Federal judge orders Morgantown man accused in U.S. Capitol insurrection to remain in jail

Crime

CLARKSBURG, W.Va. – After a more-than-three-hour hearing that included several recesses, a federal magistrate judge has ordered a Morgantown man, accused of being part of an attack on several law enforcement officers at the U.S. Capitol, to remain in jail until his trial.

While issuing his ruling, U.S. Magistrate Judge Michael Aloi said, in part, that George Tanios “could’ve stayed at home, stayed at work or visited his mother.” Aloi said he “doesn’t know what draws someone to that (the Capitol riot). This isn’t a weekend visit to see the blossoms in D.C.”

“Why do you have this spray in your backpack in the first place? It didn’t get there by accident. I can think of no good reason of what it would be used for. Why would you not just turn the other way and go home?” Aloi continued, saying Tanios had “choices all along the way.”

“Mr. Tanios, you chose to be part of that. I cannot accept anyone who doesn’t respond to law enforcement in a peaceful way,” Aloi concluded.

At Monday’s hearing, U.S. Attorneys argued that Tanios is a danger to the community and a flight risk and that more officers would’ve been injured had a police officer not pepper-sprayed co-defendant Julian Khater after Khater sprayed three officers.

During the hearing, U.S. Attorneys chose to rely on the complaint filed by an FBI agent, as opposed to having the agent testify.

U.S. Attorneys showed video and photos of Tanios and Khater at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6. Some of the photos and screen grabs from videos can be seen here, and were included in the complaint filed against the pair. U.S. Attorneys showed body camera video of a female officer after she was sprayed. The officer was still suffering from scabbing around her eyes three weeks after the incident, U.S. Attorneys said. They also showed video of U.S. Capitol Police officer Brian Sicknick dealing with the aftereffects of being sprayed. Sicknick collapsed later that day and died the following day.

Screen grab from complaint filed against George Tanios and Julian Khater

When searching Tanios’ home on Sunday, March 14, FBI agents found two cans of bear spray, which matched the can seen in photos from the Capitol, U.S. Attorneys said. Agents also found a 9mm handgun, they said.

U.S. Attorneys read information from an employee at ATR Performance, a firearms store in Marion County, who said that Tanios visited the store on Jan. 5 and told the employee that he and a friend planned to go to Washington, D.C. for a Trump rally. Tanios asked if he could take a firearm to the rally. When told no, Tanios then asked about a pepperball pistol that the store sold. The employee again told him he could not take it to Washington, D.C., because it fired projectiles. Tanios then asked about mace and bought two cans of Frontiersman bear spray and two pepper spray tubes on key chains.

U.S. Attorneys said that an FBI tipster reported that Tanios’ mother told someone that if he is released, they will try to get him to Lebanon, where he has family.

Tanios’ defense attorneys then called the mother, Maggie Tanios, to testify. Mrs. Tanios testified via Zoom, in broken English, crying at times. She described leaving Lebanon after losing family members in a civil war and went on to say that she raised George and his siblings in church and sent him to a private, Catholic school, while the family ran a Lebanese restaurant in New Brunswick, NJ.

When asked about the FBI tip, Mrs. Tanios said, “Who tell you that? This is my country (United States). We are Americans! No, of course not.”

Referencing the Jan. 6 incident, Tanios was at the “wrong place at the wrong time,” his mother testified.

Tanios’ attorneys objected to not being able to cross-examine the FBI agent during Monday’s hearing, since the government did not call him as a witness. The objection was overruled by U.S. Magistrate Judge Michael Aloi. Defense attorneys later called the FBI agent as their own witness, which Judge Aloi allowed. U.S. Attorneys objected several times to this. The agent testified that Khater told him Tanios had a backpack for both of them containing pepper spray and water.

Maria Boutros, George Tanios’ younger sister, also testified via Zoom. She described him as a “jokester” and said she has never seen him be violent.

George Tanios

Amanda Plumley, Tanios’ fiance and partner of 10 years, testified in person. She described their relationship, including the three young children they share. She also testified that she has had all firearms removed from their home and said she will turn over his passport to federal authorities, which she ended up doing before the hearing ended.

Shadow Lowers, a friend and former employee of a Morgantown bar that Tanios used to own, 4th and Goal, was then called to testify. Lowers testified that she witnessed Tanios deal with many bar fights without being violent himself. Lowers also described him as a great father and as being great to his fiance.

The owner of a Morgantown pizza restaurant also testified as a character witness on behalf of Tanios.

Defense attorneys opposed Tanios’ detention based on concerns that it may be a year until his trial. Tanios’ attorneys said that they fully intend to appeal the decision to the U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C.

By Monday afternoon, Judge Aloi had issued an order that Tanios be turned over to the U.S. Marshal for the District of Colombia.

Because Tanios was indicted by a federal grand jury after his initial hearing, following his arrest, Aloi held a second “initial appearance” hearing on the new indictment at the beginning on Monday’s proceedings.

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