WASHINGTON — A federal appellate court ordered a West Virginia man accused of taking part in a pepper spray assault on police released Thursday, finding that a lower court had erred when it denied him bond.
George Pierre Tanios, 39, of Morgantown, West Virginia, was indicted in March along with co-defendant Julian Khater on multiple charges, including assault on a federal officer with a dangerous weapon. In charging documents, the Justice Department said the pair purchased bear spray and pepper spray before traveling to D.C. on January 6. While federal prosecutors initially claimed body camera video showed Tanios and Khater had assaulted officers at the U.S. Capitol with bear spray – including Officer Brian Sicknick, who died a day later after suffering multiple strokes – they eventually walked that back and said it appeared it had been less-noxious pepper spray.
Defense attorneys argued for weeks that the men only used pepper spray in self-defense after being sprayed themselves, and Tanios’ lawyer specifically, Richard Walker, said his client didn’t use the spray at all.
In March, U.S. District Judge Thomas F. Hogan had rejected those arguments, saying the two men obviously “had some intention to use the product.”
“The only targets they were worried about using the spray to attack were the police,” Hogan said. “They weren’t going to attack the other rioters.”
Hogan ordered the two men held without bond pending trial, and both subsequently filed appeals.
On Thursday, the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for D.C. filed a unanimous opinion reversing Hogan’s decision and ordering Tanios released on appropriate conditions. In the decision, the court found Hogan had “erred” in his assessment of Tanio’s dangerousness.
“The record reflects that Tanios has no past felony convictions, no ties to any extremist organizations, and no post-January 6 criminal behavior that would otherwise show him to pose a danger to the community,” the court wrote.
In July, the same court issued the opposite ruling for Khater, finding that it was proper to detain him before trial.
According to the Justice Department, Khater, a 32-year-old Pennsylvania resident, is the one who actually pulled the pepper spray out of a backpack and used it to assault police on January 6. In April, he proposed an unusual $15 million bond for his release to be secured by collateral from 16 family members – although Hogan rejected it.
In its July order keeping Khater in custody, the appeals court referenced Tanios’ alleged actions – specifically, audio of him telling Khater not to get the bear spray out of his backpack yet, saying it was “still early” – saying they corroborated evidence of “planning and coordination” to attack police. But the court decided those alleged actions weren’t enough to keep Tanios himself in jail.
As of Tuesday morning, Hogan had not ruled on new conditions of release, although Tanios was expected to get out of jail the same day. His next scheduled court hearing was set for September 8 at 10 a.m.
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