Secrecy Surrounds Solitary Confinement of 2 Men Arrested in Jan. 6 Capitol Breach

April 28, 2021 Updated: April 29, 2021

Julian Khater of Pennsylvania and George Tanios of West Virginia are being held without bail by the federal government in a District of Columbia Department of Corrections (DOC) restrictive housing facility.

“Restrictive housing” is another way of saying “solitary confinement.” Khater and Tanios are restricted to their cells for all but one hour of each day, which is their only opportunity for physical exercise, talking with other inmates, or conferring with their attorneys.

According to Politico, the plight of the men is shared by “dozens” of Jan. 6 detainees who also are being held in restrictive housing.

Spokesmen for both the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) and DOC didn’t respond to multiple requests from The Epoch Times to interview Khater and Tanios, or to answer questions about their cases.

Attorneys for Khater and Tanios declined to comment on the case. Their clients are charged with multiple felonies in connection with their participation in the Jan. 6 protests and breach of the U.S. Capitol.

Among the charges are “assault on a federal officer with a dangerous weapon, civil disorder, conspiracy to injure an officer, obstructing or impeding an official proceeding, physical violence while on restricted grounds and resulting in significant bodily injury, violent entry and disorderly conduct, an act of physical violence on Capitol grounds, and aiding and abetting.”

In its announcement of the arrests of the two men, the DOJ said the charges were based on evidence in which they “were observed in video footage working together to assault law enforcement officers with an unknown chemical substance by spraying officers directly in the face and eyes.”

“During the investigation, it is alleged that law enforcement discovered video that depicted Khater asking Tanios to ‘give me that bear [expletive].’ Tanios replied, ‘Hold on, hold on, not yet, not yet … it’s still early.’ Khater then retrieved a canister from Tanios’s backpack and walked through the crowd to within a few steps of the police perimeter,” the announcement reads.

“The video shows Khater with his right arm up high in the air, appearing to be holding a canister in his right hand and aiming it at the officers’ direction while moving his right arm from side to side.

“The complaint affidavit states that Officers [U.S. Capitol Police Officer Brian] Sicknick, [C.] Edwards, and [Metropolitan Police Department Officer D.] Chapman, who were all standing within a few feet of Khater, each reacted to being sprayed in the face. The officers retreated, bringing their hands to their faces and rushing to find water to wash out their eyes.”

Sicknick died Jan. 7 and was initially reported by The New York Times to have died after being hit with a fire extinguisher thrown by a protester. Later, media reports said Sicknick died due to being hit in the face with bear spray.

The District of Columbia Medical Examiner ruled April 19 that Sicknick died of natural causes, thus eliminating the possibility that Khater and Tanios could, as widely reported, be charged in connection with the officer’s death due to the bear spray.

The Washington Post reported, referring to Khater and Tanios, that the ruling “will make it difficult for prosecutors to pursue homicide charges in the officer’s death. Two men are accused of assaulting Sicknick by spraying a powerful chemical irritant at him during the siege, but prosecutors have not tied that exposure to Sicknick’s death.”

The two men are among the more than 400 arrested to date by federal authorities in connection with Jan. 6. Most of those arrested were released, pending their trials. But Khater and Tanios are still in custody.

Their plight has drawn public expressions of concern from two of the most liberal members of the U.S. Senate, Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), who was a 2020 Democratic presidential nomination contender.

Warren told Politico that “solitary confinement is a form of punishment that is cruel and psychologically damaging. And we’re talking about people who haven’t been convicted of anything yet.”

A Warren spokesman told The Epoch Times the senator had no additional comment on the issue or the status of Khater and Tanios in confinement.

Durbin, who is also chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, recently told Politico that restrictive housing, or solitary confinement, should only be used in “limited circumstances.”

He also is a co-sponsor of the Solitary Confinement Reform Act. During an April 15 Judiciary Committee hearing, Durbin asked Bureau of Prisons (BOP) Director Michael Carvajal if he agreed with a DOJ analysis that solitary confinement “can cause serious long-lasting harm.”

Carvajal responded by calling solitary “our jail within the jail,” and “it should be a last resort, but there are people because of circumstances, or behavior, violence, things like that, there’s going to be a need for it.”

Attorneys for Khater and Tanios recently filed pleas with the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia for their release, but no decision has been rendered. Tanios’s attorneys were unable to complete their presentation.

Both pleas denied the government’s charges, claimed the two men are no threat of physical violence or failure to appear for their trials, and pointed to claimed weaknesses in the government’s case.

“He never entered the Capitol Building, never sought to threaten members of Congress, and never intended to forcibly interfere with the peaceful transfer of power,” the Khater plea said.

The Khater plea also noted that “many defendants charged with violent and/or aggressive behavior on Jan. 6 have been released, pending trial.”

The Tanios plea argued that “he is an ordinary businessman with a family, no felony convictions and no history of violence, much less a history of violence against law enforcement officers. Most importantly, the record doesn’t reflect that Mr. Tanios has the capability of dangerousness in the future.”

The Khater plea also pointed to problems with the government’s case, including that Khater “appearing” to hold the bear spray canister is “less than definitive” evidence that he wielded the spray as a weapon.

In addition, the plea noted that “proof that he took aim at officers is, at best, equivocal, given the Government’s claim that he stood as much as ‘eight feet away from the officers’ and did not spray directly at them but only ‘in the officers’ direction.’”

The plea further argued that the fact that, according to the government, Khater was “moving his right arm from side to side,” undercutting the claim that he aimed at Sicknick or other officers.

Congressional correspondent Mark Tapscott may be reached at mark.tapscott@epochtimes.nyc