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Woman who made kidnapping claim found not guilty of falsely reporting an emergency

HUNTINGTON — A Milton woman who accused an Egyptian man of trying to kidnap her daughter from the Huntington Mall in 2019 was found not guilty of a crime by a Cabell County jury Monday.

Santana Renee Adams, 26, was on trial before Cabell County Magistrate Danne Vance on a charge of misdemeanor falsely reporting an emergency, which calls for a punishment of up to six months in jail and up to a $500 fine.

Assistant prosecutors Tyler Shoub and Ken Bannon said Monday that Adams wrongfully tied up emergency services for a situation she imagined. Defense Attorney Courtaney Craig said none of that matters unless she knowingly reported a false emergency. His client testified the situation was “very much real” to her. It was an overzealous, quick police effort that led to the arrest of Mohamed Fathy Hussein Zayan, 56, of Alexandria, Egypt — not Adams, Craig said.

“Who’s at fault? The people who jumped the gun,” he said. “Had you spent one-fifth of (the investigation) beforehand that you did to try to free him, you wouldn’t have had to free him in the first place.”

In the end, jurors sided Monday with the defense and found Adams not guilty.

The case against her opened in April 2019 after she accused a man of Middle Eastern descent of attempting to grab her then-5-year-old daughter by the hair and abduct to her from the Old Navy store at the Huntington Mall.

The trial ended Monday after Craig’s request to call Adams’ daughter to the stand to testify on behalf of her mother was declined. Prior to a verdict being reached, Adams brought her daughter to media for an interview, but The Herald-Dispatch declined.

Adams had testified Friday she was shopping that day when she “felt uncomfortable” and saw a man. She testified they smiled at each other before he looked at her daughter and grabbed her hair, which was in a side ponytail. She said the man was pulling her daughter by her hair, so she pulled out her gun, pointed it at him and said, “Let her go,” which he did.

She said she ran to the mall’s food court while on the phone with her husband and the man following, although video surveillance showed the two had left the store in opposite directions and appeared to be calm, with her daughter’s hairstyle intact.

Greg Lucas, investigator for the Barboursville Police, testified Friday Adams’ stories varied from as little as her telling police it might have been a misunderstanding to the story she testified to in court Friday.

The tale led to the arrest of Zayan as he was walking through the mall’s food court less than an hour later. He was charged with felony attempted abduction by a person.

While video surveillance showed the two were in Old Navy at the same time, Zayan testified Friday he had never seen Adams in his life. The man, who was working in the area as an engineer at the time, was shopping for his family, he said. Officers said he was crying and emotional when he was arrested.

Although Zayan was arrested quickly, Lucas said when he took over the case he found inconsistencies in Adams’ story, but Zayan’s remained solid. He said Zayan did not fit any characteristics that would fit a criminal in this type of crime and coworkers held him in high praise.

Another officer said while they were hunting for the assailant, he had seen Zayan shopping in a store in the opposite direction Adams had gone, but excluded him as a suspect because he just appeared to be an average shopper.

Lucas soon after conducted a second police interview with Adams, who said she might have misjudged Zayan’s actions and overreacted to a touching of her daughter’s head. Lucas said Adams started crying and apologizing when she found out there was surveillance video outside the store. Adams said it was because Lucas led her to believe she had done something wrong to a good man.

Craig questioned why Lucas thought Zayan’s tears vindicated him, but Adams’ were a sign of guilt. He asked what a stay-at-home mother’s goal would be in making such accusations.

The charges against Zayan were dismissed and Adams was charged with the misdemeanor offense, but by that time, Zayan had served a day in jail. He quickly returned to Egypt after his release.

While prosecutors said someone in Old Navy must have heard such an altercation occurring, Craig questioned a store employee Friday on how many people were spread throughout the store, which he said had several blind spots, with video surveillance showing several employees in the stockroom at the time.

Adams’ call to 911 started with her telling an operator she did not know if it was an emergency or not, but Lucas said child abductions are one of the worst crimes to which an officer could respond and would cause public alarm.

Shoub said things throughout Adams’ call, like her calming her children down, would have led operators to believe it was an emergency. They added her calling the 911 number, instead of the non-emergency number, is her acknowledging it was an emergency.

“She had a chance to correct it that day there and now, but she didn’t. She doubled down,” he said, before adding, “This wasn’t a misunderstanding or misinterpretation. It was an outright lie.”

2 charged in assault of Capitol officer who died after riot

WASHINGTON — U.S. officials have arrested and charged two men with assaulting U.S. Capitol Police officer Brian Sicknick with bear spray during the Jan. 6 riot, but they do not know yet whether it caused the officer’s death.

George Tanios, 39, of Morgantown, West Virginia, and Julian Khater, 32, of Pennsylvania, were arrested Sunday on an array of charges, including assaulting a federal officer with a dangerous weapon, conspiracy and other offenses. The idea that Sicknick died after being sprayed by a chemical irritant has emerged in recent weeks as a new theory in the case.

The arrests are the closest federal prosecutors have come to identifying and charging anyone associated with the deaths that happened during and after the riot. Five people died, including a woman who was shot by a police officer inside the Capitol. But many rioters are facing charges of injuring police officers, who were attacked with bats, sprayed with irritants, punched and kicked, and rammed with metal gates meant to keep the insurrectionists from the Capitol.

Investigators initially believed that Sicknick was hit in the head with a fire extinguisher, based on statements collected early in the investigation, according to two people familiar with the case. But as they’ve collected more evidence, the theory of the case has evolved and investigators now believe Sicknick may have ingested a chemical substance — possibly bear spray — that may have contributed to his death, officials have said.

Sicknick and other officers were standing guard behind metal bicycle racks as the mob descended on the Capitol on Jan. 6.

“Give me that bear shit,” Khater said before he reached into Tanios’ backpack, according to court papers. Tanios told Khater “not yet” because it was “still early,” but Khater responded that “they just f---ing sprayed me.” Khater was then seen holding a can of chemical spray, prosecutors say.

Khater walked through the crowd toward the bike rack barrier. Rioters began pulling on one of the racks, and Khater was seen with his arm in the air and the canister in his hand while standing just 5-to-8 feet from the officers, authorities said.

Video footage shows the officers reacting one by one — bringing their hands to their face and rushing to find water to flush out their eyes — after they were hit with the spray, according to court papers.

Another officer eventually spotted Khater deploying the substance and sprayed Khater himself, authorities said.

The men each made brief court appearances from jail via videoconference on Monday and will remain locked up pending future hearings. A detention hearing was scheduled for Thursday for Tanios.

An email seeking comment was sent to Tanios’ lawyer. A person who answered the phone at the office of Khater’s lawyer said they had no comment.

In a statement Monday, Capitol Police Acting Chief Yogananda Pittman called the attack on the Capitol and its officers “an attack on our democracy.”

“Those who perpetrated these heinous crimes must be held accountable, and — let me be clear — these unlawful actions are not and will not be tolerated by this Department,” Pittman said.

The FBI had obtained video of the incident and released photos of both of the men, but did not indicate in wanted posters that they were being sought in connection with Sicknick’s death. A former colleague identified Khater and the FBI received a tip from Tanios’ former business partner, who also alleged he embezzled hundreds of thousands of dollars from their business, court papers said.

Tanios operates a greasy spoon called Sandwich U in Morgantown, home of West Virginia University.

On social media, he has referred to himself as the “Sandwich Nazi” and has tangled with customers and former employees in online comments. In 2019 on Instagram, he gleefully promoted a one-star Google review that said, “If donald trump was a restaurant manager, this is who he would be.”

A photo at the Capitol cited in his charging document shows him wearing a sweatshirt with the logo of his restaurant.

Sicknick died after defending the Capitol against the mob that stormed the building as Congress was voting to certify Joe Biden’s electoral win over Donald Trump. It came after Trump urged supporters on the National Mall to “fight like hell” to overturn his defeat.

The circumstances surrounding Sicknick’s death remain unclear, and a final cause of death has not been determined. Capitol Police have said he died after he was injured “while physically engaging with protesters” and the agency’s acting chief said officials consider it a line-of-duty death.

Sicknick collapsed later on and died at a hospital on Jan. 7. The Justice Department opened a federal murder investigation into his death, but prosecutors are still evaluating what other specific charges could be brought in the case and the probe continues, officials have said.

The medical examiner’s report on Sicknick’s death is incomplete and no cause of death has been made public. Capitol Police say they are awaiting toxicology results.

The FBI has already released about 250 photos of people being sought for assaulting federal law enforcement officers during the riot. Some have already been arrested, and the Justice Department said about 300 people have been charged with federal offenses related to the riot.


State expands vaccine eligiblity, adding more pre-existing conditions, essential workers of all ages

CHARLESTON — With another large shipment of Johnson & Johnson vaccine expected this week, the state on Monday expanded eligibility for vaccinations to include a variety of persons with pre-existing medical conditions, and to essential workers of all ages.

As announced Monday, the categories of pre-existing medical conditions were significantly expanded, adding a number of more common chronic medical conditions including asthma, diabetes, kidney disease, heart disease, immunosuppression issues, COPD and high blood pressure, and chronic infectious diseases including HIV, among others.

Dr. Clay Marsh, vice president for health sciences at West Virginia University and state COVID-19 czar, said the state is expanding eligibility for vaccination as it works to increase allocations of vaccine.

“President Biden has asked us to commit to have vaccinations for all Americans by May 1, and we are committed to that,” Marsh said.

James Hoyer, director of the state COVID-19 interagency task force, said the state expects another delivery of Johnson & Johnson vaccine later this week after a brief production hiatus.

Hoyer said the task force is looking at getting the single-dose vaccine to those populations where it logistically makes the most sense, including the homebound and the homeless, and to mobile clinics at manufacturing and mining sites.

To date, the state has administered 635,800 total doses of the three COVID-19 vaccines, including vaccinating 58% of West Virginians in the higher-risk 65 and older age group.

Hospitalizations continued their decline to 151 patients from a peak of 818 in early January. As of Friday, only two long-term care centers had outbreaks among residents.

Cabell County reported 397 current active cases on COVID-19 on Monday. Just one new death was reported in the state, a 97-year-old man from Kanawha County.

Any West Virginian 65 or older who is still waiting on a vaccine appointment can call 1-833-734-0965 from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday, or from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday, to ensure that they are scheduled to be vaccinated.