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Two charged for pepper-spraying police officer who died after assault on U.S. Capitol

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Justice Department on Monday charged two men with pepper-spraying three Capitol Police officers, one of whom later died, during the Jan. 6 assault on Congress by Donald Trump supporters trying to overturn his election defeat.

Julian Elie Khater and George Pierre Tanios are facing multiple counts, including assaulting police with a deadly weapon, after investigators said they sprayed at least three officers with an unidentified, but powerful, chemical agent.

One of those officers, Brian Sicknick, was later rushed to a hospital and died the next day.

Khater and Tanios are not charged with killing Sicknick, whose cause of death remains unclear. A law enforcement source familiar with the matter said it is still too early in the probe to know if Tanios or Khater directly bear any responsibility for Sicknick’s death.

According to the complaint, the FBI said the two men “appeared to time the deployment of chemical substances to coincide with other rioters’ efforts to forcibly remove the bike rack barriers that were preventing the rioters from moving closer to the Capitol building.”

Khater, 32, of State College, Pennsylvania, was arrested as he disembarked from an airplane at Newark Airport in New Jersey. Tanios, 39, of Morgantown, West Virginia, was arrested at his residence in West Virginia. The two men grew up together in New Jersey, according to the criminal complaint.

The FBI located Khater after a tipster who worked with him at a food establishment shared his Linkedin page.

Tanios, meanwhile, operates Sandwich U - a shop in Morgantown, West Virginia that makes “fat” sandwiches, a type of sandwich containing greasy foods such as fries or mozzarella sticks that first gained popularity among Rutgers University students in his hometown of New Brunswick, New Jersey.

According to multiple reviews of his business posted on Google, he was a staunch Trump supporter who also opposed wearing masks to protect against COVID-19.

A picture of of Capitol Police officer Brian Sicknick, who died on Jan. 7 from injuries he sustained while protecting the U.S. Capitol during the Jan. 6 attack on the building, is seen as people wait for his remains to arrive to lay in honor in the Rotunda of the U.S. Capitol building in Washington, DC, U.S. February 2, 2021. Brendan Smialowski/Pool via REUTERS

He filed for bankruptcy in 2020, court records show, and owed more than $178,000 in taxes to the IRS and more than $225,000 in taxes to West Virginia.

The FBI said it identified Tanios through witnesses who recognized his photo, including a former business partner who also said Tanios was embroiled in a legal dispute amid allegations he had embezzled $435,000 in a prior business venture. Details about the litigation, which is still pending, were not immediately available.

In video footage from Jan. 6, investigators say Khater walked toward Tanios and said: “Give me that bear shit” and reached into a backpack Tanios was carrying. Tanios then replied: “Hold on, hold on, not yet, not yet...It’s still early.”

The complaint said the officers were temporarily blinded and disabled by the substance and “needed medical attention and assistance from fellow officers.”

A federal magistrate judge in West Virginia ordered that Tanios should be held in custody, pending an upcoming detention hearing that could occur as soon as Thursday.

A magistrate judge in New Jersey also ordered Khater to be temporarily detained pending a detention hearing, though the timing of the hearing was not clear.

Tanios and Khater are not expected to enter pleas until they are arraigned at a future date.

More than 300 people have already been charged in connection with riots at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 by a mob of former President Donald Trump’s supporters who were hoping to stop Congress from certifying President Joe Biden’s election victory.

Five people, including Sicknick, died in connection with the deadly attack, and lawmakers hid in fear for their lives.

In court filings last week, the Justice Department revealed it intends to file charges against more than 100 additional defendants, in what it described as the most complex investigation it has ever handled.

Reporting by Brad Heath and Sarah N. Lynch; Additional reporting by Mark Hosenball; Editing by Jonathan Oatis and Andrea Ricci

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