Capitol Rioter Accused of Attacking Cops Claims Self-Defense

One of the men accused of assaulting police officer Brian Sicknick with a chemical spray during the U.S. Capitol riot argued that he was acting defensively.

Julian Eli Khater, 32, was arrested last month on charges that he attacked Sicknick and two other Capitol Police officers during the Jan. 6 siege. The authorities claim Khater, a Pennsylvania resident, sprayed the officers, causing them retreat from the line and rush to wash out their eyes. Sicknick later collapsed at police headquarters and subsequently died at the hospital.

At a bail hearing on Tuesday morning in federal court in Washington, a lawyer for Khater, Joseph Tacopina, argued that his client was simply reacting to chemical sprays that police officers at the Capitol had deployed to stop the rioters.

“He did it instinctively, immediately after he’d been sprayed with some substance himself,” said Tacopina.

Prosecutors have not charged Khater and his co-defendant, George Pierre Tanios of West Virginia, with causing Sicknick’s death. Last week, the chief medical examiner in Washington concluded that Sicknick died of natural causes after suffering two strokes -- a finding that will make it difficult for the government to pursue homicide charges in the case.

‘Defensive Mechanism’

At Tuesday’s hearing, federal prosecutor Gilead Light walked the judge through a series of video clips that showed Khater spraying the police officers at the Capitol. “Mr. Khater, to be clear, walked straight up to three police officers and sprayed them directly in the face,” Light said.

Tacopina stressed that the chemical Khater used was pepper spray, rather than a more potent bear spray, as the government had alleged in its complaint. Pepper spray is “used for defensive purposes,” the lawyer said, characterizing Khater’s response as a “defensive mechanism.”

U.S. District Judge Thomas Hogan did not issue a ruling and offered little insight into his views on the case. He ended the hearing after two hours and scheduled further arguments for May 6.

More than 400 people have been arrested as part of the government’s sweeping investigation into the violence at the Capitol. Bail hearings in those cases have resulted in a range of outcomes, with some defendants jailed until trial, while others have walked free. While those decisions depend on the specific facts of each case, some defense lawyers have argued that the outcomes are arbitrary.

At the hearing, Hogan appeared to acknowledge that problem, noting that magistrates in other jurisdictions have sometimes issued decisions that diverge from the general pattern in Washington. “Magistrate judges in other districts have looked at this differently than our judges,” he said.

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