on Jan. 5. They took a rideshare into the nation's capital on the following morning to attend the “Stop the Steal” rally and hear then-President Donald Trump address supporters.
Joining the crowd that marched from the rally to the Capitol, Khater and Tanios approached the Lower West Terrace. Khater became enraged when he was exposed to police chemical spray, "as if he was some innocent victim," a prosecutor, Gilead Light, told the judge.
Surveillance video shows Khater reaching inside Tanios’ backpack and retrieving a cannister of pepper spray that Tanios had purchased a day earlier. Video captured Tanios saying, “Hold on, hold on, not yet, not yet … it’s still early,” as Khater reached into his backpack.
Several minutes later, Khater approached officers guarding a barricade and sprayed at least three of them, including Sicknick.
“He jumped into action right as the officers were at their most defenseless,” Light said.
Light said the attack was premeditated, but Khater's lawyers said he didn't plan the assault. Khater told the FBI that he and Tanios had brought bear spray and pepper spray to the rally to protect themselves.
Khater stopped spraying police after an officer sprayed him. Police officers retreated from the Lower West Terrace after Khater’s attack.
More than three hours after police cleared the Capitol of rioters, Sicknick began slurring his speech while talking to fellow officers and collapsed. He remained on life support at a hospital for nearly 24 hours before he died.
Khater pleaded guilty in September to two counts of assaulting or impeding officers with a dangerous weapon. Tanios pleaded guilty in July to two misdemeanors. Neither of them was accused of entering the Capitol on Jan. 6.
Prosecutors had recommended sentencing Tanios to the five months and six days that he already has served in jail.
Tanios operated a sandwich restaurant near West Virginia University’s campus. It closed during his jail stint.
Khater has been jailed since his March 2021 arrest in Newark, New Jersey. He operated a health food restaurant that closed during the COVID-19 pandemic.
More than 100 police officers were injured at the Capitol on Jan. 6. More than 950 people have been charged with federal crimes related to the Jan. 6 riot.
Approximately 500 riot defendants have pleaded guilty, mostly to misdemeanor offenses. Over 380 have been sentenced, with more than half getting terms of imprisonment ranging from seven days to 10 years.
Follow AP’s coverage of the Capitol riot at: https://apnews.com/hub/capitol-siege
Michael Kunzelman, The Associated Press