Washington – The New Jersey man who admitted to spraying US Capitol Police officer Brian Sicknick with pepper spray during the Jan. 6, 2021, Capitol attack was sentenced to 80 months in prison on Friday in a Washington, DC courtroom packed with Sicknick’s colleagues and fellow officers.
“I don’t know what got into you,” said federal Judge Thomas Hogan, as he imposed the yearslong prison sentence on Julian Khater, “somehow you got determined to push your way through the crowd.”
Hogan also fined Khater $10,000.
Sicknick died of natural causes a day after defending the Capitol during the Jan. 6 assault, the DC medical examiner’s office announced last year. He suffered strokes, with a medical examiner’s report summary citing “acute brainstem and cerebellar infarcts due to acute basilar artery thrombosis.”
Friday’s sentencing hearing drew busloads of other US Capitol Police officers who wanted to honor their fallen colleague.
According to court documents and Julian Khater’s plea agreement, he and codefendant George Tanios — who pleaded guilty to lesser charges — traveled to Washington, DC from West Virginia to attend former President Donald Trump’s rally at the White House Ellipse.
The pair moved from the rally grounds toward the Capitol, although investigators say they uncovered no evidence that the men planned on rioting that day.
“Surveillance video shows Khater reaching inside Tanios’ backpack and retrieving one of the canisters of chemical spray they had brought to Washington,” the government pre-sentencing memo alleged, describing Khater as angry, emotional, and out of control.
After making his way to the front of the mob on the Capitol’s lower west side, prosecutors say Khater aimed the pepper spray at a line of officers.
“Khater’s attack, in conjunction with attacks from hundreds of other rioters, resulted in the collapse of the police line,” the government wrote, “Khater’s first victim was United States Capitol Police Officer Brian Sicknick.”
Bodycam and surveillance video reviewed by CBS News and pictures included in court documents show Sicknick reacting to an irritant, recoiling, and clearing the area to wipe his eyes and clean his face. Other officers were also hit with Khater’s pepper spray and attempted to shield themselves from its effects, the videos show.
Neither Khater nor Tanios have been charged in Sicknick’s death.
Urging the judge to sentence Khater to 90 months in prison, prosecutors wrote, “While Julian Khater’s spray assault on Officer Sicknick ultimately was not determined to be the direct cause of his death, Office 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.”
He “committed a cowardly and premeditated assault on at least three uniformed law enforcement officers,” the government said during Friday’s proceedings, showing the court video of Khater’s various actions during the attack.
And although Khater did not himself enter the Capitol that day, the government told Hogan that he was a vital part of the mob that broke down the barriers and “allowed” the breach of the Capitol.
Khater — who has been incarcerated since his arrest in March 2021 — asked for leniency, his attorneys writing before sentencing that he “feels genuine remorse for his conduct.”
Describing their client as a gentle and kind individual who was swept up in the mob mentality of the day, Khater’s defense team argued he and Tanios traveled to the nation’s capital for the sole purpose of attending the Trump rally. Tanios, they said, only brought the pepper spray used in the attack to defend them against potential violence that day, not attack.
Khater’s regrettable actions, they wrote, “were indeed isolated and not part of some coordinated effort.”
His defense team asked Hogan for a sentence of time served, citing in legal briefs what they described as suboptimal and dehumanizing conditions in custody which include poor food and sleep deprivation.
In court on Friday, Khater’s defense attorney said, “the conduct in this case does not define him,” and cited his client’s history of crippling anxiety and depression.
“Despite some of the hyperbole and rhetoric,” the defense argued Friday, “Mr. Khater did not directly or indirectly” lead to Sicknick’s death.
Khater himself also briefly spoke on Friday, describing the last two years as humbling, yet “agonizing.”
“I can assure you,” he said to the judge, “what transpired that day was not in my nature … will never happen again.”
Hogan noted he did not hear any sorrow or regret from Khater about what he did to the officers that day. Khater responded that he avoided doing so because of an ongoing civil case on the matter.
For his part, Tanios already pleaded guilty to lesser courts on illegal entry and disorderly conduct and was sentenced to time served with one year of supervised release. He admitted to encouraging rioters, videotaping assaults on law enforcement and buying the cans of spray chemicals used that day.
Ahead of sentencing, Sicknick’s mother and siblings submitted letters to the court, describing feelings of anger toward Khater. They also spoke emotionally in court on Friday about their loss.
“You attacked my son like he was an animal; you are the animal, Mr. Khater,” Sicknick’s mother, Gladys, wrote, “You should have known better… in this great country, we go to the voting booth to make a difference. We don’t start an armed rebellion, no matter the President encouraged you to ‘fight like Hell’.”
Dressed in her deceased son’s shirt, Gladys Sicknick addressed Khater during Friday’s proceedings. “You attacked my son like he was an animal. You are the animal, Mr. Khater,” she said, emotionally. “How does it feel to be headed to jail because of a bald-faced lie?”
Sicknick’s longtime partner, Santa Garza, said Khater and Tanios were “brainwashed” by Trump.
Judge Hogan was careful to point out that he was not sentencing Khater for Sicknick’s death, emphasizing that such a charge was not in front of him on Friday. Still, the judge said he found no excuse for the actions that day.