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Detention ordered for suspect in chemical spraying of U.S. Capitol officers

Published Mar 22, 2021 01:20PM ET Updated Mar 22, 2021 03:35PM ET
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3/3 © Reuters. George Pierre Tanios poses for a booking photograph released by the West Virginia Regional Jail & Correctional Facility Authority 2/3

By Sarah N. Lynch

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A judge in West Virginia ordered U.S. Capitol riots suspect George Pierre Tanios detained on charges he conspired with a friend to assault three police officers with chemical spray, including one officer who later died.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Michael John Aloi lamented a "culture, radicalized by hate" that played out at the Capitol on Jan. 6 during a peaceful transition of power.

"We all witnessed it as Americans: Forcing yourself against law enforcement officials that had nothing but bike racks," Aloi said. "Why wouldn't you just turn the other way and go home? The fact that all of them weren't thinking that - it's just frightening to me."

Hundreds have been charged with taking part in an attack that led to five deaths after a mob of then-President Donald Trump's supporters stormed the building in a failed bid to stop Congress from certifying President Joe Biden's election victory.

In an emotional court hearing that featured testimony from Tanios' family, prosecutors presented evidence that Tanios had purchased the bear and pepper sprays which he later brought with him to the Capitol. One of the sprays was used by his friend to spray police, prosecutors said.

Prosecutors also said they had reason to believe that Tanios' mother would try to help her son flee the country to her native Lebanon if he is released from custody. The mother denied the claim in court.

Tanios of Morgantown, West Virginia, and a friend, Julian Elie Khater, of State College, Pennsylvania, are facing multiple criminal counts, including assaulting police with a deadly weapon and obstructing an official proceeding.

Khater and Tanios are not charged with killing the officer, Brian Sicknick. His cause of death remains unclear.

Prosecutor Sarah Wagner told the judge that Tanios' co-defendant admitted to the FBI in an interview that he had traveled with his friend to attend Trump's "Stop the Steal" rally on Jan. 6 and shared a hotel room.

Both Khater and the manager of a store in West Virginia that sells guns and other weapons confirmed that Tanios had purchased cans of both bear spray and pepper spray to bring to Washington after he was told he could not bring firearms or a pepper ball gun into the city, Wagner told the court.

Although she said the evidence suggests Khater, 32, and not Tanios, did the actual spraying, he assisted with the "purchasing" and the "planning" of the sprays.

She also showed body camera and open source videos, including one featuring Sicknick shortly after he had been sprayed with a chemical irritant.

In the video, which Wagner also described for the court, he "appears to be attempting to walk off the effects of the pepper spray, rinsing his eyes with more water and pausing at times, while crouched over with his hands on his knees."

Tanios' mother, Maguy Tanios, told the court in tears that she had escaped war-torn Lebanon to start a new life after several of her family members were killed.

She said her son, who is 39, goes to church and is a family man who has three small children. "My son is not a bad kid," she said, and explained his role at the U.S. Capitol as him being "in the wrong place at the wrong time."

Tanios' attorney Elizabeth Gross said the evidence presented against him in favor of detention was "minimal" and "limited."

The Justice Department has charged more than 400 people in the Capitol attack, a prosecutor told "60 Minutes" in an interview that aired on Sunday. Hundreds are accused of trespassing and more than 100 accused of assaulting officers.

About two dozen members of far-right militias are facing conspiracy charges that carry particularly severe sentences.

Prosecutors are preparing to start plea discussions as early as this week, the Washington Post reported on Monday.

Detention ordered for suspect in chemical spraying of U.S. Capitol officers

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