Prosecutors told a federal judge Tuesday that U.S. Capitol Police Officer Brian Sicknick was assaulted with Mace — not the more dangerous bear spray as originally reported — debunking another false narrative that emerged after the officer’s death the day after the Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol.
The stunning admission by Gilead Light of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia came in open court during a hearing to determine whether two men accused of assaulting Sicknick and two other officers during the riot should remain in jail ahead of their criminal trial.
While Mr. Light said one of the suspects Julian Khater, 32, was holding an aerosol-based bear spray before the assault, he claimed Mace or pepper spray was used on the officers.
“It does appear that the bear spray Mr. Khater was holding before the assault was not used during the actual assault,” Mr. Light said. “What was used was a smaller can.”
Though made from the same ingredient, bear spray is many times more powerful than pepper spray, which is sold for self-defense. Bear spray is not meant for use on humans.
Prosecutors and the media ran with the bear spray account, asking whether it was a factor in Sicknick’s death.
In a court filing last month, prosecutors said officers described the spray “as strong as, if not stronger than, any version of pepper spray they had been exposed to during their training as law enforcement officers.”
Prosecutors also cited an open-source video of the Capitol riot they said shows Mr. Khater approaching another man, George Tanios, 39, saying, “give me that bear s—-” and “they just f—-ing sprayed me.” Mr. Khater is then shown holding a white can that appears to be a chemical spray, according to the video presented in court.
Mr. Tanios is also charged with assaulting officers during the riot. Both men face nine criminal counts, including assault on a federal officer with a dangerous weapon.
The District of Columbia Chief Medical Examiner said last week that Sicknick died of natural causes, concluding he suffered two strokes after the attack. In an interview with The Washington Post, Chief Medical Examiner Francisco Diaz confirmed there was no evidence that Sicknick’s death was linked to bear spray.
He said if Sicknick suffered an allergic reaction to the chemical substance, his throat would have seized up and there is no evidence of that.
Mr. Khater’s lawyer, Joseph Tacopina, began the hearing by attacking the bear spray narrative. He also said that Mr. Khater only sprayed a chemical after he was sprayed himself and was a safe distance away from the officer.
“It occurred eight feet away from officers after he panicked that he himself had been sprayed,” Mr. Tacopina said.
While Mr. Light acknowledged that Sicknick and the others were not attacked with bear spray, he said the two men arrived at the Capitol with cans of bear spray along with two cans of Mace or pepper spray.
That, he said, is evidence the pair planned to lay siege at the Capitol.
“There are no bears in downtown D.C.,” Mr. Light said. “Arming yourself with large supplies of these dangerous weapons — there is really only one explanation. The defendants are gearing up for this because they understand what is going to happen on Jan. 6 and they are prepared to use it.”
“This goes to planning,” he continued.
U.S. District Judge Thomas F. Hogan concluded the hearing without deciding on whether the pair should be released on bond before their trial.