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Jan. 6 rioter who assaulted Capitol Officer Sicknick sentenced to 6 years in prison

Brianne Chapman protests outside the federal courthouse in Washington, D.C., Friday, during the sentencing hearing for Julian Khater and George Tanios. Khater pleaded guilty to assaulting Capitol Police Officer Brian Sicknick with pepper spray on Jan 6, 2021.
Jose Luis Magana
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AP
Brianne Chapman protests outside the federal courthouse in Washington, D.C., Friday, during the sentencing hearing for Julian Khater and George Tanios. Khater pleaded guilty to assaulting Capitol Police Officer Brian Sicknick with pepper spray on Jan 6, 2021.

Updated January 27, 2023 at 6:06 PM ET

A rioter who assaulted law enforcement officers with pepper spray outside the Capitol Building during the Jan. 6 riot was sentenced to 80 months in prison Friday with credit for time served.

Julian Khater of Somerset, N.J., pleaded guilty last September to two felony counts of assaulting, resisting or impeding officers with a dangerous weapon during the Jan. 6 insurrection at the Capitol. He's been incarcerated since March 14, 2021.

One of the officers Khater was charged with assaulting, Capitol Police Officer Brian Sicknick, died the day after the attack. Washington, D.C., Chief Medical Examiner Francisco Diaz found that Sicknick died from natural causes after suffering multiple strokes; Diaz told the Washington Post, "all that transpired played a role in his condition."

In court Friday, Sicknick's mother, Gladys Sicknick, told Khater, "You attacked my son like he was an animal. You are the animal, Mr. Khater. ... How does it feel to be headed to jail for a bald-faced lie?"

Khater's role in the insurrection

Khater traveled to the Capitol on Jan. 6, with his now co-defendant, George Pierre Tanios of Morgantown, W.V. Tanios had purchased two cannisters of pepper spray and two cannisters of bear spray sometime before the two men arrived in D.C., the Justice Department says.

They attended former President Donald Trump's rally at the Ellipse and then marched to the Capitol building, where they joined the mob.

As the mob pushed to enter the building, law enforcement officers attempted to keep protesters back by utilizing a bike rack as a barrier. At 2:23 p.m., rioters tried to pull the rack away from officers, which is when Khater pepper-sprayed Sicknick in the face, forcing the officer to retreat, the DOJ statement said.

Khater then sprayed two other officers, who were also forced to retreat.

"All three officers suffered bodily injury from the pepper spray attack and were incapacitated and unable to perform their duties," the DOJ statement said.

Officer Caroline Edwards, who was sprayed at the same time as Sicknick, said he turned "ghostly pale." She went on to explain that she couldn't help him because she was temporarily blinded from the chemical spray, and as a result continues to struggle with survivor's guilt.

"Brian gave some of the very last breaths he had defending the Capitol building ... and our democracy," Edwards said Friday.

Khater and Tanios were arrested in March 2021 and both pleaded guilty to the charges brought against them. Tanios was sentenced Friday to time served.

Khater wasn't charged with murder

Khater's lawyers noted that Sicknick died of natural causes on Jan. 7, 2021, and argued that the defendant wasn't responsible either directly or indirectly for the officer's death.

Judge Thomas Hogan labeled that issue "the elephant in the room" and said he would not sentence Khater or Tanios for a crime they had not been charged with.

Having said that, Hogan also said that assaulting the officers with chemical spray was "inexcusable."

Khater and Tanios are also facing civil lawsuits

President Biden presented Serena Liebengood the Presidential Citizens Medal on behalf of her partner, U.S. Capitol Police officer Howard C. Liebengood, who died by suicide days after the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol.
Patrick Semansky / AP
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AP
President Biden presented Serena Liebengood the Presidential Citizens Medal on behalf of her partner, U.S. Capitol Police officer Howard C. Liebengood, who died by suicide days after the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol.

Hogan said he didn't hear Khater apologize to the officers, including dozens who were injured and some who can never return to duty.

"I find that is a very self-centered approach," Hogan told Khater Friday.

In response, Khater told the judge that he had worked on "many drafts" of his statement, but that he didn't apologize because of ongoing civil cases. Hogan told Khater that he should be concerned about civil liability.

Sicknick's longtime partner Sandra Garza sued the two rioters as well as Trump for Sicknick's wrongful death. She is seeking $10 million in damages from each defendant.

Garza said at the sentencing that she has seen "zero remorse" from either Khater or Tanios.

"To say the least, this has been a long, agonizing but humbling experience that has taken a huge toll on me," Khater said, adding that he suffers from "crippling anxiety."

On the two-year anniversary of the insurrection earlier this month, President Biden awarded 14 people the Presidential Citizens Medal for defending the Capitol, including posthumous awards for Sicknick and fellow Capitol Police Officer Howard Liebengood. Liebengood died by suicide, according to a family attorney, just a few days after defending the Capitol Building.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Dustin Jones is a reporter for NPR's digital news desk. He mainly covers breaking news, but enjoys working on long-form narrative pieces.
Carrie Johnson is a justice correspondent for the Washington Desk.